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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #356

As I am sitting here in Lviv railway station waiting for my train to Kryvyi Rih, three security guards dressed in black body armour and heckler-and-koch machine pistols are sternly patrolling the waiting room. This seems a tad unnecessary, as aside from me the only residents in the waiting room are a few fat pigeons waddling around and a lot of old ladies who look fairly harmless to me. My train to Kryvyi Rih is a staging post on a supply run to Kherson for some real heroes who are providing essential assistance to some civilians on the front line in Kherson. Basically when Russian artillery and mortar attacks come in overnight to strike residential premises in downtown Kherson, these teams of international volunteers go in and clean up the mess as best they can and then they supply emergency food, medical assistance, warm clothes and shelter - basic survival tools to keep people alive - until they can be rehoused, or their homes rebuilt, or they can be evacuated to other parts of the country. This involves travelling up and down the front line of the river in Kherson while the shells are raining down, so I have a gargantuan rucksack full of whatever supplies I could fit in there in addition to my own body armour to provide to these people to assist the civilians in such dire need. By the way, if you want to help this cause you still can do, by going to and making a donation, and I will spend whatever funds you send in Kherson’s sole local supermarket and second hand clothes shops and distributing them as best as I am able given the cruel conditions involved in working on the front line.

I have volunteered for this task because I have experience of working with the military in live combat situations and because I have been to Kherson before, and because I am in possession of the full Class IV body armour (the sort that can stop an assault rifle or sniper rifle round) packed into this enormous rucksack. Unfortunately the volume and weight of this body armour has inhibited significantly the quantity of relief supplies I can take with me but I am one of the few international civilian volunteers who has this top-end body armour and therefore I have decided to undertake this trip myself, irrespective of the hazards.

Today I am on another interminable Ukrainian train - it is 15 hours to Kryvyi Rih - and then I arrive in that apparently most unlovely city and I have a full day there. I am overnighting in a hotel near the railway station before taking a bus from the outskirts of the city at the crack of dawn to Kherson. All this palaver is necessary because the train services into and out of Kherson at the moment seem to be highly irregular, and therefore travel from Kryvyi Rih seemed the most agreeable option. I had planned to travel to Nikopol, on the opposite side of the Dnipro River from Enerhodar, the Russian-occupied giant light water nuclear reactor facility; but the trains apparently don’t run there according to the best intelligence I have and the buses looked distinctly inconvenient. I don’t totally exclude a day trip to Nikopol while I’m in Kherson but let’s just say it’s a long shot; and my dreams of visiting Nikopol and standing on the beach there, staring at the Enerhodar facility through a pair of binoculars, may have to wait for another day. We shall see. As always in a war zone, plan but be flexible. If things become too dangerous, you just reverse your steps and reroute. But always be sure of where you intend to go, because you want to minimise the risk of unpleasant surprises.

Also, last night, after reading some inspiring articles about the International Legion for the Defence of Ukraine on the Lviv Herald website., I enjoyed some dutch courage and then I decided to go home early and send in my papers for the International Legion. In other words, I am expressing an interest in joining the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Now I am 48 and let’s be honest a little overweight; I don’t think I”d be much use in the trenches. However they are desperate for international soldiers because those are the sorts of troop that will attract international publicity to the Ukrainian cause. And I have skills to offer that might be of interest. One is writing; I could serve as a journalist and propagandist in the English language for the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Another is intelligence: the International Legion has a small military intelligence unit and I might fit in there because it requires shall we say soldiers with a higher intellectual capacity to analyse foreign troop movements and the like. The motivations for doing this have been in the pipeline for a while; I have been thinking about it and thinking that given that this war is destined to continue at least for one more year until NATO member states pull themselves together and agree in concert to enter Ukrainian military theatre as peacekeepers, if I want to assist then there may be more I can do than just preparing food and writing; and the most valuable things I can do involve working directly with the military.

Now there are many “ifs and buts” about all this. If I am asked to join a unit tramping the trenches then I will probably politely decline. The recruitment authorities will need to check out my background but I already have SBU (Ukrainian State Security Service) clearance as a journalist accredited to work with the military so I don’t suppose that’ll be too much of a problem. The commitment obligations in the International Legion are flexible in practice and I already have the necessary body armour and other equipment for front line deployment. The pay isn’t great by international standards but by Ukrainian standards it’s a fortune. This was a complex decision on my part but it was motivated by a desire to do more. And I know those girls like a man in army uniform.


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