Monday 11 December 2017

Fergal Keane Diary: Europe is spared the displaced millions but Ukraine's forgotten war rages on

'The world has forgotten this war'. Photo: AP
'The world has forgotten this war'. Photo: AP

Fergal Keane

I am too old for this carry-on. Outside, the snow is piling in drifts against the cabins. Inside the single heater groans and splutters and cannot keep the cold at bay. The woman of the house tells us she can do no more. She is a vision from a fashion show on a collective farm in the 1960s: beehive hairdo, fur coat, white leather boots and a gold tooth that glitters when, very occasionally, she smiles. This close to the front you pay your money and you takes your chance.

I am back in Ukraine. For this part of the world the temperature is mild, a mere 13 below zero. The wind does the real damage. It is Anna Akhmatova's "wind from the age of stone". It lacerates the face and renders you incapable of speech.

At dawn there is a gorgeous pink light reflected from the snow. A clear day ahead. To hell with that. We were praying for fog. The landscape here is endlessly flat. Driving towards the front in clear weather means there is no cover. The gunners spot you from a long way off. Technically, there is a ceasefire, but on the day we arrive it is violated 71 times. This means sniper fire, mortars large and small, artillery, multiple-launch rocket systems, grenade launchers at closer quarters and the usual clatter of automatic rifles.

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