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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #389

Last night we arrived home from “the Pub” in the Kramatorsk, possibly the only pub in the world not to serve any beer, at the princely late hour of about ten past eight and got stuck into the sloe gin instead in my room. We have decided to restructure our plans for the weekend, principally because, we have discovered, Izyum, where we were due to spend the night tonight, has no alcohol or restaurants. It seems that in the Russian occupation of the city in 2022 the invading forces made a real mess of the city and there was nothing much left of it. They were there for a few months and we have been reading various ghastly reports of war crimes, mass graves, widespread structural damage and all in all we are not quite sure it merits an overnight stay. The lack of alcohol and restaurants was the final straw and therefore we are heading for Kharkiv this evening where we will stay for thee nights without an overnight trip in Izyum; but we will take the circuitous route and call in on a number of “tourist destinations” on the way. As well as surveying the damage and status of central Izyum, we will return to the destroyed monastical complex at Sviatohirsk (in fact since a bridge over a river has been destroyed all traffic between Kramatorsk and Izium has to run via a diversion to Sviatohirsk) and then we will stop in at Izyum for a spot of souvenir shopping and the like (whatever that might involve). I am told there are some ancient statues to be found in the Izyum metropolitan area albeit by damaged by Russian aggression, and therefore we will go to look at those.

Then we are going up to Kupiansk, perhaps after a quick early lunch of sushi (apparently the only cafe open in Izyum serves this), and we will see what there is to be seen there. Everyone is rather vague about what is going on in Kupiansk, which makes me all the more intrigued to see it. I’m not sure whether it’s body armour territory or what is happening but I have a feeling that there is a push by the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the international legion into occupied Luhansk from Kupiansk, which sits in an extreme southeasterly corner of Kharkiv Oblast. How welcome we will be, just passing through, and what we will see, is not entirely clear but we shall as they say find out.

I am rather sad not to be staying in Izyum. The last time I went there it was a stopping off point for a minibus from Sloviansk to Kharkiv that left at 6am and Izyum was the first place you reached after the military checkpoint out of free Donetsk Oblast, at about 7.45am, where all the soldiers would buy bottles of vodka and whisky and then promptly drink them on the spot (they’d been dry on the front line) before arriving at Kharkiv for about 9.30 in the morning. I wonder whether this curious practice has been clamped down upon which is why now, just a few months later, Izyum is I am informed completely dry. It all seems a bit of a shame if this is what has happened but as always the only way to find out is to go and explore. Also Izyum has or once had a series of pleasant Soviet-style municipal buildings and some stately parks so I wouldn’t mind going to look at those. The mass graves full of slaughtered soldiers and civilians alike as the Russians withdrew late in 2022 and the city was liberated by the heroic Ukrainian Armed Forces also seems potentially worth a visit - if the graves have not been exhumed and if this can be undertaken with respect to the victims and in a dignified manner. As always, with everything in war, we will just have to see.

Some old habits in Ukraine die hard. I’ve been reading that journalists (because we are really here as journalists in the East, to explore and document what is really going on) have been the subject of illicit surveillance by the State Security of Ukraine, the SBU, that have accredited me, with a view to ensnaring them in orgies involving illicit drugs and women. Now the journalists in question where independent and harbouring relatively anti-government views, it can be admitted; nevertheless in a modern western democracy the state security services of a country ought not to be engaged in acts of entrapment of journalists. That’s the sort of thing that happens in Russia. Apparently there have been some investigations and sackings and the like and everyone agrees it’s not up to European standards. I hope this doesn’t happen to us. I rather doubt it but just shows to illustrate that we aren’t living in a perfectly western state quite yet but that many of the values of liberalism and respect for freedom of the press remain in part aspirational. The SBU’s business is to track down Russian infiltrators and people disloyal to the Ukrainian state, not to trail around journalists hoping they engage in misdemeanours. That’s all just a bit silly, as I think everyone recognises.

Tonight, after our adventures wherever they take us, we have found apparently comfortable lodgings in a hotel in Kharkiv that we might arrive at late but at least we will all have our own spare rooms and apparently there’s a decent restaurant down the street. I suppose there’s always a risk of a Kalibr cruise missile flying down the centre of the high street, as I observed on a prior visit to Kharkiv; visits to central Kharkiv are never entirely risk free by reason of its proximity with the Russian front line.

Also there’s an SBU filtration camp for people who want to exit Russia to the West that I heard all about somewhere near Kharkiv and I was trying to run the idea up the flag pole with my colleagues that we visit this place but they were distinctly unenthusiastic. Now I have a little more time with my colleagues in Kharkiv, perhaps I can persuade them to undertake this lunatic adventure. I’ll have to be very nice to them today if I am going to tip the balance in favour of another anarchic side journey. And since they’re both likely reading this, I promise you both now that I’m going to try cooking breakfast.


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