It was late afternoon before the three of us drove out of town with our load of medical supplies. Spring in Ukraine brings long days, and regional roads bring long miles of potholes, so we were glad of a few more hours of daylight. We swerved and bounced along, passing mile after mile of big open paddocks green with crops. In the little villages, dairy cows ambled along the road verge, pausing to pick at the lush grass.
We slowed down periodically to move through army positions reinforced with sand bags, concrete and tank traps, and checkpoints where soldiers asked us for our passports, purpose and destination. Some spoke English, whilst others engaged with our Ukrainian team member. On dusk we were relieved to turn off the potholed road and onto the well maintained highway.
Fuel is hard to come by in Ukraine. The amount you are permitted to buy is restricted, assuming you can find a service station that has any fuel at all. We slowed as stations appeared, scanning to see if they were open and displaying fuel prices. No price lit up on the signboard, no diesel. Many just had LP gas left. It helps to have someone in the car in Ukrainian military uniform, and we scavenged a few litres after several false starts.
As we slowed down to pass through one of the larger regional towns, an air raid siren sounded. ‘Hear that? It must be part of the song on stereo,’ joked my mate. We drove on.
The closer we got to our destination, the more frequent, and strict, the checkpoints. More soldiers were stationed at these stops, and the questioning was more intense. We had written authorisation from the area commander to proceed to our destination, and this was inspected intently. Discussions ensued. Phone calls were made. More senior officers were called. In time we were permitted to proceed.
At the final checkpoint on the outskirts of town, we were told that we would be escorted the remainder of the way. We were to backtrack a short distance, stop the car, and await their arrival.
We did as we were told, and before long a ute pulled up and three armed Ukrainian soldiers climbed out. There was an audible metallic click as they approached. We assumed they were our escort, however we realised we were mistaken when they demanded to know who we were and what we were doing. Our Ukrainian team member explained the situation, paperwork was produced, and when they were satisfied, the soldiers returned to their car. ‘Did you hear that click?’ my mate asked. ‘He switched to fully automatic.’ The ute pulled away and the dark street fell quiet once again.
Shortly after, another set of headlights appeared, this time belonging to our escort vehicle. A soldier got out of the car and introduced himself, and soon we were on our way, following his sedan though the empty streets. Most of the population had left, and at the shattered remains of bombed-out buildings left no doubt as to why. We crossed the deserted centre of town, and soon our escort was turning down a narrow street which lead to a small carpark. Some of the surrounding buildings were missing large sections, as if a great hand had grabbed a fistful of the structure and torn it away.
We took the medical supplies from the car, and followed our escort down a flight of stairs and into the basement of a building. We passed several armed soldiers, just young blokes, who wished us ‘Dobry vechir’ (good evening). Our host took us to the kitchen area, and one of the young blokes prepared us some tea and snacks. Our escort, who spoke pretty good English, explained that he was born in the town, and had lived there most of his life. There was no question about him staying to defend it. He asked each of us in turn how we had come to be here in Ukraine at this time, and thanked us for what we were doing. He then asked if we wanted to stay the night rather than driving the four hours back home again, but my colleagues had commitments so turned down his offer. I must admit I was exhausted and would have happily stayed in the reinforced bunker for the night.
We thanked the young soldiers for their hospitality, and made our way back to the cars. Our escort returned us to our meeting point, where we shook hands and wished each other well. I watched the taillights of the soldier’s car disappear as he drove back through his battered yet defiant home town.
Heading for home, we slowed and stopped at the checkpoints once more, where the soldiers recognised us and waved us on. By the time we turned off the highway and onto the potholed minor road, the eastern horizon was light with the approaching dawn. Soon our midnight run would be over, and we would back in the relative safety of our home town.
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2 thoughts on “Midnight Run”
Thanks for sharing Jim. Felt I was there with you. Anik is in Lviv and surrounding areas with Siobhan’s. She also heard the air sirens whilst at the hotel restaurant and had to go into a bunker. Like you said, it’s part of ´normal’ life there. Nothing normal about this mad war. Stay safe my friend.
Thanks Paul, yeah it’s madness alright. Needless to say the sooner this whole wretched business finishes the better.