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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #374

I am planning another trip to the front line, this time to leave on Monday, and I must admit it’s a terrible bore just planning for these things, never mind when you actually get there. On this occasion I am going with three colleagues, one fellow Brit and one American, and although they have never met one-another before I have a feeling we’re all going to get on. But first we have to prepare. And my is this dull.

My American friend is particularly concerned that we have all the right equipment - he doesn’t want to make the fallacy of the “6 P’s” (proper planning prevents piss poor performance, as it is said in the British Army). So he’s got his body armour and he’s worried about his hard hat and I am giving him advice on what to take on the train and we’re discussing what sort of alcohol we need to carry because on the Ukrainian side of the front line everything is completely dry. Then I’m worried that my contact in the Ukrainian military is no longer responding to my queries and he’s the one in principle responsible for two nights’ accommodation in the defensive trenches. So if that falls through then we’ll have to make alternative accommodation options. Then there’s the question of just where you can get to when you drive up and down the front line. It often depends on the discretion of a Corporal at a checkpoint, as my friend and colleague said to me. Really anything could happen and you just have to prepare for that.

My actual rucksack is always a bone of contention (at least for myself). I carry too many things and I always regret it. The main thing I tend to regret carrying is body armour because it’s so damned heavy and then you end up never using it. This has happened to me several times; the only place in wartime Ukraine where I have actually used the damned stuff is downtown Kherson because you can hear the shells going off all around you and that makes you put it on. However you’re well aware that there are civilians walking around all over the place next to you and they don’t have any, and you wonder: is all this necessary? And it’s all just the law of averages: probably not; body armour is one of those things you think is a complete waste of time until a large piece of shell rips into your gut and leaves you crippled for life in which case you ask yourself why you didn’t carry it. Or you just bleed out and die and your mourning relatives are left with the same question. So I always take the body armour with me, but I know that some of my colleagues have different approaches to risk and I respect that.

Then there are all the excess medical supplies. I have oodles of these in my apartment in Lviv and I am absolutely sick of carrying them around places as I have never used any of them or been able to give any of them away to people. I’m going to find someone to ship them to on the front line who actually says they need them. In the meantime I now categorically refuse to carry excess medical equipment to the front line because it’s bulky and I have a simple but complete IFAK (a military emergencies medical kit) that I also never use but at least it’s compact. One is quite enough in such circumstances. So excess medical stuff is out too. Then there’s a collection of British and Ukrainian flags that are mostly quite useless: what’s the point in carrying them? To advertise yourself to the Russians to get hit by a mortar? Please mortar this point. So that’s out.

I also carry a bunch of books I end up never reading because I imagine that I will be sitting around for long hours bored but it ends up never really working out like that. And I carry too much alcohol. I’m always carrying around these bottles of vodka, imagining that I’m a far greater alcoholic than I really am and what if I need a swig of vodka. So I’m going to cut down on doing that too. In short I’m going to stop being such a damn fool about it and I am going to pack lightly. But the temptation to stick more and more junk in your rucksack is omnipresent and I seem incapable of controlling myself.

The one thing you do need is a physical map. I have been planning evacuation routes in case the Russians launch a full-scale invasion of the Donbas, which according to some publicly available reports they are. That might be why my military contact isn’t getting back to me. If that happens in the next week, then all hell will break loose and we will be turning on our tails and running for our lives. At least, possibly. Who knows. But that’s the point of being a journalist, isn’t it? You have to go where the action is, if you’re going to get the story.

In the meantime, I have another list of foolish things to worry about: what if the vehicle we are travelling in breaks down; what if a team member falls out; what if the checkpoints are difficult, and so on and so forth. I’m a relentless worrier which is probably why I’m a good planner and yet I’m also completely calm when I’m in these situations. My British friend coming on this trip is also entirely phlegmatic and while I’m not sure how we’re going to jam all our kit into his small car, particularly if I don’t calm down with my foolish zeal in packing lots of stupid stuff I never end up using, something tells me that this trip is going to be an adventure. It’s going to be spending a lot of time waiting at military checkpoints for permission to proceed: of that I am sure. And if the Russians decide to coincide their full invasion with our trip out East, it’s going to be a riot (and not in a funny way).


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