Same Country, Different Worlds

Personal accounts from the frontline in Ukraine by a paramedic volunteer, Aaron Harfort, who left his comfortable life in California following his heart when his ancestral land sent out a call for help about the imminent danger of occupation from an enemy. You could contact Aaron Harford:

As I write this, I am sitting on a balcony at a resort in the Carpathians. It is peaceful here. Western Ukraine truly is different from the east. Personally, I would prefer to live in the west, but the war and struggle against Kremlin’s propaganda and soldiers is in the east, and that is where we must go and live until we win. We will win, you know. It is only a matter of time. 5 years, 10, or 300... it does not matter. Anyone who has become distraught over the elections and news over the past month out of Ukraine should remember what the Nationalists and ordinary Ukrainians dealt with over the past century in particular. There are far more reasons for cautious optimism now than ever before; this is fact. The past six months’ has been a productive and interesting time for me. If anything, I have experienced the transition one must undergo when going from the ATO to “regular life” again. While the front is largely static in terms of lines of contact, there is shelling on a daily basis, gunfire, dismemberment, and death. It is, no doubt, a different kind of stress on an individual. Make no mistake; it is war, and war means casualties... and not all of them are immediately visible. I will try to explain my own experiences in the dichotomy of going from ATO to civilian life, and back again in the hopes that more will understand this and better serve their family members and friends who are in similar situations. Sometimes serving in war means doing rather unglamorous duties. For example, guarding critical yet not exciting infrastructure (if you want to see how fragile society and civilization really is, cut off all utilities for a week). Take any normal job, and just add shelling, shooting, and landmines. Constant stress of boredom, potential snipers, and the damned mosquitoes that are near bodies of water; I dislike those more than the Russians sometimes. Active combat can be a stress reliever after dealing with the tension of static conflict. Regardless, there is shelling in the evening. Quite intense at times. One learns to make out the different sounds of incoming, outgoing, and different calibers of shells. One learns to enjoy it. The rumble. Reminds one they are alive. Every time I travel back and forth is a transition; I say this not to be dramatic. It is fact. The long train ride west, I always miss the ATO but let’s face it. ATO life is not normal life. It is not normal to wake up to shelling, and know that at any moment Russian tanks and soldiers could be pouring in and we will be required to defend Ukraine. It takes several days, for me any-way, to get used to being around normal people again. The other morning, I thought I heard artillery, but it was likely thunder. Certain situations lead me to be vigilant, and I don’t like the feeling. How can people worry about such mundane things like normal life when there is an existential war going on? Many want to pretend it does not exist. I do not care what they think anymore; I say what I think. Ukraine truly is fighting for its life as a nation.

Sitting in a nice restaurant at the resort, the waitress brings me soup and dinner. It is all nice and relaxing, but to be honest I prefer making a simple soup with my friends in the east and enjoying it together. We are friends and family there; brothers and sisters. Here, it is not the same. People argue about sports teams, bills, their spouses, employment (or lack thereof), all seemingly oblivious to the fact if we do not have a free and independent country... none of this matters! Oblivious and even indignant towards those who put their lives and livelihoods on hold, while giving up most modern comforts of daily life in the belief of the ideal that a free Ukraine is worth serving and fighting for; even risking death and injury. The bedding is comfortable, and I sometimes prefer the privacy of my own room. However, living and bunking with a group of your compatriots is also very satisfying in a different way. I suppose private rooms are a luxury that one cannot argue about; they really are better. I cannot understand how people can live in this reality. A reality I was admittedly part of in recent years. The ATO is not the real world as there are few actual rules. The west is also not the real world because it is too comfortable. As a volunteer soldier, I try to straddle the divide because I also feel this is my duty. One must have a way of life and country worth protecting and fighting for. It is not an easy task, nor transition. However, once one has made the commitment and experienced the reality, the smart of it all, one cannot ignore it any longer. I will not be silent. Glory to Ukraine, and Glory to the Hero-es of Ukraine.

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