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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #35

Working in a war zone can be terribly frustrating and unpredictable. I woke up this morning to set out early to spend the day helping cleaning the vehicles in convoy: a “day off” that we ought to have approximately once a week to keep everything in hygienic and working order and that involves everyone involved getting extremely mucky as they scrape the week’s accumulated muck off every surface in sight. However this “day off” was not to be, and instead the day turned into a real day off. The basic problem is that three out of the four vehicles in our modest convoy have acquired technical faults. The electrics, brake pads, suspension, and other issues all need checking with great care. In particular, the people and supplies carrier that I usually travel in appears to have broken down completely. The best current estimate is that it will take several days to repair - if we can capture sufficient time of an adequately skilled local mechanic. Given that mechanics are in high demand in war zones, this will be tricky.

The faults with the other two large trucks, one of which is in effect a mobile freezer, are unclear and it is not known how long it will take them to be fixed but I would anticipate no fewer than 24 hours.

Hence there were no vehicles to clean except one and our operations will have to be substantially paired down until our fleet is fully repaired. This is not really anybody’s fault; and anyway assigning blame is no use in a war zone. These are just the sorts of incidents of working and travelling in a war zone that happen from time to time. It is dratted bad luck that this happened to three out of our four vehicles all at the same time, and in a metropolitan location south far south in Ukraine and close to the front line, with a corresponding shortage of vehicle mechanics. There was much discussion of trying to find online maintenance manuals relating to these specific foreign vehicles in either the Ukrainian or Russian languages, so that once we find the relevant domestic mechanics they might be able to read those manuals and work out what repairs are necessary.

In the interim the members of the team are understandably frustrated. We are not sure we are going to be doing for the next few days and we are suddenly at a loss as to what to do today. After sending the usual array of instant messages to friends, family and colleagues, a number of members of the team settled into a relaxing game of cards and a cup of tea. For my part I find the frequent use of instant messages on my telephone quite frustrating, not least because due to all the heat, sweat, grease and dirt my mobile phone seems to go quite berserk on occasions, flipping between applications and typing or deleting random letters all over the screen. I think the problem is that sand and grit attach themselves to the screen in a dirty environment, and I spend my day trying to wipe the grime off my phone to ensure that it continues to work properly.

The base where we store the heavy vehicles is some 12 kilometres away from my hotel and really in the middle of nowhere. With three out of four vehicles out of action and the fourth too large comfortably to drive through Mykolaïv city centre, I reconciled myself to a long walk back to my room in the blazing Midday heat. The city taxis will not as a rule come so far out of town, perhaps for a variety of reasons.

However after a 25-minute walk down a long sandy street, I had a stroke of good fortune. I found a most excellent trolleybus that, while hot and sticky, took me directly from the main road junction to a spot just five minutes’ walk from my hotel. It was rather a hit-and-miss affair; I had to follow the route using Google Maps, but in the Mykolaïv region at least the GPS coordinates remain accurate for the most part and hence I was able to follow the bus’s route straight into town. I returned to my hotel room safe and sound, but with the internet still not working and my wondering what to do with the rest of the day or even the next few days. If our operations are so diminished by reason of three quarters of our vehicles being out of action, then I may take a few days off and go to explore another part of the front line or elsewhere in Ukraine by myself. I have made a huge list of international and local contacts while here so far, and someone else might value my services for a short period while the current excellent team get their vehicles back in order.

Or the vehicles might be fixed more quickly than we expect. You never know your luck. In a war zone, everything is unpredictable. Or we might be able to undertake some smaller missions with a single vehicle supported by a “banger” (a cheap local car we might acquire to carry people); you never know. I don’t think I want to sit in Mykolaïv playing cards or staring at the walls of my hotel room for a few days, but I am confident that we will soon be back on track.

I was sad to see some of the most cherished team members leave last night. I contributed to their alcohol bill as we said our farewells. I turned to my mobile telephone, and a tour guide who has been offering me tours of Kyiv has now taken to sending me photos of herself in bikinis. I decide to block this contact. I find this sort of thing terribly sad. One way or another, I am very likely to travel to Kyiv during this tour of duty in Ukraine, and maybe one of the things I can do while in the city is contact a local charity promoting the emancipation and welfare of Ukraine’s vulnerable young women.


Any views expressed herein are purely the private opinions of the author and should not be attributed to the Paladins Organisation or otherwise.


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