As hellish as living in war-ravaged Ukraine has been and as terrifying as the images are coming out of eastern Europe, Werri Beach artist George Gittoes believes there are signs of hope.
And it took as little as a shop opening to send pangs of optimism through the veteran war correspondent.
Gittoes, and wife Hellen Rose, had completed filming for the day in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv when they spotted a previously boarded-up cafe with its lights on.
"Perhaps this is a good sign of confidence that the Russians are starting to retreat," Gittoes said.
The Werri Beach resident wasn't the only one inspired by the cafe reopening. A film crew from One Plus One - the news channel of Ukraine national television - turned up and interviewed the Aussie double-act.
":Hellen told them who we are and the anchor person told the audience in Ukraine language how two Australian artists are here to support [them] in the fight. Everyone we know here has seen us and thinks it is very funny and weirdly auspicious," Gittoes said.
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There is a sense of possible victory in the air that is rising with the spring tulips that are beginning to push their way up from the soil.
When we got on the train, with Kyiv as our destination, we did not know if we would ever get out and each day seemed like we were playing dice with our lives but that has changed to a deeper appreciation that we are lucky to be here.
Light snow is falling. I have decided to try not to wake Hellen, who is still sleeping and take my breakfast cup of tea outside and write. I am getting a bit of shelter from the awning over the front of the closed Victoria's Secret store. From here I can see down into Maidan Square and have waved to the soldiers guarding our corner. I will bring them a hot drink once I'm finished.
Yesterday, lines from the 'There was a Tavern' song: "Those were the days my friend, We thought they would never end, We will sing and dance forever and a day" fitted the mood in my head. Filming the Old City evokes that kind of nostalgia.
After six weeks of fighting the advancing Russian horde the people here have clicked into a new channel of feeling - the fear that 'tomorrow we might die' has morphed into 'let's live life to the max while we still have it and enjoy every moment - loving those around us more deeply than ever before.
My appreciation of every minute I am still breathing has been moulded by the wars I've 'been there' in but what Hellen and I are experiencing ,now, with the people of Kyiv, is new. This is the first time I have felt my 'way of being' shared by all those around me.
It must be what it was like to have volunteered for the Spanish Civil War, as Hemingway and others did or as member of the French Resistance in WWll.
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Hard alcohol sales have been banned since our arrival. I told Hellen that our underground food store had begun selling it again, but she did not believe me until she went to check for herself.
The shelves were emptying quickly as she stacked three bottles of vodka in a plastic shopping basket. At the check-out Hellen found herself standing behind a beautiful, tall blonde woman who wore army cams in a way that made them look arty and exotic. But what impressed Hellen the most was the casual way she had slung a shiny new black Kalashnikov rifle over her shoulder.
Hellen asked if she could take a selfie with her. I could see Hellen envied the 'look'. They made rapid friends as obvious kindred spirits. Alyna introduced her partner and, of course, they were artists. The man's name was George and he asked to shake hands when he heard my name was the same, taking his military hat off to show he had long hair, as well.
He wore grey military gloves and had a crushing grip. In his other hand George carried a large 50 Cal weapon with ammolite, armour piercing shells. He was proud to tell us he was aged 52 while his wife, Alyna was much younger.
Hellen dropped that I am 72 and George's eyes popped open. He shook my hand again more firmly with a sense of amused disbelief. Alyna, who speaks good English, told us they are billeted ,with other bohemian and artist volunteers, at the large hotel on the other side of Maidan Square.
Their red shopping basket was full of booze and drinking snacks. We imagined a 24-7 party of the kind reminiscent of the early 20th century, Paris' Montparnasse scene, which the likes of Picasso, Soutine, Modigliani and Jeanne Hebuterne made legendary.
Inspired by her new friends, Hellen broke into singing Raining in My Heart for Ukraine to the delight of all the shoppers. George and Alyna clapped and invited her to come and perform on the large stage at their bohemian hotel, explaining how good this will be for everyone's morale. That is something we can look forward to.
I am accustomed to arriving at war zones to the stare of the 'Great Leader' following me from giant billboards - In Nicaragua it was Ortega, Iraq Saddam, Gaza Arafat, Syria Assad, Congo Kabila, Kabul Karzai but here there are no inflated images of Zelensky.
If the Russians take this city, they will not have the satisfaction of pulling Zelensky's statue down or plastering graffiti over his image. The Rock, Dwayne Johnson, glares down from the single giant billboard that dominates central Kyiv. Across his broad chest, printed on his grey hoodie is: EARN GREATNESS
I was in Baghdad just prior to the American forces entering the city. My closest exercise gym was called Arnold Classic. Mr Sabba, who owned and ran the gym, like Saddam Hussain, was a huge fan of Arnold. So much so he named his only son Arnold and had a thick scrap book of Arnold clippings from his earliest success as a bodybuilder.
Mr Iraq, the national bodybuilding champion, trained there and took me aside to whisper, confidentially: "When the Americans arrive, they should make Arnold president of Iraq. We need a strong man to lead us."
One day Mr Sabba came to me with a black and white photo of the young Arnold and pleaded with me to paint him on the side of the gym. I painted gigantic images of Arnold flexing his muscles on two walls facing the main road into Baghdad.
When the American tanks rolled in they were greeted by my murals of Arnold.
At the time Arnold was Governor of California. Mr Sabba wrote to him about the gym attaching photos of my mural. Arnold wrote back flattered. After a few months a container load of new gym equipment arrived - compliments of Arnold.
Ever since our arrival the prime Ukraine television station has shown very little of US President Biden, but it has been playing Arnold's message to Putin over and over again.
The smartest intellectual friend I have in the US keeps telling me how worried he is that American democracy is under threat. When I asked him who he thought could save democracy, he replied: "It should be Arnold but that would never happen as they would have to change the Constitution."
Looking up to the giant billboard of Dwayne Johnson presiding over Kyiv I wondered how long before we see Billboards asking Americans to "Vote The Rock for President", "Make America Strong Again" or "Earn Greatness".
Before I knew my friend Jon Lewis was dying from dementia, I met up with him in Sydney and walked over to the Mitchell Library Gallery where he was proud to show me his exhibition of street portraits.
I miss Jon deeply and wish he was here in Kyiv.
He would be out capturing the faces of this city under siege and bombardment, as he did when he travelled to the sinking Pacific Islands most threatened by climate change. The inspiring thing about great artist photographers, like Jon, is they teach us how to see one another with compassion.
There is an old lady who lives on the steps into the underground of Maidan Square, where we go to get our basic groceries.
Some days she fills the underground with the sound of her wailing - it is loud, endless and heart-wrenching. Yesterday she was out in the sunshine, for the first time, sharing some of her crumbs with the pigeons.
By now Jon would have zoomed in to her, engaged, bonded, and taken a series of portraits. I have not known how to approach her even though I know she is 'The Scream' of Ukraine.
I have Jon's photo of another old lady glued to my fridge, back at home, she is a swimmer, emerging from the surf at Bondi Beach, wearing flippers and an infectious smile.
'Below it I have a polaroid, taken by Martin Sharp, of Jon and I at the Yellow House in 1971. We both have cheeky looks on our faces because we had been up to mischief together. We were very young; I was 21 and Jon was a year younger.
Jon has a stylish vertically striped jacket and bowler hat and I have the face make-up and a green cape from playing the Fox in our production of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry/s story of The Little Prince.
I've outlived all my other closest friends from the Yellow House - Martin Sharp, Brett Whiteley, Peter Wright, Albie Thoms and David Litvinoff 'Jumpin' Jack Flash'. I lost my youth at the Yellow House, when my girlfriend Marie Briebauer took an overdose and died in our bed while I was away making a sculpture for our puppet theatre.
Marie was proudly Ukrainian although she had spent much of her life in America as a refugee with her mother. We met in San Francisco and later she followed me to the Yellow House in Sydney.
Wherever I go in Kyiv I recognise places from the postcards and photos in her scrapbook. Marie departed well beyond this world. I do not feel her spirit here, but I know she would be glad I came, and that Hellen is with me.
Yesterday Hellen and I walked to the Dante Park that looks down over the city. We watched playful squirrels in the trees and Hellen felt inspired to film herself singing 'Raining in my Heart for Ukraine', on her cell phone. It is now posted on Twitter and Facebook.
I have not, yet, put on my frontline filmmakers' hat, knowing that once I do, I will be fully absorbed and unable to pull myself back to safety. That starts tomorrow. For this April Fool's Day in Kyiv, I am triggering the mechanics of getting myself out with the Ukraine soldiers as they fight the Russians. I will be asking them for their love stories.
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