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The Border at Przymysl

Thomas LeeMay 2, 2022 (0)

We could learn a thing from the Europeans, who seem to be rallying around the Ukrainians as they flee the onslaught of a “James Bond villain brought to life.” Here at the railway station on the border, most people are headed to Warsaw, and then, with luck, somewhere else. Canada seems to have a tremendous and unified Ukrainian community; indeed, the people with me are by and large Ukrainian Canadians. There were enough of them – of us, I should say, now – to form a separate unit within the Ukrainian Legion, and that is a good thing. Language is a barrier when asking directions and an insuperable moat when you are getting coordinates screamed at you on an aging Soviet radio, with the person doing the screaming not doing it out of panic or fear, but trying to talk over explosions that cause the transmissions to cut on and off, and otherwise obscure what the person is trying to say.


There is word that a famous Ukrainian-Canadian actress is coming this way to boost morale. If she does, she'll probably bring cash along with her smiles, since according to some sources she is the highest paid actress right now. It might be just a rumor, but such a rumor brightens the spirits of people who celebrated Christmas this year in homes that since then have been leveled or are being used as barracks for Russian soldiers.


Americans have not seen anything close to war on our shores for a century and a half, with the exception of 9/11. Europeans, with all their culture, their understanding, their brilliance in science and art, would be fools to forget the horrors of the Balkans, Ukraine eight years ago, Georgia. They have responded by volunteering, by putting together their resources, even the meagerest of them. In Warsaw I saw a street performer, painted entirely yellow and blue, including his hair, on a similarly colored unicycle. Here, I was struck by a word that has by and large lost its meaning in print to Americans: “free.” And while I lament the loss of freedoms we have suffered in the wake of 9/11 and the sea-change in attitude on the part of Americans, when I say free, I mean that I cannot remember the last time things were not done for a profit motive.


Outside the railway station is the World Central Kitchen, a determined looking bunch of grandmothers are there at 3:30 am, serving hot tea, chicken, kielbasa and what I am certain are kind words, even if the meaning is lost on me. Once they realized I was going the other way, to take up arms for a country and a people not mine in language or culture, they broke into smiles and twice wanted to touch my hand. “Nice man,” said one woman, who was buying her husband a pair of boots. He is serving with a paramilitary unit and only had sneakers on when he picked up a rifle and she fled to her sister's. Nice…I don't know. I haven't thought about it in such terms, although there is likely some truth to it. I think what she means is that sacrifice is good, and although I haven't thought of it that way, either, I guess she is right. It isn't a comfortable existence, and I am glad I brought a pair of pants lined with fleece, even during May weather. But a little physical discomfort on the part of someone accustomed to it by trade…well, I am creakier than I was years ago, but in truth, it is kind of nostalgic. Studying the desiccated dictates of the law, in my warren of an apartment in Manhattan, I lost the zest you feel for life when you live on its edge. I am glad to be back at the tip of the spear, even in my forties, since without ego, I can say that I am not a regular forty-some year old. By dint of years of training, I can still hack it, and the disc that whines at me from my lower back…well, I offer it up, as my Jesuit masters once said. Suffering is what these people are doing; I am a little cold and my lower back is tweaking.


I do hope the famous actress shows; she was also a champion athlete and martial artist, nothing like another famous actress who years ago sat on an anti-aircraft gun, earning the ire of a nation, ire she still contends with, although unfairly. That one has apologized. The one coming here is a Nietzchean superwoman, for real, and when she plays a warrior princess, you can see that she might be reliving a past life, and no one begrudges the fact that if she does come, it will be for a space of days and then back to Hollywood or wherever.


Now, I realize this had nothing at all to do with the A-10, and lament that, for as heroes emerge from the morass of this struggle, the first among them is the Ghost of Kyiv, now a household name. True, he was a pure fighter pilot, even though he may have been as much myth as fact, but I imagine that there are actual pilots waiting in the… wings (I couldn't resist) to fly attack planes down at snake-belly level if and when we get them here.


By my calculation, if there are about 225 A-10's in service with the US right now, and there were some 720 built - well, that leaves a few, and the news that the US is sending them would lift the hearts of these people to heights empyrean. The volunteers are here through the night, distributing supplies, guarding refugees against the criminals who prey on such unfortunates. I am wary of condemning anyone, but a person who took advantage of these souls now…well, if Dante couldn't design a proper oubliette for them to be tossed into, I think I could. And it would not be pleasant.


The A-10 is exactly the right thing, at exactly the right time. Let us determine where those 500 or so sit, and write to men in high places. And call them. And write them. We need them. The Arizona desert does not.

The writer is a former military man, now researching and writing about the Ukrainian Conflict. Questions can be sent directly to


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