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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #370

Odessa was hit again last night, presumably by the Iranian-made Shaheed drones that swarm in to try to strike the port facility. At the time of writing the situation is unclear and reporting has not yet been coming through but I heard a series of heavy strikes last night. Normally I sleep through these things, but these ones faintly woke me up before I fell back into a deep slumber. I woke up early this morning to a series of messages from “no-sex K——-“ saying she had spent the night hiding in the bathroom which I’m afraid really won’t help if your number’s up. It’s just a matter of statistics, and if your building is hit then you may well be done for. There are very few measures you can take effectively to guard yourself against these sorts of aerial attack, if you are a civilian. They are random and arbitrary and they can come at any time of the day or the night. It’s all just a law of averages; but thankfully, the averages are very much in our favour because this is no case like Dresden; there is no carpet bombing. These are targeted attacks on Odessa’s port facilities (the Russians have no interest in anything else in Odessa) that (frequently) go wrong and hit random residential buildings instead. Of which there are many in Odessa. The city is an enormous, spread out slum apart from the central area, with a mixture of low-lying ramshackle buildings and taller Soviet-era tower blocks, all with seemingly no end in sight spread over a massive distance. It can easily take an hour or two to drive across the entire metropolis, particularly in the city’s dense and smoggy traffic, something often overlooked by casual touristic visitors to the city centre.

The Shaheed drones are an interesting approach to modern warfare because they are so exceedingly inaccurate and easy to shoot down. Unlike accurate cruise missiles, which it is often difficult to stop, or old-fashioned bombers, they fly in swarms and they may or may not have a good lock on their target. They really aren’t very accurate for anything; despite dozens of these drones being launched at Odessa port, very few of them actually hit their intended target. They’re all a colossal waste of time, unless the goal of course is to cause people to hide in their bathroom in the middle of the night which in and of itself seems rather a silly war aim. Anyway my short vacation in Odessa seems to have crossed in time with all these drone strikes, some of which may never be reported, which has somewhat put a dampener on the mood in Odessa while I was here but really what did I expect.

By the way, K—— did show up yesterday morning after disappearing in the middle of the night because I was snoring so loudly. She had done something Ukrainian and gone to check into the local hostel (these very rough boarding houses dotted across Ukrainian cities about which casual visitors to Ukraine are only vaguely aware - a sort of third-world hotel full of beds with lots of different people in each room - I tend to stay in them only on the front line) and she was fine. She had left my door wide open when she had walked out and she apologised for that. She brought lots of items to cook me breakfast which was also heartwarming but unfortunately I was in a restaurant ordering croquet-madame by the time she showed up. K—— doesn’t have a spectacular sense of timing. She also agreed to meet me in a bar last night at 5.30pm and then she never showed up because she’d fallen asleep for a quick nap at 5pm and woken up at 11.30pm. This is very disorganised and the sort of thing that a lot of Ukrainians do, but I have rather become used to it.

She didn’t miss much; Odessa on a Monday night is nothing to get excited about, just a few kids driving fast cars around and showing off, and a handful of bars with a few people speaking English and playing pool. The party joy of the city over the weekend had entirely evaporated as people had left to go back to their daily routines elsewhere in the country. Odessa was never like that before; it would be a 24 hours a day, seven days a week centre full of heaving and pulsing music and people everywhere at all times. Now it feels like a large cold cave and I am an empty moth fluttering my wings around in this huge space that was once full of other moths but now there’s nobody here. This is often what It’s like in war zones; all the people just disappear, the atmosphere evaporates, you have to get used to being on your own because everyone you know has gone or is hiding indoors. You sit in a restaurant on your own, you sit in a bar on your own, you get used just to being self-controlled and self-sufficient in whatever you are doing because there are long spans of time when you are just on your own and nothing seems to happen to ordinary schedules.

I woke up at 5.30am this morning, feeling fully refreshed having gone to bed at 10pm, and I stared out of the window into the dark as curfew had barely begun to break. I tapped out a little desk work on my laptop that had to be done, made myself a cup of coffee, and I waited for the sun to rise. I am looking forward to going back to Lviv tonight. Four nights in Odessa was just one too long, and K—— seems to have slept through most of her vacation trip or to have spent it hiding in bathrooms away from my snoring or from Shaheed drones. Nevertheless I hope she had a good time. I bought her a few presents, some zany boots she wanted, and I tried to make her feel as though life is slightly normal. I like adding these personal touches into people’s lives in the middle of war. She turned at me yesterday and she said “I’m used to fighting and paying for everything myself. Nobody buys me anything.” Well, now someone did, just a bit of kindness, a sparkle in a dark world.


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