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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #399



I’ve decided to write the my last diary entry in this series - for now. Over the past six and a half months I have travelled across every major city in free Ukraine, working up and down the front line, and I have come to fall in love with the quirky, funky city of Lviv, that I have affectionately named the frozen Saigon. My goal in these diaries has been to capture lifetime in wartime Ukraine, and to show all the crazy, absurd, heartwarming and depressing experiences you go through when living amidst a hot war. I have written over 400,000 words; and Tolstoy’s War and Peace is only 570,000 words. So, in short, I think I’ve written enough.


I’ve had an extraordinary array of experiences, in which some of the most remarkable things have happened to me. The regular reader of these diaries will know that I almost had my legs blown off walking through a minefield on an abandoned beach; dodged mortars trying to drive towards the Russian-occupied city of Bakhmut; injured myself falling off a squat toilet, an injury that still plagues me occasionally some months later; and I have undertaken all sorts of manual labour trying to help the people of Ukraine, both the civilian and the military, both on the front line and a long way from it. I have the most extraordinary array of people, the vast majority of whom are very good, decent people trying their best for the people of Ukraine and a handful of which sadly do not live up to this standard.


I’ve even having an exhausting and exhilarating experience, lurching from being shot at with artillery in Kherson to visiting high opera in Lviv; tramping round the streets of Kyiv; walking dogs; trying to find love; understand the Ukrainian culture; and working out what makes Ukraine distinctive and what makes Ukrainians tick. I’ve been through all of these things and the purpose of these diaries was to record my extraordinary experiences and to recount to the reader what life is really like living in a war zone. And I think I have completed my task.


Irrespective of whatever else may happen to me, I have decided to stay in Ukraine for the foreseeable future, because I have a vast quantity of accumulated knowledge about this country and this war and I think I can still make a contribution in all sorts of different ways. The most valuable thing I think I have done while here is establish a newspaper; and I am really pleased to have achieved this. I’m going to continue devoting my efforts to that. But the purpose of these diaries - to explain to the outside world what it’s like to live through World War III - has been achieved. And now I feel calm and comfortable living here, and the eccentric and crazy stories no longer seem as eccentric and as crazy anymore, because I have become used to them all I suppose. Therefore I’m going to stop writing these diaries, because I have explained to you, the reader, what this extraordinary experience is all about.


There will still be some circulars, I am sure, about Ukraine. I will stay here for as long as I feel I can do some good and I can afford it. I’m going to take a vacation in a couple of weeks, and it’ll be quite a long one, because working in a war zone for more than six months is an experience that leaves you absolutely exhausted. And I am tired. I am physically tired, tramping off through the cold to my military kitchen every day to put in my dues chopping vegetables, and enduring horrendously long train rides across the country to the front line, working seven days a week. Last night I had a proper evening out for the first time in weeks, meeting a friend, going to a few bars, smoking a shisha pipe and even going to an after-hours place that I know about but the vast majority of foreigners who visit know nothing of: a hidden secret in the frozen Saigon. I am going to take it easy and go to the opera and meet another girl who seems great fun and take her to the ballet, and I’m going to make my contribution to the military’s needs for food by working in a kitchen, but I’m going to try to relax. I’m also mentally tired. I’ve been working hard to develop the Ukraine Development Trust, www.development-foundation.org, and keep building the Lviv Herald, www.lvivherald.com, a new English language newspaper in Ukraine, and then I am going to take a break for a while.


And then I will be back. But you know now what I think about Ukraine. I think it’s a terrible travesty of international law, Euro-Atlantic values and human decency that Russia has invaded her neighbour in contravention of all the understandings that were reached about Ukrainian independence in the 1993 Lisbon protocol, and while I harbour no personal hatred towards or grudges against Russian people I am horrified, like many decent people, about the political direction Russia has headed in over recent years as the country has become ever more totalitarian. The two Russian invasions of Ukraine are a travesty of all values that hold us together as fellow Europeans and they are an affront to global liberal democracy. They represent a new dark chapter of European history and inevitably the United States, the New World, will need to come once again to the assistance of the Old World to support Ukraine still more in resisting neo-imperial Russian military aggression. I am reminded in the contemporary era of George Orwell’s ominous novel 1984, in which institutions and ideologies are perverted and corrupted in massive battles between great economic and political blocs. Orwell foresaw three dominating political blocs doing endless battle with one-another, and that is what we have today: the United States / Europe is one; Russia is another; and China is a third. There are now three superpower blocs and we live in a tripolar world. That is what the Russian invasion of Ukraine has revealed.


You have my impressions of all the chaos, excitement, terror and disorder involved in living in wartime Ukraine. I may write more diary entries from time to time; but for now I have written enough. You will see my writings again, I am sure, but thank you for reading my impressions of contemporary Ukraine, and I hope you think that these diaries have, at the very least, been of interest. Glory to Ukraine, an eccentric enormous and funky state in the heart of Ukraine, and let us all strive to continue to uphold those values of liberty, democracy and the rule of law for which we are fighting.

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