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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Volume #2, Part #2

I’m sitting here back in the sweltering Saigon, having just arrived after a mammoth journey involving three aeroplanes, a train and an extended international bus. The guards on both sides of the Polish-Ukrainian border where’t too complicated today; it wasn’t like travelling out to Budapest in the middle of the night on a series of complicated bust-up trains that I wasn’t prepared for at all when I last left Ukraine about a month ago. Then it was checks in the middle of the night, people waking you up, and a large hangar that felt like a Soviet border post in the middle of nowhere, on the outskirts of a city on the Hungarian border called “Chop” which was a frightening place a while ago. Then it was more trains over bridges and rattling and still more trains, to get to Hungary’s capital; this time the journey was a breeze and we made it from central Kraków to the railway station in Lviv in barely six hours. I almost had a fight with the (wrong) bus driver when I tried to get on the wrong bus this morning but I was a little bleary eyed, despite having put myself to sleep as early as I could last night and not enjoyed Kraków’s Monday evening nightlife. Instead I’d crawled into bed and prepared for the next stage in my Ukrainian adventure.

I don’t feel agitated or concerned when entering Ukraine anymore - it’s all now known territory. From the railway station in Lviv, in which the warm weather has induced the girls to wear ever less and there’s definitely a smile on the faces of everyone here now, you take the shambolic old tram and then you get off at the right stop (I know them all now) and I wondered into the local mobile phone office to get my phone fixed. I almost danced with delight over the light cobbled historical streets of Lviv as I headed to my new apartment, which much to my delight is next door to one of my favourite bars in the city, just tucked away behind a huge aching ancient old oak gate and through a small hallway and up some steps. This street has a haunted feeling to it and so does the building. The apartment is small and cozy and there’s only me, and I’m taking just a few minutes to scrabble down some thoughts in the calm before I head out into the throng of people out there enjoying the sun and I head to see some old friends for dinner and catch up. The frozen Saigon in the Spring is a beautiful, romantic and charming place and I feel whipped off my feet and entranced in a fairy tale, delighted to be back here and ecstatic to be bouncing along the cobbled streets.

Tomorrow morning I have my first face-to-face interview with a military official and I wonder how that will go. He’s moved the meeting forward, quite possibly because he wants to get away for the forthcoming long weekend which involves the Orthodox Easter weekend (Easter was not officially moved this year - only Christmas, rather bewilderingly) and I suppose he will ask me a bunch of questions to establish that I am sane which almost certainly I am not. And then I wonder what I will do with the rest of the day after my preliminary military encounter and I wonder what it will feel like to see all my old friends again in just a few minutes’ time. It’s an exciting period with lots going on and I am back here in springtime in the frozen Saigon.

We have reason to look upwards; the Americans have signed off on the appropriations bill for Ukraine; they have done so in a sum which means that Ukraine can fund this conflict and with adequate weapons through 2024 and then as I have predicted NATO peacekeepers will enter Ukraine in 2025 after a decisive American resolution to bring this war to an end following the November 2024 general election in the United States. So the war seems to be going well and Vladimir Putin must be sensing that their time is up. The Russians have been trying to use the hiatus in American funding to push forward with some territorial gains in Donbas, in particular to the northwest of Avdiivka just outside Donetsk; but their advances have been pathetically small, just a few kilometres through unpopulated territory and I hear the sides have been fighting over a forest outside Kupiansk. What is the point of fighting and expending so many resources to obtain territory without either strategic significance or population? Everyone has left these places and the major population centres remain secure. That is because the money came in time.

Now there is something of a time lag as the American money turns into munitions and weapons on the ground but in the meantime various European states have been using their resources to fill the gap and the Ukrainians have heroically been fighting as hard as they can with the resources they have and very little territory has actually been lost, none of it of consequence. Russia might be trying to shore up the Donetsk region for an indefinite occupation; they don’t want Ukrainian shelling positions so close to their principal population centre in occupied Ukraine. That is the only logic of using special forces to push a few kilometres from Avdiivka and it is very unlikely to achieve anything of strategic detriment to Ukraine. So the news from the East seems positive to me, and I feel positive as I am back in my second home and about to take a walk.

I will hop along the streets, drink a beer, find my friends, have something to eat, smile at the girls and breathe in the clean, pure, soft warm spring air as I enjoy a new reincarnation of my city, the frozen Saigon. What it’ll be like tomorrow, what’ll happen the day after that, I have no idea. But for now I am going to wonder Lviv’s haunted alleys with a smile on my face.


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