Conversations in east Ukraine

“So do you believe as well that it’s all terrorists here firing on their own towns and their own people?” 

“I don’t know who is firing. So long as I haven’t actually stood next to a Grad or a Howitzer and seen who has fired it in what direction, I try not to have an opinion on this anymore. Anyway all the fighters look the same, they all wear the same camouflage, they all speak the same language – how am I supposed to tell who is who?” 

“But they have different weapons. The Ukrainians have weapons the militants don’t have.” 

“But all the militants tell me the weapons they have are ones they took from the Ukrainians as trophies. So doesn’t that mean they must have the same weapons? (Because if not, all those weapons I’ve seen the militants carrying or driving around in convoys must have come from Russia, right?)” 

“The rocket that landed on the factory where I work was from a Smerch. The militants don’t have a Smerch.” 

“How do you know they haven’t got a Smerch?”

Do you know what a Smerch is?” 

“But how do you know they haven’t got a Smerch?”

But do you know what a Smerch is? I’m former military, I know.”

But that doesn’t answer my question- how do you know the militants haven’t got one?”

And our conversation ends here, as I stare out of one frost fern-patterned window of the bus, and my former-military fellow passenger, from a town that has endured two months of shelling from Smerch/Grad/Howitzer/I-don’t-know-what, stares out of the other.

We drive through the check points, separatist ones then Ukrainian ones, though to me the men at each look exactly the same; all snowy and freezing, far from home, fed up. I’m angry with myself for arguing when my argument is as empty as my fellow passenger’s; I really don’t want to argue, not anymore, and I never in my life wanted to know what a Smerch is, or a Grad or a Howitzer or any other military hardware which is just so much money and invention being used on both sides to kill people. It’s not true that I try not to have an opinion: this is my opinion.

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