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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #74



As I continue my tour of duty in Ukraine, I wonder whether I am going slightly mad. The flippant response to this self-query is that I must have been made to come here in the first place. However it is a legitimate question. I went out for dinner last night with a good Ukrainian friend who gave me some very frank views about all the strange and unusual foreigners he had seen pass through Lviv, the portal to entry to Ukrainian military theatre. Many of them, he opined, were present just for the adrenalin rush. Obviously this is a mad place to start from. If you want adrenalin, go for a bungee jump or sign up for space tourism. Don’t come to a war zone, because war zones are full of misery and deprivation and there’s not much in the way of pleasurable adrenalin in seeing that. These sorts of people go more and more mad, the longer they spend here. They start trying to visit increasingly dangerous places to exacerbate the adrenalin high, as though being fixated on some highly addictive drug. They become ever more interested in the “R” word. In the end it’s all they can talk about. They don’t take in what is going on around them, unless it is explosions or Russians. They don’t absorb Ukrainian culture, which requires reflection and discernment.


I admit that I cannot say I am totally immune from this sort of psychotic temptation. I have a recurrent fantasy about visiting Nikopol. This is a place it is highly impractical to visit and there is no conceivable reason to want to go there. A town on the north bank of the Kakhovka reservoir that comprises the front line in southern Ukraine (the Russians occupy virtually the entirety of the south bank), Nikopol has a beach opposite the Enerhodar nuclear facilities where the Russians have occupied and decommissioned, in a most haphazard and unsatisfactory fashion sufficient to warrant International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) intervention, Europe’s largest and possibly most dangerous light water reactor nuclear facility. The Russians have filled the Enerhodar site - formally known as the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant - with military hardware and are sitting grimly there as war wages on both sides of the site but avoiding Enerhodar itself so that one of the six nuclear reactors there is not struck by stray artillery fire creating a nuclear winter over large stretches of southern Ukraine. From Nikopol beach you can view the Enerhodar facility, and I have bought a pair of military binoculars for the purpose when I am walking down Enerhodar beach (which is mined and full of tank traps to prevent Russian pontooning of the reservoir and a ground invasion of there north bank) and checking my Geiger counter.


Buying binoculars for this purpose and dreaming of this silly thing is of course crazy. Getting to Nikopol, which has been thoroughly shelled and by all accounts is completely depopulated, is extremely difficult. Just down the road, between Nikopol and Kherson, there is a live hot war as the warring parties lob shells at each other across the reservoir. Nikopol is within accurate Russian shelling range, so given the US$10,000 bounty on my head by virtue of my passport it is probably not a good idea to be very conspicuous if I go there. Plus the place may be buzzingly radioactive, given that the Russians were using the Enerhodar facility reactor concrete domes as target practice for their Tochka-U short-range ballistic missiles during the early days of the invasion of Ukraine because they were so bored.


Nevertheless I find myself with a twinge of jealousy any time I hear reports that other foreigners have visited Nikopol. How did they manage that? By all accounts it is extremely difficult. You have to go to Kryvyi Rih (a must unlovely enormous industrial city in central Ukraine) and then take a taxi for a couple of hours or more along bumpy unkempt roads to approach Nikopol away from the waterfront. Nevertheless I have started planning the trip in my mind. If others can do it, then so can I, I muse. Of course there is nothing to see there and no conceivable reason to go, save simply to say I have been. This is a good indication that I am going slightly mad. But damn it, Nikopol is on my bucket list and I am going to find a way. I have even researched railway services to Nikopol. Google ranks Nikopol railway station with 4.1 stars out of 5. It must be a good place. You can find trains and schedules online for trains to Nikopol, but of course there aren’t any trains there. The trains used to go from Kherson, along a suburban line up the reservoir, and those trains don’t run anymore. It’s all insanity. I’m losing it.


I don’t really get the adrenalin rush from visiting war zones, even if others do. I have been to enough of them, and spent enough time with military people, including seeing people lose their limbs and die, that for me it is if not mundane then sufficiently commonplace that it no longer amazes. Despite all the progress in arms technology in recent years, the basic types of warhead attached to shells, missiles and bombs are much the same and the holes they put in buildings and in people are very similar to how they always are in every war, If for me the incidents of war are not commonplace, the effects they have on Ukraine and her people, who in my own way over the years I have loved, hated, enjoyed and begrudgingly admired, are profoundly depressing. I cannot in honesty say that I want to see the old Ukraine I knew back, with all its corruption, paranoia and obsession with the “R” word; but I do want to see a new Ukraine emerge in which her people can enjoy happy, normal western European lives and Ukraine can finally join the community of peaceful western nations.


All this will take colossal amounts of work, and I suppose that what I am doing is a mere drop in an ocean of unknown size and depth. In the meantime I will continue my fantasies about lazing on the winter beach in Nikopol, amidst the snow drifts and the shelling and under the shadow of the mushroom cloud. Maybe I can canoe down the reservoir from Zaporizhzhia with a Union Jack jacket to assist the Russian snipers in their aim. That would surely make even Harrison Ford jealous.


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Request to readers


If anyone reading this knows of a same means and legitimate purpose for me to travel to Nikopol, other than just to entertain a silly whim, please do get in contact. If you had a serious offer, I might just take you up on it.

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