July 8th, 2023

map of Ukraine

Update # 14

After returning to Kyiv I finally met with a Legionaire I only knew through IG. Troy is a former Marine, Iraq vet, and he also fought with the Kurdish Peshmerga before coming here last year to fight Russians. His story is similar to many foreign fighters I know. Restless as civilians, intolerant of oppression and bullying, and usually not mixing well with others in their native lands, they come to fight and to live where they feel most comfortable. For Troy that is the battlefields of Ukraine.

Troy is 100% the real deal and shared many accounts of his experiences on combat, fighting internal corruption, dealing with other bad actors coming in and out of the Legion, disfunctional leadership, and at the same time engaging in serious close quarters combat with Russian troops and Wagner mercenaries. He recently gave an interview to The Daily Beast, and other outlets and after our meeting I walked with him to another interview with ABC News. We passed the memorials and destroyed vehicles on display at St. Sophia’s Square and parted ways at the Intercontinental Hotel. This is located next to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The IC is swanky and the place to find journalists, foreign correspondents, Red Cross and UN officials (they never leave the hotel) and probably some spies.

I then went to the memorial for fallen soliders on the outside walls of Sophia’s cathedral. There were thousands of photos displayed chronologically before you even get to the full scale invasion last year. People need to be reminded that this war began in 2014, but only in 2022 year did Russian introduce its full army and plans to take the entire country.

The following day, I took time to do something completely different. We don’t do tourism while we are here. We may pass through historical sites and cities but it isn’t our mission. I will predict however, that after the war, tourism will be huge in Ukraine. Especially for art and culture lovers, history geeks, and foodies. Nevertheless, my teammate Hymie has a donor in London from the Kosoff family. Leon Kosoff was one of the most famous artists in the UK and part of his family originated from a small village several hours south of Kyiv called Pavoloch. Hymie wanted to visit the village and report back to the Kosoffs anything she was able to find out about their ancestors and their town.

The drive was about two hours through lush farmland and villages mostly untouched by the war. Pavoloch is beautiful. In typical Soviet style, there is a town square with the requisite WW2 park, the administration building, the school, the church, a community center and a small grocery. It is located on the Rostavytsia River, which flows across central Ukraine and there is an old dilapidated mill on the river that is about the nicest piece of real estate I have ever seen.

We used Google and Google maps to try and find a Jewish cemetary. The family has stated that they lost contact with relatives during WW2. We located the town cemetery and a Jewish memorial nearby but nothing else. We were heading to an area we thought was the site of a WW2 massacre of the Jewish population but ended up on a dirt road in a neighborhood of well kept homes. Two small children began following us curiously at a distance on their bikes.

After sitting in the van in sweltering humidity, think Mississippi in August, trying to locate the synagogue or it’s remains on the map, two friendly middle aged women emerged from a house and asked us what we were looking for. After a discombobulated conversation they called a man named Peter who spoke some English. Peter insisted we meet him at the building that Hymie had previously surmised was the synagogue but is now the town museum.

We arrived and met Peter and his 22 year old daughter Luba. The museum had in fact been the synagogue and as luck would have it, Peter was a school teacher, history expert AND the curator of the museum.

He and Luba opened it on a day it was usually closed, and gave us a 90 minute tour, video presentation, a visit to the various memorials on the property, including one commemotating the Nazi murder of all the non-Jewish town elders, and showed us an exhibit about the Holodomor, Stalin’s attempt to destroy Ukraine in the 1930s by starving the population to death.

Then we all hopped back in the van and headed back out to the cemetery, down a dirt two track road and to the site of the Nazi massacre of the town’s Jewish citizens in 1941. The site was overgown and we had to break brush and beat a path to the monument. Peter was somewhat embarrassed at this and said clearing the area would be a priority for him in the near future. In talking to him, it became apparent that he is the keeper of the history of Pavoloch and his daughter is off to college in the fall in Lviv to follow in her fathers footsteps.

In true fascist form, the Nazis had forced the Jews of the village to dig their own mass grave in this field and then they gunned them down and covered the grave with dirt. The memorial was erected years later by the town.

Like every day in Ukraine I was reminded of what true evil is and what real tyranny and oppression is. We hear many in the US talk about being oppressed and calling each other fascists. One can argue the merits of specific policies and their impact on our freedoms in the United States. But nobody in the US is oppressed, or victims of tyranny or fascism. Not even close. After being here five times and especially after seeing this village and seeing the history of real oppression at the hands of Nazis and Soviets, and also witnessing it first hand from the Russians, I will only laugh at people talking about how they are victims of tyranny in America. It is laughable, ignorant and embarrassing.

Following this, Peter ran home and emerged with chocolate and home made wine. He and Luba thanked us profusely for coming to Ukraine to help and especially for coming to Pavoloch. We took photos, and exchanged phone numbers. I will 100%, without a doubt return to Pavoloch.