LVIV Ukraine — Up until the missiles hit just a few blocks from downtown’s cathedrals and cafes, Ukraine’s cultural Capital could not feel away from war. After the initial panic subsided, people began to relax and to sleep in their beds instead of going downstairs to escape the sirens.
But Friday’s Russian airstrikes at dawn in Lviv, just outside the international airport, made nearby buildings vibrate and shook any sense of comfort as thick black smoke billowed.
The scenes from other Ukrainian cities, which have shocked the globe with their destruction and fleeing to the flames in the hours following the attacks were still present. Lviv had already returned to its historic role of a crossroads that adapts and continues to evolve over the centuries.
“In the morning it was scary, but we have to go on,” said Maria Parkhuts, a local restaurant worker. “People are arriving with almost nothing, and from where it’s worse.”
The city has been a refuge since the war began nearly a month ago, the last outpost before Poland and host to hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians streaming through or staying on. Foreign fighters and aid will come from the opposite direction.
Midstream is a city that, on the surface, carries on amid world heritage churches and coffee kiosks. The cobblestones are awash with food delivery bikes laden with bags of international brands. The narrow streets are lined with yellow trams that whizz through the cobblestones, tracing the history of each occupation from the Cossacks to Swedes to Germany and the Soviet Union.
The threat of another occupation by Russia, after so long a fight to break from its influence, and so close to the rest of Europe, is where the new Lviv emerges now.
“It’s war,” said Maxim Tristan, a 28-year-old soldier, of Friday’s attack. “It only makes us more motivated to fight.”
On a street corner, young men line up outside a weapons shop, passing around a gun sight. One man stated that anything is possible if one has cash. The others chuckled and laughed. A range is located on the same block, where you can practice target shooting. The bull’s eye features the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Military veterans teach civilians to shoot elsewhere in the city.
A bunker dating back to World War II was reopened in a city park just steps away from the playground. Men are filling sandbags outside an academy of architecture. Many churches in the area have covered up their stained-glass windows and wrapped their statues. Some leave God’s fate in their hands.
In the military section of the main cemetery are more than a dozen graves too new for marble crosses. It is covered with flowers. Boot tracks are used to mark the ground. There is still open ground behind the graves that can be used for many more rows.
Hours after Friday’s attack in Lviv, activists placed 109 baby strollers in the square at the heart of the city to represent the children killed in the war.
Tattooists poke clients with patriotic symbols. One brewery makes “Molotov cocktails.” This street poster depicts a Ukrainian woman wearing yellow and blue, as she points a gun at a kneeling Putin. A young lady draws a picture of a dove in the front room at a local shop.
Volunteerism has seized the city. Local news reports say that people are opening up their houses and making camouflage nets for the checkpoints.
“War does not only involve people who are willing to fight,” stated Volodymyr Perkar.
The 40-year-old local businessman is behind a drive to dot the countryside around the city with yellow-and-blue billboards with slogans including “God save Ukraine” and “Do not run, defend.” He was uncomfortable with the profane language that emerged early on in war messaging, and he said the more religious villagers were too. At the same time, Pekar used crowdfunding to fund what he described as two major needs of Ukrainian soldiers: cigarettes and flak jackets.
“After you fight, you need to smoke,” he said.
In the shadow of slogans and bravado are the estimated 200,000 people who have fled to Lviv from harder-hit parts of Ukraine. They are embraced by city residents, and then absorbed in shelters and homes.
The displaced go through aid collections points and scan the notices to check their phones. Lviv has changed from a getaway city to a refuge. Instead of advertising local sweets and romance, Lviv’s tourism site now provides information about radiation alerts and bomb shelters.
Promising “warmth for the soul,” locals on Friday launched a distinctly Lviv series of free cultural walks for internally displaced people, with the aim of visiting galleries, the medieval quarter and more.
Just days ago, thousands of newcomers crammed the central train station at the height of the flood of refugees heading west. Now the station’s platforms at times are almost bare, awaiting the millions who continue to roam Ukraine looking for a place of rest or a new purpose.
He was a furniture maker who was from Kyiv’s bombarded capital. He had trained in air defence years back and was now on his way towards an army position. He was standing alone, carrying a backpack and a sleeping pad. His plan was to go west to see his relatives in Transcarpathia before returning east.
Farther down the platform was a young couple, restlessly remaining in Ukraine because the man, 20, is of fighting age and is prohibited from leaving.
“I didn’t travel my country this much. Now I have to,” said the woman, Diana Tkachenko, 21. They set out on their journey last month from Kyiv in a packed train with no clue where to go.
Their arrival in Lviv proved to be a disaster. Tkachenko stated that fellow travelers shouted and shoved each other. Some of them were from far East, and from Russian-speaking regions. They didn’t know Ukrainian.
Their train pulled into one of the most Ukrainian cities. It was Tkachenko’s first time visiting Lviv.
” I walked a lot.” she stated. I tried to appreciate the area. It is truly beautiful. It feels a lot more safe.”
But there were too many people and no place to live, she said. Her boyfriend and she decided to go back east towards Kyiv.
As they were getting ready to leave, another train arrived.