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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #400

Never say never again. I’ve decided to write a few more diary entries, just before I go on vacation, but at a slower pace. Since I wrote the last words on these pages I have been taking life at an easier rate, aware of an impending vacation but still with plenty of things going on around me. I have been lazing around in cafes smoking shisha pipes and smiling at pretty girls. I went to a fairly grim and ghastly opera last night in which the principal performer decided to have a bath on stage, and I had a couple of dates that went catastrophically wrong. I bumped into K—— escaping from her husband in a bar, and half way through the bottle by the early evening. What is there to report? Everything seems so humdrum and normal, even in the middle of a war zone.

Today the weather has come out warm in the frozen Saigon, and with it the opaque and sometimes frozen Ukrainian personality feels to have become unsealed. People are smiling in the streets, the alcoholics grinning as they quaff their liquor amidst the ancient cobbled streets and eat their oysters and there is a gay air to it all. Suddenly Lviv feels like a normal European city which in so many respects it is. There may be a shocking war going on in which electricity black-outs are common across the rest of the country, but here everyone is still supping on their skinny cappuccinos and their fancy cocktails and they’re enjoying a typical Saturday afternoon getting thoroughly boozed up. The atmosphere is overwhelmingly positive.

Let me tell you about my failed dates. In both instances it was a case of false, doctored or aged photos. Never do this on dating websites, because it’s a cause for instantaneous disappointment or even a sense of feeling cheated. Neither spoke a word of English. The first lady dressed like she worked for the FSB, wearing a stiff jacket with a collar and a face that could demolish a person’s soul with a single look. I told her flat out at the interval of the ballet that I could not spend any more time with her. I think she was rather upset but I think I am a little too old and fussy to waste time these days. These are the hazards of ageing, I suppose. I may look young still - at least I hope I do - but inside me middle age has developed a certain rugged individualism and I’m not going to sit there with a snarling lady trying to converse with her in broken Russian about an ballet I don’t give a hoot about.

The second date was also destined for the ballet and she was a much nicer person but again we barely had a word in common. She was beautiful once, and older now - she had lied in her age profile and it was obvious and hideous as it may sound coming from my lips, she was too old for me. Nevertheless she was pleasant but the whole performance got delayed by an air raid alert just as we were sitting down to start the performance and that put me off completely. Also she didn’t drink a drop of alcohol (that was one of the few points we could convey to one another through a veil of mutual miscomprehension due to lack of a shared language) and I suppose I just couldn’t be bothered. I made up some lies about being in danger of missing the last bus home (I only live a five minute walk from the Opera House) and then I made a dash in each case for my favourite bar and drank some ghastly bright red cherry cider topped up with a shot of vodka to get over the horror of the experience.

I’ve been somewhat remiss with my obligations of manual labour recently, preferring to use my mind and brain to focus on the war effort and realising that in undertaking manual tasks I am but one amongst many replaceable people and I should devote my energies to something where I have a specialist skill and that skill I suppose is my intellect. I am focusing on my newspaper project the Lviv Herald,, trying to piece together political messages for the outside world so that people have an ever greater comprehension of what is going on in this complex and terrible war and so that the West in particular understands what is needed to stop Russian imperialism this time around. Because I fear that the Russians have the upper hand and we need to do more. Now in my military kitchen, at any one time there are several dozen old ladies who can chop vegetables and grate carrots but not so many of them I suspect can churn out news articles and propaganda explaining what NATO needs to do to bring this war to a stop. So that is what I am focusing on now.

A number of the foreign volunteers I work with have been leaving recently or are about to leave. There is a hard core of us - no more than a couple of dozen at maximum, I would say - who are prepared to stick it out for a longer period. Then there are those dotted across Ukraine In other more or less precarious destinations where there are power cuts or dangers of Russian shelling or other things that don’t curse living in the frozen Saigon. Here things are tranquil and calm.

Finally, I’ve confirmed my interest in joining the Ukrainian Armed Forces, even if only for a short while but the training and discipline will do me good. Intellectual pursuits aside, I’ve been a bit physically lazy recently and I’ve been advocating basic military training for all adult males across Europe so I ought to lead by example and go through it myself. So once I have finished my vacation - and I think everyone needs a vacation from a war zone every three months, minimum - I am (I hope) returning to undertake basic military training and make myself a bit fitter, and to bond with other soldiers. It might seem an unusual thing to do at the age of 48, but I hope I realise what is at stake in the geopolitics of this dangerous conflict in the heart of Europe and I want to be ready and trained to do everything I can to help.


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