Images on my screen this week showed Ukrainian museum staff and volunteers, struggling to evacuate works of art as the war rolls closer.

It’s hard not to ask yourself why these brave people would do this when they could be out saving themselves or their loved ones.

The answer lies in a story about Winston Churchill, which tells how Churchill was asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort. He simply replied, ‘Then what are we fighting for?’

This tale, one of so many coming from this conflict, helped me appreciate the reality that war is not just for soldiers.

I worked for many years in public service, mostly in council services that are non-essential: just as the Ukrainian art galleries are. Examples — and I’ve done all of these — might be looking after nature reserves, beaches, or public parks.

Sooner or later, councils have to decide what to spend their budget on and what not to.

In my case that led to an unexpected change of career when the Isle of Wight Council, nearly ten years ago, decided to stop funding countryside work entirely.

It was a small issue among cuts to many other services at the time: albeit one that I remember well. But this decision, and many others like it, illustrates the difficulty of making the choice between such diverse services as, say, a crematorium and a library.

In peacetime this is just part of the humdrum routine of local politics. Public decision-makers take these choices daily. If you had to choose between providing a single fire engine for your town, or a new art gallery, what would you pick?

Why, a fire engine of course. Saving lives is obviously more essential than looking at art. What if you already had 50 fire engines, and still no gallery? Maybe it would be time for some art.

But the fire engines are just as essential. What changed? How many fire engines is too many? Exactly how many would you buy before you build that gallery? And what if it wasn’t a gallery, but a hostel for the homeless? Those are harder questions.

In reality, neither fire engines or galleries exist in isolation. We must take many other factors into account. So much so that usually choices councils make are obscured in minutes, agendas, consultations and long administrative processes.

But when that is stripped away, the question must remain. What actually, truly, matters most to us? This is what I think when I see courageous Ukrainian curators and art lovers who, in their days of desperation, are making decisions without the need for committees.

They are non-essential public servants with nice quiet jobs just like me. Suddenly for them, art and the cultural heritage of their nation became literally a matter of life and death. They took action accordingly.

I applaud and respect their judgement, and selfishly wonder what I would have done. Let us hope that we are never forced to face the choice they did.