My second stint in Ukraine, after returning from a few months in Germany, has been a rollercoaster to say the least. I have been welcomed by Ukrainians that are now close friends, been fed a huge array of delicious foods, toasted with home made wine and spirits, and tour-guided through historic sites. I have seen a great deal more of the country, from cities to small villages, and the rolling cropping country that feeds millions here and around the world.
I have also been in small villages when they came under artillery attack, laid in bed listening to incoming ordinance that rattled the windows, visited towns reduced to ruins, seen unexploded rockets lying in the grass, and had cold, mid-winter showers in the dark after Russian strikes hit civilian utilities’ infrastructure.
It has been a time of seeing the very best, and catching a glimpse of the very worst, of human behaviour. The strange juxtaposition of being welcomed into a family home to share warmth and food, whilst 25 kilometres away a battle of World War One-era tactics and brutality was destroying lives at a staggering rate. Of receiving small gifts from people who had next to nothing; civilians living in frontline villages where blue tarpaulins kept the snow out of their houses after Russian rockets had blown their roofs to splinters.
The difference between my experiences and those of the Ukrainian people is, of course, that mine were temporary. Whilst I had a very brief and comparatively gentle taste of life during wartime, Ukrainian civilians have endured worst privations day in, day out for over a year. And for those living in the Donbas and Crimea the suffering has lasted even longer. I haven’t lost my job, house, or had family members killed and injured. It also goes without saying that my experiences are nothing in comparision to those serving with the Armed Forces of Ukraine, who have endured stresses and horror that I cannot begin to imagine.
Unlike Ukrainian men of my age, I can also leave the country. I am heading to France to meet up with my sister, who I haven’t seen since I began my Odyssey three years ago. My thoughts will, of course, be with my friends in Ukraine, and my plan is to return there after having a breather in France for a while.
I have never spent any time in France, so I’m really looking forward to exploring the place with Vicki. I’ll let you know what we find.
Until then, I will leave you with the words of a Ukrainian lady I worked with, who said to me: ‘I think Australia is a such a happy country because you don’t have Russia as your neighbour’.
I reckon there’s something in that.
I have intentionally excluded the names of locations, towns and people in my posts about Ukraine, and not included any photographs. Although this may seem excessively cautious, this is an appropriate time for excessive caution.
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