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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Volume #2, Part #4

After much contemplation and having my ear bent by a good friend who served in the military, my decision is made. I told the International Legion for the Defence of Ukraine that I didn’t want to proceed with my application to join them at this stage. Why not? Well, as my experienced soldier friend told me, it’s the wrong decision for me at this stage of life. Aside from anything else, you should join only if you have an expectation of death and you take the view that you might come back if you are lucky. If you are anywhere else in life then joining the Ukrainian Armed Forces is not for you, because the next 12 months of stalemate warfare are going to be extremely violent with a heavy death toll on both sides. And at my age, with my experience and obligations, I am not ready for the grim inevitability of death.

I heard a statistic today, that the Ukrainian Armed Forces are currently recruiting an additional 350,000 soldiers now that they have reduced the conscription age from 27 to 25 in recent legislation. And of those 350,000, active recruitment has only just started, but it is estimated that if the war carries on for another year then 50% will die and another 50% will suffer so-called “life changing injuries” (e.g. amputations). So the odds of dying or being seriously injured are about 75%. Now the battalions composed of foreign troops may have slightly better odds, but only slightly so; they might be sent to safer destinations. But this is far from certain and therefore I am undertaking a 75% risk of not coming back (or not coming back the same person). With two children and a family to support, I cannot take those risks. I am not Ukrainian, so I have the luxury of choice and there is no safe civilian support job for me to slide into; it seems almost inevitable I would be deployed to digging defensive trenches as the Ukrainian Armed Forces take every step to prevent the Russians overrunning Kharkiv and other territory in the northeast of the country.

So the Ukrainian Armed Forces are now engaged in a colossal exercise in turning the entirety of the East into a series of defensive fortifications, and this in itself can be very dangerous work because Russian drones and artillery are aimed at these fortifications under construction and will aim at any soldiers they can put their sites on, knowing that the biggest relative advantage Russia has over Ukraine in this war is the number of men she can deploy. Ukraine may be well resourced in due time through US and other military funding; but Russia can afford to lose more men on a monumental scale and that is the strategy she is working to. So for Russia, every death of a Ukrainian soldier is an effective chip at the monolith of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, because that soldier has to be replaced; whereas for Ukraine, the deaths of Russian soldiers - who have been told they are facing an existential crisis for their motherland because the troops they are fighting are NATO soldiers (something not true) - can simply be replaced by another round of the draft. That is because Russia is such a large country with such enormous manpower.

The net result for me is that the odds are against me in this particular endeavour, and so I gracefully stepped back with my application and I received a gracious response. The Sergeant in charge of my dossier I am sure understood my reservations: once I have arrived in Ukraine and spoken to some people I might realise just how serious the risks are involved in serving in the Ukrainian Armed Forces in this critical year, 2024, and I might recoil at the notion of progressing further. This makes my efforts to try to get fit to undertake the basic training somewhat not to the point; but it does mean that I can go out and have another beer tonight because I don’t have to be too worried about whether I can scramble across an assault course tomorrow morning.

There would have been a time, when I had been younger, when I would have been more reckless or more courageous, and notwithstanding these shocking odds I would have gone forward anyway but now I am nearly 50 and my own country’s military wouldn’t have me because I am too old. So I must be reconciled with the fate of age and family responsibility and I must seek to continue to serve Ukraine in a civilian capacity, whatever that might be. As to my friend, who spent many hours talking me out of a decision to enlist, I can only express gratitude for what was undeniably a life-changing decision that I made today.

As for all those young Ukrainian men who will have to take my place, I can only feel sorrow and anxiety for them. I hear it said that seven roadblocks have been set up around the city of Lviv to stop and conscript on the spot males of conscription age, so that now young men are afraid of driving around Lviv by car. The overt conscription of young men from bars that I saw last Autumn has disappeared, for the most part; but you are still advised to carry identity papers on you at all times, even as a foreigner, or you might find yourself detained for several hours if you appear to be of conscription age. This happened to one of the group I am a member of here in town just last night. The general rule remains that if you are stopped by the authorities and asked for your ID papers and you cannot prove that you are under 25 or over 60, and you have no valid exemption papers, then you will be sent straight away for basic training (which lasts six weeks typically) and then you will be sent straight to the front line.

Moreover even the wounded are being quickly returned from hospitals with shrapnel injuries incompletely healed, because the Ukrainian Armed Forces need men on the front line to defend cities such as Kharkiv and the Donbas positions around Chasiv Yar and Avdiivka that I wrote about in my prior diary entry. This is due to be a long summer, with a lot of gruesome death and injury all I fear for very little before the war is drawn to a proper conclusion by western intervention next year.


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