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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #368

I collected my “no sex” friend K—— this morning from the railway station amidst swirling crowds of chaotic exhausted people. Ukrainian railway stations early in the morning, as all the trains pull in from distant cities all over the place, are disorganised seas of humanity with everyone coming and going in a different direction. We managed to miss each other completely on the platform due to the throngs of people, amidst the welcoming classical music blaring out from the intercom system, a remnant of Soviet days when the public broadcasting intercoms would remind you that you have come to Odessa to be happy and to enjoy yourself by the beach. Some old Soviet habits die quite hard. Poor K——- had come third class in a carriage full of soldiers, which she said she quite enjoyed anyway because she was jammed up close with lots of young muscly men. We got home and she looked at me quizzically and asked, “how are we going to not have sex if there is only one double bed?”. Then I showed her her new backless dress collection and she forgot all about that issue, and cooked me a wonderful breakfast while I reclaimed my opera tickets on the internet because the ballet this afternoon has been cancelled due to the drone strike on Odessa that took place on Saturday morning. I like K——-. She is one of those very easy people it is calm and relaxing to spend time with, and she does not jar on my nerves like the great majority of the mass of humanity.

This afternoon I went to Arcadia, the principal beach resort of Odessa in a residential suburb, with K——- to look out at the sea. She had a long, deep, haunted looking her eyes, as she started over the empty waters at the world looking beyond. I did not know what was going through her mind but it was the epitome of some sad thoughts or other and I instinctively felt my heart merge with hers. There has been and is great sadness in her life, and she has come here to get away from it all, with a strange foreigner with a raucous sense of humour and a capacity to talk relentlessly about boring subjects like drones, missiles and political analysis. Nonetheless she takes my conversation in the best of humour, and as I write these worse she is sliding into one of those backless dresses I bought her and we are preparing for another night out in Odessa, the party capital of Ukraine. This morning she put on the backless dress backwards so that it was frontless instead, which caused me to explode with mirth. Something tells me that K——- and I are going to get on very well in the future. She has the customary phlegm, combined with a deep soul, a very special sort of person, reserved in her own way but also who knows how to let herself go and be crazy. Her eclectic selection of tattoos fascinates me, and I intend to ply her with alcohol this evening and then ask her what they all represent. She is a deep and sophisticated lady caught up in this complex and damaging war that fries the nerves of us all.

Arcadia itself feels empty and devoid of life. After walking up and down the seafront a little, and stepping out on the peer, we joined the main drag of tacky souvenir shops and Georgian restaurants and stalls where you win a soft toy by shooting a balloon with a cap gun, and I recalled the Arcadia of old that was a permanent throng of people so thick you could barely move left or right, 24 hours a day. You would wait half an hour for a taxi. All that has gone now, and the area reminds me of Blackpool in England, a faded seaside city whose former glory was lost in the tides of history. In Blackpool’s case, it was the aeroplane that caused English seaside tourists to go abroad and that was what killed the resort. In the case of Arcadia, and Odessa more generally, it is the appalling and unlawful Russian invasion of Ukraine and has driven apart two sets of people, the Ukrainians and the Russians, who once did business and worked together and had so much in common but by reason of the political confluence of events are separated in that every bond is broken, perhaps interminably.

People in Odessa still speak Russian, although decreasingly so. My Russian worked well in a pleasant Georgian restaurant at the gates to the Arcadia’s principal street, and I was also able to converse a few words in Russian at a party we briefly went to in the afternoon in a hairdresser’s shop in a building that looked like it wouldn’t be straight out of place in a residential suburb of a city in northern Russia. Tall gleaming Stalinist concrete blocks peered out from behind every corner, menacingly looking down up us as we walked up some interminable windy street as expensive cars peeped their horns at us. The only difference was, the people of Arcadia aren’t here anymore. All these huge residential apartment buildings are empty, in part I suspect because they would present damned fine targets for Russian airborne strikes. I saw one low-level building in Arcadia blown out with a fragmentation warhead, which must have been sent in by an accurate subsonic cruise missile such as a Kalibr or it would never have been so accurate to strike a single low-lying building amidst so many skyscrapers. I wonder whether these evacuees from Arcadia’s luxury apartment towers will ever return. The scars of war have hit Arcadia too, possibly irreversibly, and all the fun and joy of. The place is as though now drowned in those waves that lap up against the shore.


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