Today at work was an exhausting, tiring and monotonous day as I came to realise just what a colossal quantity of work there is to do at the military kitchen where I work and just how many people are relying upon us for their food. I spent several hours lifting heavy boxes from vans with Polish and Ukrainian licence plates - any old vehicle will do to shift the massive quantities of food we have to lift. I worked in sullen silence today, with a group of Ukrainian colleagues, spending our Saturday afternoons volunteering to lug endless vans and trucks of every conceivable type of food all over a sprawling kitchen complex that is increasingly becoming packed: we’ve only just moved in, and already we need more space. We seem to have enough workers, for now - on a Saturday afternoon there were several dozen people in there - but we don’t have the storage or preparation facilities for the enormous quantities of raw and prepared materials that are coming through our portals virtually hour by hour, in every hour of the day between dawn and dusk. In other words, we’ve become a victim of our own success and now we are looking for the funds to expand our operations still further.
I spent much of the afternoon heaving large backs of potato peels and onion wrappings around from one disposal area to the next, in giant sacks. This admittedly unglamorous work was appropriate just because I am a large stocky man and at this time of the year most of the volunteers are elderly pensioners and in particular women. After a few hours of this, every bone in my body ached and I started to wonder whether I was really cut out for manual labour after all as I might have dreamed and imagined in the image of Tolstoy’s fantasies about the peasants. Maybe instead of this I should just sit facing blankly at a computer screen, like so much of the working western world. The thought flashed across my mind for more than an instant, but then I was reminded of why I am here in the first place: humankind is somehow in our essence designed for manual labour, and if we remove it entirely from our daily lives then we become sloth-like and idle, fattened and we age prematurely. Manual labour is what keeps our bodies and our minds fresh, and each day I like to doing manual work while thinking of the idea and themes for these diaries. Once I have a theme in my head - and it may come after an hour or it may come after five - then I rush home to write down my thoughts.
In the interim I have invested myself in the personality of a worker of a collective farm, a sort of Ukrainian anarcho-syndicalist in which everyone works according to their conscience and takes a little bit for themselves, in my case generally just a plate of hearty lunch prepared by one of the old ladies in the kitchen. I set for myself psychological targets: today I will peel two large red bags of onions, or three grimy soiled sacks of potatoes; I will carry out six unfathomably heavy bags of potato peelings scraps for the dogs in the shelter to consume; and so on and so forth. But it is obvious to me that whatever the enthusiasm and commitment of our current coterie of volunteers, we need more resources if we are going to meet demand and that is going to require funding and infrastructure that currently doesn’t exist.
I spent half an hour today collecting and moving boxes of presents for young children, letters for soldiers, personal gifts stacked in boxes to humanise the people suffering along the front line in this terrible war. I was almost moved to tears by the heartfelt love with which so many people had carefully packed presents, letters and cards for people they’d never met and never would. Who knows where all these items end up; I am just this lonesome Englishman, sternly doing my duties and carrying boxes of alt these wondrous things from one dilapidated vehicle to another dilapidated warehouse. We all carry on like this, all day, every day, breathing collective sighs of heavy air as we go about our common task keeping the Ukrainian people and her culture alive while the politicians in the West continue to yack interminably about how hard they ought to go in against Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The answer is obvious: only unrelenting force will cause his neo-fascist state to back down. We’re dealing with another form of Nazism here on the borders of Europe, and we found the same dilly-dally approach to appeasement back in the 1930’s as we are seeing now with nobody with the adequate resolve to lead NATO into Ukraine and bring this war to a conclusion.
My idiotic troubles of yesterday evening have almost faded away to a mere memory, but for the thought that there is a malicious influence in the international community here in Ukraine who is doing his utmost to disrupt the hard work of decent volunteers, by polluting their minds with false ideas about the war effort and what they should be spending their time volunteering to do. This person is more focused upon what will achieve for him maximum publicity, even if it is smearing the personalities others, and that makes me angry. I record my thoughts here as fleeting puffs of light wind; perhaps later on this evening I will be saddled in the arms of a beautiful girl with a fine glass of red wine and my anger and upset will dissolve somewhere near the bottom of a beer glass. But right now I am tired and aware of the long train ride I have to Kharkiv coming up on Monday, and the need to prepare it. And, most depressingly of all, the opera I have booked for tomorrow in a flourish of exaggerated enthusiasm yesterday evening, looks ghastly.