Saturday, April 30, 2022. “Do you have any weapons or drugs with you?” No. “Although… actually, weapons wouldn’t be bad at all.” The Ukrainian customs officer demonstratively does not look into the trunk of the car and smiles. He doesn’t want to know if there’s anything in the trunk that officially can’t be imported without papers. The only thing he is interested in is whether the documents of the car are correct. About two hours later we arrive in Lviv.
In Lviv, we spent the first few days to get familiar with the area around our accommodation. We memorized every single street near the place we are staying. You never know what it might be good for later. It’s a ritual I’ve been doing for decades, it’s helped me a lot in one situation or another. In this situation it was also important for me to do this. Because, even if it is relatively calm in Lviv (the front is far away), war is a dynamic event that is permanently in motion. It’s good to know where you are when it goes bang.
During these wanderings through Lviv we also get to know two street musicians from Kharkiv. They fled a few days after the beginning of the war and are now trying to make their way in Lviv. They talk about the artillery shelling of their neighborhood and describe how their neighborhood turned into a big ruin in a very short time. They also tell us that they are Russian speakers and that this repeatedly leads to harassment in Lviv. After that first contact, we met them a few times and talked a lot, hugged each other, sad looks, but we also laughed a lot in between.
We bring the donations we have brought to anarchist comrades who run a warehouse in Lviv. From there, the things go to the front line. In the first days we also have several conversations with people about building a self-organized supply line. We are in Ukraine to set up a long-term project. For this reason, there are always meetings with people on the ground to find out what is needed, where it is needed most and how we can put the whole thing into practice.
Air raid alarm. We go to the basement of our accommodation. There are not many people, most of them do not react to the alarm. The front is more than 1000km away. A few days later the situation is completely different. I hear 4 loud bangs. BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! People are running through the street. About 4 to 5 missiles hit in and around Lviv. In the place where we are at that moment electricity is cut off and an hour later the mayor announces that there are problems with water supply in parts of the Lviv region. It was the biggest missile attack in Lviv until that moment. We continued our meeting and the next day we had an interview with someone from Operation Solidarity.
The next day we went shopping, because comrades in Kyiv also run a warehouse where things are being collected. We packed the car with lots of oil, salt, sugar, pasta, cereal bars, juice, tea and coffee. The plan was to go to Kyiv the next morning. But we had to learn the same day that traveling in a war-torn country is not that easy. The front line is still far away, but the bombing of refineries makes it difficult to buy petrol, even in Lviv. Most gas stations are out of gasoline or diesel, and those that do have it, have long queues every day.
So the next day we did not drive to Kyiv, but went in search of diesel. We have 4 filled canisters with diesel, but these are our reserves so that we can leave the country at any time if necessary, so we will not use the diesel in these canisters for the trip to Kyiv. Also, we will drive with only one of the two cars to Kyiv. The other car will stay in Lviv, the rest of the group will travel by bus to Kyiv. About 20 kilometers outside of Lviv we were able to fill up the car with diesel. We stood in a queue for about an hour, so filling up the car took about half a day. Simple things of everyday life are often much more complicated to obtain in crisis areas and it often takes more time to buy them. I already had this experience during the Kosovo war, and I had already prepared myself for it in my head. For the rest of the group, however, this was a new experience.
The next morning we all drove to Kyiv, which is about 540 kilometers from Lviv. Driving is exhausting in Ukraine, in between the roads are relatively good, but there are always sections with deep potholes and even on the parts of the route that are relatively good there always are some big potholes, big enough to break an axle. So concentration is constantly 100% and we even on the highway we drive a maximum of 90 km/h to save fuel.
About 30 kilometers before Kyiv it gets quiet in the car. We drive through an area where Russian troops had been until a few weeks ago. A trail of devastation from artillery and aerial bombardment. Many homes, factories and gas stations were destroyed here, burned out Russian tanks along the highway. Comrades from Kyiv later told us that in these cities about everything was destroyed, including schools, hospitals etc. There was very fierce fighting there, and there were also many civilian casualties. About 20 kilometers before Kyiv we had to get off the highway, because a highway bridge was destroyed there. We drive on an unpaved road that runs parallel to the highway, over an emergency bridge built by the army, and shortly after that we can get back on the highway.
Shortly before Kyiv there was a checkpoint where every car was checked, including our car. However, after a short check we passed through without any problems and finally arrived in Kyiv. We were warmly welcomed by a comrade and in the evening we had the opportunity to get to know each other. The next day we met some more people, we also gave a donation to a comrade from another group and handed over the food we brought to someone from Operation Solidarity. Comrades from Kyiv proposed to build a supply line to Kharkiv and some other cities near the front line. We discussed the proposal in our group, because from here on it can become much more dangerous and before we traveled to Ukraine we agreed that each further step would be discussed and each person would have the possibility to define his/her own limit. We reached consensus that we will participate in the construction of a supply line. In Kharkiv a humanitarian catastrophe is developing, there is a lack of about everything.
Setting up a supply line in a war zone, close to the front line, requires quite a bit of preparation. Not only because of the lack of fuel, but also what exactly is needed there and how we get things in quickly in a hit and run action and get out again quickly without leaving behind chaos in which desperate people fight over the supplies. I suggested to the comrades a method with which we have already gained experience during our work on the Balkan route. One of the comrades from Kyiv made a phone call to organize diesel, and also tried to find out if we could travel by train to Kharkiv through contacts with the railroad union. We also started to make lists of the things that are most needed, after comrades contacted people who are on the ground. Baby food, salt, flour, sugar, oil, pasta, rice, water, canned food, hygiene products and much more. Afterwards we watched a bike polo game of comrades. Hardcore Music and Bikepolo, meanwhile the next air raid alarm, we also got used to it by now. On the way back to our accommodation there was a bombed building. Here in Kyiv we have already seen some, but when we walked past this ruin (title picture at the top of this article) a comrade said:
“I was at my grandparents’ house. There were 2 big bangs while we were eating something. In broad daylight, it must have been around 4:00 pm. BANG! BANG! We were about 4 kilometers away from the blast, but the earth was shaking. A well-known journalist died here, she lived there. BANG! BANG! And her life ended.”
The supply situation is also deteriorating in Kyiv. Since we arrived here, for example, more and more cigarette brands are no longer available. Many people here are concerned that the lack of fuel will soon mean that certain kinds of food will no longer be available on the shelves. Nevertheless, we do not see anyone hoarding in the supermarkets here, but this also has to do with a lack of financial resources. Many people in Kyiv earn around 500€ a month and many lost their jobs at the start of the war. Most people do not have the financial leeway to build up reserves.
Kyiv. Monday, May 09, 2022. Liberation Day in Russia. In the morning hours several air raid alerts within minutes. Some of us went to the train station to explore the possibilities of traveling by train. Right after that they will start searching for diesel. Others start going through the donations in the warehouse to see what is already there and what we still need to get. The things that are already there are also sorted. However, this time the fuel search was without success. In the last days several oil refineries were bombed and gasoline and diesel are rationed now also in Kyiv. Before, it was also difficult to find gasoline and diesel, but this has become even harder. The comrades from Kyiv tell us that the large NGOs now have teams that do nothing but try to find fuel throughout the day.
The Kharkiv idea is becoming more and more difficult to realize, but we still have a few possibilities which we will now look into in detail. If these are not feasible, the idea is to build a fuel supply line from Poland, so that the comrades from Kyiv can still pursue the Kharkiv plan. Much is happening under the radar here, partly because although the Kremlin narrative about “denazification” is bullshit, there are very real problems with fascists. Anarchist comrades are also not appreciated by the Ukrainian state. The cooperation between cops and fascists is sometimes similar to the situation in Germany. They are well connected with each other. One comrade tells us about his arrest after an Antifa demo:
“We were only detained briefly at the cop shop. There were no charges filed either. When we were released, a group of fascists with chains and baseball bats ran towards us, they were clearly informed by the cops that we would be released soon. We were able to escape, but only because local residents got us out through backyards.”
The war is a nightmare on several levels for our comrades. The war itself. The threat of living in an autocracy if the Kremlin regime succeeds in installing a puppet regime, but also the increasing patriotism (which is also fueled by a permanent stream of war propaganda) and a possible strengthening of fascist structures after the war within the Ukrainian state in case Ukraine wins the war. So it is a difficult situation, taking a position is sometimes very complicated for people on the ground. Many comrades are fighting against the Russian invasion, not only because they don’t want to live in an autocracy, but also because they are convinced that if they don’t fight, people will remember that the anarchists and radical left were not there to defend themselves against an attack by an autocrat. In their opinion, this would strengthen the position of fascist structures in Ukraine after the war. So they have no choice and they know that they will probably get the short end of the stick. The only hope they have is that, unlike countries like Germany, France, Spain, Hungary and other EU countries, none of the far-right parties made it into the Ukrainian parliament in the last election. The fascist forces had much less popular support before the war than they had a few years ago. But the fascists are well organized and remain a very dangerous force. Besides the need for mutual aid due to the growing humanitarian catastrophe, besides the armed struggle against the Russian army, self-organized projects like this are also a way to show presence and not to leave the field to the fascists.
A second idea is being worked on for the next few days: to bring humanitarian aid to one of the devastated areas around Kyiv. Here, too, there is a lack of all kinds of things. And while I am writing these lines here, and others are sorting donations in the warehouse, we hear the next air raid alarm. Sometimes there are several air raid alarms in just one hour. Now and then even in 2 minute intervals. We stopped going to the basement some time ago. But we mostly go away from the windows and the outer walls. The blast wave of the explosions often destroys windows in a radius of several hundred meters. In our accommodation the bathroom and the toilet are suitable to protect from flying glass etc. in case a rocket would hit nearby. The everyday madness in a war-torn country, but yes, you get used to it.
The noose is slowly but steadily tightening. Here in Kyiv, too, the supply situation is deteriorating. Apart from the lack of gasoline and diesel, I noticed that as a smoker first when I went to buy cigarettes, some brands are hard to get. This morning, however, we also wanted to have some breakfast in a restaurant near our accommodation and only one of the breakfasts offered on the menu was still available. They also had pizza without tomato sauce. Two days ago we also couldn’t find tomato paste in the supermarket, it was sold out. The employee in the restaurant smiled kindly at me when I asked if I could get a coffee. “A double espresso?” As a person with First World problems like caffeine addiction, she was able to quickly put me at ease. I got a double espresso, and wondered if she had detected the embarrassing concern in my voice?
After we had discussed the lack of fuel again and again the day before, we have considered whether we should not organize a big car or van with a big LPG tank. It would increase the range of the vehicle enormously, since vehicles that run on LPG can additionally be filled with gasoline. After deciding that this could be essential for transporting supplies to Kyiv and from Kyiv to the frontline, a call for donations was sent out this morning through the Cars Of Hope Twitter channels. The development of an additional continuous supply line is progressing, but we are also facing new challenges and have to solve war-related problems such as the lack of gasoline and diesel before we can take the next step. Because, in the mid and long term, such problems will increase rather than decrease. The ideas of a supply line for gasoline and diesel from Poland are slowly becoming more concrete. At the end of the week we will meet with comrades from Poland to talk about a self-organized fuel supply line.
The day is still young, but today, May 10, 2022, for the first time since we arrived in Kyiv, there was no air raid alarm. Instead, we received news that Odessa has been more or less permanently bombed for several days. Today it was probably even worse than in the previous days. Also today we continued sorting in the warehouse, tomorrow morning we will buy some stuff that is still missing and then we will drive off to start a bigger distribution action in cooperation with Ukrainian comrades.
To be continued
You can support the work of the Cars of Hope collective in Ukraine with a donation to the account below. Without your help our work would not be possible.
Name of the bank: Volksbank im Bergischen Land
Account holder: Hopetal e.V.
Description: Cars of Hope
IBAN: DE51 3406 0094 0002 9450 87