Addendum to Putin-22:
The Middle Finger

I returned to Kyiv on 17 November 2022. It was not the kind of weather that encourages hopefulness. Cold, freezing rain, snow on the ground, ice. And at 7 AM it looked like midnight. It was bedlam at the central train station, Kyiv Pasazhyrskyi. There is no organized taxi queue at the station. Your driver finds you and you hope for the best. Mine looked like a pickpocket but not an axe murderer. I hoped for the best. He drove dangerously fast through the dark wet streets with snow piled on the sidewalks. It looked like a war zone and in fact it was. When we got to the hotel we had an argument about the faire. I handed him 400 uah or hryvnia and he refused to give me the change. I was hugely overcharged said the hotel manager who met me outside to get me through security. But I had made it and at least there was some heat inside the hotel.

I spent the next 10 days doing nothing other than surviving. I observed the darkened windows of the surrounding apartment buildings: I had light most of the time and some heat. Most of the time I had running water. Not everyone did. Being at a hotel had "privileges". I kept my drapes pulled so that my neighbors did not witness me living in luxury while they suffered. But if I were living in luxury, it did not feel like it.

Going to the market for food was not easy. Although I'm used to icy sidewalks from living in the Pyrenees Mountains in Spain, I slipped once and came down hard. No broken bones or blood. I was lucky and became increasingly cautious out walking. Still there was food in Novus, the big market down the hill, and plenty of spirits in case you were feeling down.

Soon after I got there I was headed out the door when the receptionist asked, "Do you really want to go out there?"

"Why not?" I asked. "I didn't hear an air alarm".

"They're online now", she said.

Last time I was in Kyiv the alarms were loud and menacing drones. Enter technology in an age when we still don't understand the principles of peaceful living. Observed from a high level you would think we were an advanced civilization; at ground level you would think we were barbarians with a lot of gadgets, the latest being digital.

I was told I needed to download and install "Digital Kyiv". When I did I was denied access to the app as my country code was +44, not +380 (Ukraine). To run this bloody motherfucker you needed a one-time code, or OTC, that could only be sent to +380. A call to Apple support was not helpful. It was a "developer issue", I was told. That Apple had software in it's store that could get you killed was not "concerning". Another app in the App Store, however, did not care about my country code. I downloaded and installed "Air Alert Ukraine" that alerted me to attacks by region all over Ukraine. What fun! War was now a game. I set up alerts for Kyiv and Odessa, where I was headed next. They began to go off regularly. When there are no alerts the app says "No worries", California surfer talk that seems oddly out of place with the gravity of the situation.

A week or so later I took the train from Kyiv to Odessa in the middle of the night. I arrived about 6:30 AM, although it looked like the middle of the night in a horror movie. Although slightly warmer according to the thermostat, it had a different kind of cold plus wind. It was grey, black, and sunless. As much as I tried to get a glimpse of the sea during my stay in Odessa, it was visually blocked by a fortress of tall buildings at the water's edge and soldiers guarding any other access. I resigned myself to never seeing the famous sea I had come to see. Reading about Odessa's history as an ancient Greek seaport (it's name means "long journey") was fascinating, as were some of the staff at Frapolli Hotel. When "Air Alert Ukraine" indicated that we were under attack, the reaction of the receptionist was "So what?" I guess they had been under attack so long that the novelty had worn off.

When I asked about the location of the bomb shelter, the receptionist called the manager, the ever-lively, ever-humorous Natalia, who told her to take me to the basement, sit me in a chair, and leave me there. I sat there about five minutes then never asked about the bomb shelter again. The general attitude was this: it was better to die in the street where your body could be found than to be trapped in the basement. I came to agree with the assessment,

Natalia told me of a wonderful market down the street and I began each day with a walk to the market for a bottle of wine, air alerts or not, and fresh deli food. Odessa had many power generators making it sound like a construction site in New Your City, and it was much more upbeat then Kyiv despite the bombings. This is not to say that there were not darkened buildings with people huddled in the dark and cold inside; but it seemed to have a kind cheerfulness about it that Kyiv, the capitol city, did not. I wish I could have been there in summer without a war going on. There was also the Mozart Hotel, the Mozart Restaurant, and the grand opera house across the street. Imagine seeing "The Marriage of Figaro", then going to the restaurant for coffee and dessert afterwards? Well, maybe another time when delusional "Peter the Great" is not running the show up north and wreaking havoc on people's lives. Shame on me for finding any humor in this at all. I should stick, like most people, to just giving Putin the middle finger.
By Louis Martin