We weren't sure how we were going to be able to leave
I think that the focus always has to be on civilians
I remain absolutely opposed to this brutal indiscriminate war but I think you’d see fewer people on the left in America bringing up our own sins in Iraq right now if any of the people responsible were ever held accountable at all. McCain is sainted. Bush is a goofy old painterly grandfather. Both he and Condoleezza Rice are on TV condemning illegal warmaking. Rumsfeld is in hell but still.
You will recall last week I spoke to a woman about what it has been liking hiding out in her apartment in Ukraine during the attack. “Right now we are just trying to survive,” she said. Thankfully she and her people have in fact survived so far. She shared with me a video of celebrating her birthday over the weekend.
This was pretty tough reading. The disconnect between families across the border about what is actually happening.
It reminded me of the opposite type of thing happening here. Where young people talk about their parents being scared for them living in what they believe is war-torn Portland or NYC or whatever.
Occasionally some of us in the Discontents collective share stories with one another. Today I’m publishing a piece that originally appeared on Discourse Blog. Sign up for free or with a paid subscription to support their good work over there if you can. Here’s a coupon for 20% off a yearly subscription.
More from me down below.
They've Had to Leave Behind Things That I Didn't
Talking to Jack Crosbie About Leaving Ukraine
by Jack Mirkinson
As many of you will know, our own Jack Crosbie has been in Ukraine for the last few weeks, covering Russia’s invasion and subsequent indiscriminate assault on the country. Crosbie’s dispatches—a couple for us and then a series of pieces for Rolling Stone—have focused squarely on the ordinary civilians caught in the middle of a bloody power struggle they did not seek and do not want. His work has been a welcome contrast to the chest-thumping banality (and retrograde politics) that has characterized so many of the responses to this conflict.
But now, Cros is leaving Ukraine and coming back to New York. On Saturday, I caught up with him as he waited in the city of Lviv, close to the Polish-Ukrainian border, along with thousands of Ukrainians trying to get to safety. We talked about his journey to the border, what covering the war has been like for him, and how it feels to be going home.
Jack Crosbie: I’m here.
I can’t believe it.
Yeah, yeah. It was a little interesting a couple of times, but we're here. We're doing fine. I'm in Lviv right now, which is the far western city everyone's evacuated to. So I'm completely safe. There's no war here at all really.
That’s good to hear! I'm just glad that you’re getting out.
Yeah, I mean, I feel kind of bad, because there's still, you know, a lot of stuff happening. And there's still a lot to cover. I think the problem right now is that access to a lot of places is getting really hard. It's just really hard to drive and travel around. Like, we somehow got extremely lucky today. We made a what, in normal peacetime, is like a six-hour drive in like nine [hours], I think, but I've heard of other people that have tried to go from Kyiv to Lviv and it's taken them literally two days straight on the road. There's other legs of the drive that we did today that some people have said have taken like 18 hours in the past. It's crazy. So there's a lot more that I want to do, but I don't think there's a whole lot else I can do right now really.
How many people are making the same journey as you? Or are you on a less populated route?
Google Maps was on one today and it took us through some crazy route that somehow avoided a ton of the traffic. Yesterday we went [on] what should have been a three-hour drive probably, and we were on the road for like 10 hours or something. And the day before that it was the same thing—we drove for, I think, 12 or 13 hours for only 300 miles or something like that. So yeah, there's a ton of cars and a ton of traffic. There's checkpoints everywhere, so that just hugely holds up traffic in a lot of places, especially if you get a particularly exuberant one where they're searching a lot of cars and they blocked off a lot of the road.
These are Ukrainian troops who are doing these checkpoints?
Well, it kind of depends on where you are. Sometimes [it's] Ukrainian troops, sometimes local police, sometimes it's [a] civilian militia. Or sometimes it's a mix of all three. In the East it's all Ukrainian troops because that's the actual war zone. As you go further west, it can be just, like, random dudes around a burning trash can with two shotguns and like a pitchfork. And they're just stopping people and being like, “are you a Russian spy?” And we're like, “no.” And then they ask, “do you have any weapons in the car?” My reporting partner out here keeps making the joke that “no, we don't have any weapons, only javelins,” and no one gets it, but yesterday one guy laughed at it and he was really happy about that.
I'm like, is that exactly the moment to be trying out your one-liners? But I'm not there.
You gotta keep it light with the guys. You just kind of try and assess, like, how drunk and how rowdy they're being exactly. Honestly, we got super lucky getting here. The security readout that we got before was like, “the first drive is like eight hours, checkpoints not too bad. [The] second drive [is] 18 hours and the checkpoints are crazy.” So we were expecting the drive today to be really gnarly. And for some reason, it just wasn't. I don't know if we took a different route or if the Ukrainian military got to those checkpoints and was like, guys, calm down. [A TV network crew] who did basically the same route maybe three or four days before us got completely worked over by a bunch of dudes. But the big TV network crews roll around in giant vans and Suburbans. They have all these ex-military [people] sitting in them. We were just, like, two English-looking dudes in a rented VW Golf, so we didn't get too much hassle.
I kind of want you to be running around with the human tanks or whatever that the networks get, but it might actually be safer doing what you're doing. Less conspicuous at any rate.
Yeah, I go back and forth because the security guys are very cautious.
What would you say your risk appetite has been during this period?
On this trip, very low. And I tried to keep it very low. My partner really wanted to go down to Odessa, but the roads were just so bad on the first day and [it] would have been another, like, full day to get down there. It's super exposed down on the south coast, and the only point of going there was [we were] pretty sure the Russians [were] going to attack it any day. And that seemed like a bad scene. So I nixed that. And we just came back here because I want to go home.
I feel like everyone has been pretty stunned by the ferocity that has unfolded. Certainly from outside the country, everyone's jaws are just on the floor about how this has gone. Have you felt that from inside the country, that this went places that you were not anticipating?
Yeah, 100 percent. Everyone has. Every single person I've talked to, you know—and I don't even ask the question anymore, because after the first three interviews [asking] “did you expect this to happen?” everyone's like, no, fuck no, of course we didn't. Russia has been saber-rattling and doing military buildups on Ukraine's borders half a dozen times at this point. They did one earlier this year and then backed off. And they also invaded the country eight years ago and have been consistently at war with it, albeit through proxies, but, you know, for eight years, so I think everyone in the country was just like, of course it's not gonna happen.