Heading Eastwards

by Filip Rambousek, Kiev.

My summer has not been fun. So far, I believe I have spent the majority of my time calling, emailing and otherwise begging strangers for help, which was usually followed by trips to various administrative offices in Kyiv, Ukraine. All the while I am technically on holiday.  

But finally, tomorrow morning, I’ll set out for for Kyiv’s main train station, and catch a rather slow fast train to the east of Ukraine. Because this isn’t just any trip, I’m really quite excited.

Over the following week, I will travel through the main areas of the so called Anti-Terrorist Operation Area (ATO), from Donetsk all the way south to Mariupol (see map), with the aim of spending time on the front line, interviewing soldiers, civil society representatives, and volunteers.  

Kiew=kyivinsteadofkievDuring my trip, I will use the Campus Europe website as my personal diary, and will update it every day of the week with (hopefully) interesting stories, as well as photos.   

My motivation for this trip is manifold. I have always been interested in war journalism, international security, as well as the post-Soviet states. This trip means that I can experience a bit of both first hand.

On a broader level, I am worried about what is happening with the world, and especially on the EU’s frontier, whether in the East or in the South. If I am to have a more accurate understanding, I need to experience these events personally. I cannot expect anyone to take me seriously when I write about war or conflict without ever having set foot anywhere near a frontline. I can’t advocate for a country, whether the US today, or the EU in future, to go to war, without at least trying to come close to how these learned and distant decisions affect the soldiers and civilians on the ground.

More personally, I feel as if my experiences lack when its comes to extraordinary and perhaps risky adventures. I believe that now is the best time to pursue these passions, while I have few commitments still. It may seem silly or like a romantic cliche, but I want to be able to tell anecdotes a little more interesting than office gossip.

I am also very curious to talk with the many volunteers and soldiers, many of whom are younger than I am, and most of whom had plans and careers different from risking their lives in a hybrid war. I believe that through this experience, I will learn a little bit both about myself, and the society that I live in.

Would I, my classmates or colleagues, be willing to throw everything away and join a rather cash strapped, inefficient army? I am not so sure, and I want to see whether there is some deeper difference in worldview or culture that has led many Ukrainians to join up. Do they share they share the patriotic excitement so eery to the modern reader of Remarque, Orwell or Hemingway? Are they fighting to finally leave the European borderlands and once and for all join the West, or are they simply defending their country from a foreign invader?

The Ukrainians deserve our help. I believe this is more or less clear to anyone who will ever read my upcoming entries, and those who disagree won’t come near reading them in the first place. In other words, I have no illusions regarding exercising any meaningful influence, or “creating awareness”, about the war. Because of this, I am also not going to pretend that I have some noble aim to help the civilians or the soldiers in their plight. I may change my mind afterwards, but I believe there are far more qualified people on the ground doing far more than I could possibly hope to achieve in my week’s visit.

Above all, I am going to learn for myself, and I look forward to sharing whatever I find with you.


You can also follow Phil on twitter: @rambousekf

Picture by Sasha Maksymenko.

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