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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

"Nobody's Born For War" — The True Meaning Of My Ukrainian Uniform

Pavlo Kazarin is a journalist for Ukrainska Pravda. He is also serving in the Ukrainian army: With the good and the bad, heroes and otherwise.

A Ukrainian soldier is seen cleaning the magazine filled with bullets in the base near Soledar.

A Ukrainian soldier cleans the magazine of his riffle in the base near Soledar.

Pavlo Kazarin


KYIV — I once knew a priest. He said you could find anything in the Bible, a book that describes every different behavior model in the face of similar situations. And the freedom of choice of what to believe always remains with the individual, all to be determined by where we leave our bookmarks in the book.

You could say this same principle also applies to the army.

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After all, you can find anything you want in our Ukrainian army. Heroism and selfishness. Courage and bureaucracy. Self-sacrifice and indifference. Everyone wears the same uniform, but underneath are different people. And the story each of us winds up telling about the army will depend on where we place our bookmarks after what we've witnessed and experienced.

Eyewitnesses will describe the same situations in different ways. There is no contradiction: hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians serve in our nation's defense forces. Each has their own experience, their emotional system, their life optics. Every soldier's sermon is a confession. At this moment, we listen less to the story of what happened than the speaker's story.

Too often the Ukrainian soldier is generalized. A person in a uniform becomes a representative of a caste. What he or she says then travels in news reports and on the internet with headlines like "Soldier says what he likes/dislikes/kills/makes him stronger. And so on."

But of course, in every interview, it is not the uniform that answers the question, but the person underneath. It is no coincidence that army spokespeople resemble robots: their job is to keep all things personal out of official communication.

And yet, of course, the personal will come up.

Frontline generalizations

The war is exhausting. People get tired. The closer we are to the front, the more power our "inner monkey" has. The further away from the rear, the harder it is to control. For all of us, the "inner monkey" feeds off of stress, which means sometimes it winds up shouting on social media. It spills out its resentment, rage, despair, anger, and fatigue. Those watching are then tempted to generalize the private onto the public, and the individual to the collective.

Three-quarters of those wearing the Ukrainian army uniform were civilians until very recently.

Our judgments are the consequences of our characters. For a difficult person, the world is complicated. For an easy person, it is simple. A suspicious person lives in a treacherous world, a kind person lives in a friendly one. No one would think of one of their neighbors as the entire neighborhood. Until he wears a uniform.

In this generalization of those on the frontline, one sometimes sees an attempt by those in the rear to create distance. But the truth is that there are no special people born for war. Three-quarters of those wearing the Ukrainian army uniform were civilians until very recently. Each has a trail of their biography, profession, and family history behind them. The passengers on any bus you take to work could well be your platoon mates. Do not be misled by our uniforms. Anyone can wear it.

A Ukrainian soldier in a trench carries a AK-74 near Slovyansk to stop the advance of Russian armed forces

A Ukrainian soldier in a trench near Slovyansk

Ximena Borrazas/SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire

Authors, actors of History

There is little of the "epic" in our faces. When movies are made about this war, we will not even be cast as extras. We will be left to sit in the audience discussing the inaccuracies of the plot. It's just that right now we happen to live in the most subjective period of our country's history. The outcome of our war will determine the rules by which the entire continent will live. And these rules are now being rewritten by people with whom you walked the same streets before the war.

Ordinary people will match the scale of the events.

The army allowed everyone to become part of something bigger. A part of history that will be studied. Part of a process that will be written about in books. The army allows you to be a co-author of events that balance the shaken notions of good and evil.

"What did you do during the war?" This may be the central question of our future. And even if you don't plan to ask yourself this question, your children will. Some of our friends will become street name. Others will become monuments. Still, others will write memoirs they have bookmarked in their memory.

Future generations will definitely glorify us, in order that the very ordinary people will match the scale of the events. But those who live in our times know the truth. We are no different from you. We are just like you. Only tired, unshaven, and extremely focused.

And who can tell different stories about the same thing. Because the army is really like the Bible, you can find anything in it.

Even yourself.

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How Gen Z Is Breaking Europe's Eternal Alcohol Habit

Young people across Europe are drinking less, which is driving a boom in non-alcoholic alternatives, and the emergence of new, more complex markets.

photo of a beer half full on a bar

German beer, half-full?

Katarzyna Skiba

Updated Dec. 6, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.

PARIS — From Irish whisky to French wine to German beer, Europe has long been known for alcohol consumption. Of the top 10 countries for drinking, nine are in the European Union, according to the World Health Organization.

✉️ You can receive our Bon Vivant selection of fresh reads on international culture, food & travel directly in your inbox. Subscribe here.

But that may be starting to change, especially among Gen Z Europeans, who are increasingly drinking less or opting out entirely, out of concern for their health or problematic alcohol use. A recent French study found the proportion of 17-year-olds who have never consumed alcohol has multiplied, from less than 5% to nearly 20% over the past two decades.

The alcohol-free trend is propping up new markets for low- or zero-alcoholic beverages, including in one of Europe’s beer capitals: Germany.

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