’m sitting on a train in Lviv railway station as I write these words, with a calm air of relaxation knowing that there is a 15-hour train ride ahead in which I will be able to sway gently to the carriages on my way to Kharkiv. The weekend has, if I am honest, been thoroughly unpleasant, with my needing to wield the sharp edge of the law to protect my own interests against people who would do harm both to me individually and to the wider international community efforts in which we ought to be engaged towards common goals. The greater majority of people I work with in Ukraine who form part of the international community are decent and share that common purpose that is so essential to our work in supporting the morale and the wellbeing of the Ukrainian people in their darkest hour of resisting the Russian aggression. But there is just a handful - and I mean literally a handful - of dark horses, people who would sew evil and dissension for their own peculiar and unpleasant agendas, whether that be self-aggrandisement, greed, or people who are taking advantage of war to promote themselves - profiteers. For these sorts of people I have nothing but the lowest level of contempt, particularly when they resort to mean-spirited, pathetic exercises in defamation, intimidation and sheer nastiness, striking fear into their employees’ hearts and seeking to work by compromising people and creating anxiety in them. If there is one thing I am proud of in being a lawyer, it is the capacity of having institutional knowledge to be able to use the levers of the law to achieve good and to suppress the occasional devils we all find from time to time shot through institutions seeking to do harm rather than good. It is particularly important in times of war that those people be deterred from continuing their nastiness. I cannot myself remove those people from military theatre; I do not have that power. But perhaps I have the power to cause others to dismiss the malfeasors from office, or to shun them, or to help others pick the side of right in small battles. I hope my efforts make a difference for the greater good.
I spent some time talking to my friend S———- earlier today while waiting for the train. I’m trying to coax her back into another opera. She is a high-spirited, well-intentioned soul who shares common values of the aesthetic and the just with me: that is my sense. It’s a pleasure to meet such a person in the middle of war, when all you’re doing each day is fighting with fear and pain and distress and uncertainty and all the miseries attendant on perennial conflict. I hope to see my friend again upon my return from Kharkiv. I am a little anxious about what I’m going to find in Kharkiv; the Russians have been bombarding the city like hell since I was there last in October, and I am worried that I will return to piles of strewn rubble. I hope not. Kharkiv is one of the finest and most beautiful cities in Ukraine, and the continued bombardment of it is an affront to the world as well as causing irreparable harm to the city’s cultural and historical buildings and impossible terror to the poor remaining civilians huddled amidst the remaining structures, dodging the missiles and shells. I will be meeting a couple of friends there, and I want to show them my sunny face to remind them that the West is with them in their plight and we are sharing their risks and standing with them day by day.
I’ve also found an unusual new use for one of these dating Apps: communicating across the Ukrainian front line. The Russians and Ukrainians have cut off telecommunications with one-another’s mobile telephones and the like: something common during wartime, so a +380 number and a +7 number can no longer communicate whether through analogue or digital means. This entails a gulf in communication between the sides, as people on opposite sides of a war zone struggle to understand what is going on on the other side. However these dating Apps, I have learned, don’t rely upon telephone numbers and the message you send to one-another using them bounce around the world wide web before reaching your counterpart correspondent. So I find myself chatting away with a lady in Vladimir, a city just outside Moscow that I went to many years ago long before this ghastly war started, a cultural place of some distinction, a provincial sort of a city in Moscow’s so-called “golden ring” of cities of cultural interest just outside Russia’s capital. Suddenly everything seems normal. I tell this lady that I am English and I am in Ukraine. She seems shocked; is it safe?, she says. I suppose has no idea what is going on in Ukraine because the Russian media are feeding their populations a diet of who knows what. (At least, I don’t know what; Russian news outlets on the internet are blocked while in Ukraine so my usual diet of Russian newspapers is foreclosed to me while in Ukraine.) I avoid all political discussions, because I am painfully aware that she is living in a totalitarian state; and I apologise to her that I won’t be able to come and visit her any time soon.
Nevertheless she and I have a civilise conversation and I am going to continue it because there is no reason why, although our nations may be at war, we cannot find common humanity notwithstanding the differences of our governments. War is terribly cruel in so many different ways; but keeping lines of dialogue across otherwise impenetrable fences open is something that great efforts were made to achieve in the (first) Cold War, with cultural exchanges on academic pretexts and the like: something my father participated in. It’s important, I think, to keep connections going with Russian people, even though we find the actions of Russia’s government vile. It is wrong in my view to associate people’s individual culpability with the wrongdoings of their leaders. That is a sort of doctrine of collective responsibility, and we fought the Nazis in World War II to expunge that sort of thinking from our collective polity. So I am going to keep this discussion with my new Russian correspondent going, because I think such small gestures make all of us feel more human.