I like going shopping. That’s why, when I popped out from work this lunchtime to pick up a straightforward microphone to undertake podcast interviews for the Lviv Herald, www.lvivherald.com, it all went so smoothly. My local shopping mall had been closed after the Russian Air Force launched a Mig Su-31 strategic bomber aircraft from somewhere in Russia. These aeroplanes have the capacity to fire medium to long-range conventional and nuclear warheads on hypersonic cruise missiles, so whenever one takes off anywhere in Russia the entire country is put on air raid alert and all public and municipal buildings are closed, including shopping malls but not shops. Whether this plane ever in fact fired a missile at Ukraine, still less at Lviv (which is well out of accurate range for these aircrafts’ missiles), I have no idea and I probably never will. Nevertheless the protocol is that the entire country is placed on air raid alert whenever one of these planes takes off in Russia because they have been used in the past to fire missiles at Ukrainian cities, particularly at night.
So I arrived at the shopping mall and everything had been taped off with that sort of red and white “hazardous materials” tape you expect to find near a bomb crater. Then I tried to search for electronics stores near me using my mobile telephone, and dozens of them came up. They are absolutely everywhere; Lviv is full of shops describing themselves as electronic stores and virtually all of them hang outside their doors official-looking Apple retailer signs although I suspect that virtually none of them are actually licensed by Apple. Whether they sell anything made by Apple is an open question; most of them seem just to sell mobile telephone accessories such as plastic cases and none of them have a comprehensive selection of anything. So I went around about a dozen of these places before I found another shopping mall but this one wasn’t all taped up. Instead it just had nobody in it. There was one luxury designer clothes store, mysteriously selling Armani this and Gucci that, and two bored looking store attendants filing their nails while nobody looked around any of their products. There was an electronics shop on the second floor, again “Apple” branded, but with nothing much in it and no staff and nothing from Apple anyway.
So I tramped out of that place and looked for another electronics shop but it sold a different sort of electronics: dildos and vibrators and whirring sex toys of miscellaneous descriptions, along with gold handcuffs and all sorts of things that on this snowy cold day really didn’t appeal to me. Yes, I was back amongst those sorts of shops; they are on every corner in Lviv, as though the whole city is sex mad, but you can’t buy anything normal.
A friend and colleague at work at the military kitchen has generously given me a large back full of medical kits, body warming clothes, hats and other useful items for me to hand out to soldiers when I travel to Kharkiv next week. So I was rather disheartened when I walked into another shop that I thought might sell electronics or a straightforward microphone, only to find that it was full of such items all for sale at rock bottom prices, some of them western but most of it Russian army surplus. Quite how Russian Armed Forces standard issue medical kits and clothes end up for sale in shops in central Lviv I have no idea but it makes the idea of distributing this type of equipment gratis to soldiers seem rather pointless because what I very strongly suspect they do is that they just sell it in these miscellaneous shops that also sell mindless bric-a-brac. The surly old lady in the store grunted as I bought a few home items; I sensed she was wondering why I wasn’t buying Russian military undergarments or medical kits. Well, I already have plenty of those and it’s a bit strange buying Russian standard issue kit even assuming the Russian soldiers don’t themselves want it.
I wonder what’s going on in this war sometimes. One thing I do know about wars is that one thing that perpetuates them is trade: everybody goes round selling everything to everyone else, including over front lines. They swap bootleg liquor for boots for socks and hats for medical kits for ammunition and on it goes. So everything gets all mixed up. I recall a story from the Bosnian war in which the Serbs were selling the Bosnians shells to fire at the Croat positions and the parties agreed just to cut out the middle man. Instead the Bosnians just paid the Serbs to shell the Croats from their own positions which was more accurate anyway because the Serbs had the better guns. In war, the strangest things take place and that’s why everyone’s military equipment is all mixed up.
I tramped home, entirely defeated. My podcast interview is in a couple of hours and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. All the streets round my apartment building are just sex shops, strip clubs, erotic massage parlours or bars. The prospects of finding a simple microphone in this complex metropolis in good time seem to be fading away to zero. As I walked through my internal courtyard, I saw a man sitting alone at a table outside, drinking beer in the freezing rain, wearing a t-shirt drenched to the bone, at about 1 O’Clock in the afternoon. Maybe I should give all this journalism business up and go join him in his frozen alcoholic Elysium. Achieving anything of substance in wartime Ukraine is desperately hard. I’ve lost virtually the whole day achieving nothing, and it’s not even 2 in the afternoon and I’m ready for bed. I need to be sweet and smiling for S———- at the opera this evening, and right now I’m looking at doing a podcast interview using a rusty tin can.