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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #357



I’m sitting on this distinctly de luxe and old fashioned first class carriage from a bygone era of Soviet elite train travel heading towards my destination of Kryvyi Rih and imagining myself as a senior communist apparatchik in the Brezhnev era. My comfortable bed has two plush pillows with white starched pillow covers and my bed is covered in multiple blankets. There are two mirrors in my small compartment so I can adjust my tie for before my destination or whatever the presumed elite Communist Party member would want to do before alighting from this travelling luxury. This must be the most old fashioned train I have been in in all Ukraine but it is also extremely comfy. In this first class carriage I beautiful smiling young carriage attendant brings me coffee on demand and even offers me some sort of food but I couldn’t understand what she was talking about. The other inhabitants of this travelling palace are young women and their children, some of whom zip up and down the carriage with their toy cars. A wood burning stove boils away at one end of the carriage and everything is brown leather or red plush fur. It’s really rather exhilarating and romantic, although lacking in modern trimmings: there is nowhere in my compartment with electricity, for example, but there is a socket of a sort in the corridor. The bathroom looks a bit more rough than the average Ukrainian trend, but even this train has certain hidden luxuries in the toilet including a common pot of men’s hair cream and an all-over-body scented spray so that you can meet someone off the train smelling radiant even if you don’t feel it.


There’s a lady selling ice creams who comes from one compartment to the next with a radiant smiles. There’s an ancient reading light with a halogen bulb and gentle clatter of the rails as I head off to my doom in Kherson. I sit in splendid isolation in my luxury compartment from the 1970’s, and it’s one of those opportunities I have to think about life. Will I really be fighting for the Ukrainian military in a couple of months? How the prospect of fighting puts into perspective all the other things in your life. Maybe they won’t want me or maybe I’ll change my mind or maybe it’ll turn out to be the wisest and most effective thing I ever did. What will I discover in Kherson? Are my projections about the war in Ukraine really accurate? I have fashioned my own perspectives and views on this conflict and they are I suppose quite idiosyncratic. I think the Russian threat is of so looming a nature that western politics are ultimately entirely irrelevant and NATO must act irrespective of who gets elected into what position in elections in any country. In this I seem to be a lone voice in the wilderness because everyone has hijacked the war in Ukraine to argue about the “Trump issue” and I realise that both Democrats and Republicans alike in the United States are guilty of this: they are both saying that if you don’t support a particular candidate or party then you are giving up on Ukraine. That’s why I think none of this matters and all we have to do is to wait and get past January 2025 and then all the pieces will fall into place.


2024 in the war in Ukraine is not a time for loud heroes. It’s a time for quiet ones, who tirelessly get on with each day of surviving and minimising the casualty rates and providing food and medicines and logistics and ammunition and watching and monitoring Russian military build-ups and activities and preventing the Russian advance. It’s not a question of this or that dramatic military or political manoeuvre whether taken in Kyiv or in Washington, DC. I am increasingly convinced that nothing much will happen in 2024. The front line will not move much. Kherson will not be overrun once more. The Russians did not evacuate Kherson just to take it again a year and a bit later and find themselves in the quagmire of Chornobaivka (the western Kherson suburb were Ukrainian guerrilla forces kept them pinned down indefinitely so they could not proceed further) all over again. The Russians may have a substantial troop build-up but they know that were they to step into Kherson right now the Ukrainians would mobilise massive troop numbers and there would be street-to-street fighting in Kherson and they would get nothing except a still more destroyed city.


So 2024 is a game of waiting, a bit like the long delays this train suffers at every tiny halt. It is a year in which patience will be the principal important strategic quality as we wait for the West to move into gear gradually in response to a Russian build-up and then I think this war will come to a roughly pro-western conclusion in 2025 in which Ukraine will sadly be de facto partitioned but without a peace agreement and with the border with the Russian occupied territories lined with a mass of heavily armed NATO troops equipped with the latest heavy mortar equipment to safeguard a series of trenches against further Russian advancements: a development that will silence Russian artillery and stop Russia from progressing any further.


Then I think that there will be relentless economic and political sanctions continuously applied to Russia over a period of years if not decades in a Second Cold War with a view to placing Russia under such economic pressure as to cause the country’s internal politics to crack open and fissure and then there will be an opportunity - maybe in five years, maybe in ten - to transform Russia into a series of potentially democratic new statelets in which western values of freedom and democracy might be able in time to prosper. For me all this is virtually inevitable, as Russia is the last remaining real empire in the world and she cannot survive operating like an international militaristic hooligan in today’s multipolar world. I think the Chinese are well aware of this; for although China too has a very large army, there is a big difference between hers and that of Russia’s: China doesn’t use it.


So I am optimistic, notwithstanding all the pessimism that is consumed as a collective cool-aid and that relentlessly deafens me on a daily basis. I see so much progress already even in the midst of war in Ukraine. It must be clear that the country is heading in the right direction and that the war is actually serving as a catalyst for the much-needed institutional reforms taking place. The loss of life is heart-breaking, as is the separation of young men from their families and loved ones. But Ukraine is heading into a glorious, blue and yellow, future.

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