Space and resources are strained in the western city of Lviv as more than 200,000 Ukrainians have temporarily settled in the city after Russian airstrikes continued this past week.
ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Seventeen-year-old Hanna recently fled the Donetsk region with her family. Fearing reprisal, she doesn’t want her last name used. She and her family are on a bench just outside Lviv’s train station – cold, anxious.
HANNA: I’m very stressed.
WESTERVELT: I’m sorry. Where will you guys go now, do you think? Where is your plan?
HANNA: I have no plan. We – you know, we haven’t enough money to have a place where we can sleep. Actually, we have money for one day.
WESTERVELT: There are options. The Red Cross and aid groups are trying to link displaced Ukrainians with the growing network here of nearly 500 schools, gyms and theaters that have been turned into makeshift living quarters for some of what the U.N. says is about 2 million internally displaced Ukrainians. At Lviv’s Center for Urban History, Miroslava Liakhovych shows me around.
MIROSLAVA LIAKHOVYCH: We had here different public events. Now it’s a shelter for refugees.
WESTERVELT: In the center’s lecture hall, people are stretched out on yoga mats and blow-up mattresses. In what was the center’s cafe, mothers have pushed together armchairs to make little beds for babies. An elderly man sleeps on the floor, where, until recently, people would sip cappuccinos. Natiya, who also asked that we only use her first name, fled Khakiv by train with friends from the university. Someone, she says, gave them the history center’s number. She’s been here about a week. Her family, she says, is trapped near the eastern city of Zaporizhzhia.
NATIYA: (Through interpreter) In these villages where my relatives are, they cannot leave the villages because they are occupied by Russians now.
WESTERVELT: This city of some 725,000 has swelled by about a third in a few short weeks. There are no food, fuel or other major shortages here yet. But the city is bracing itself. Dr. Sophia Dyak, the history center’s director, says there’s a wave of challenges ahead far beyond finding more bed space.
SOPHIA DYAK: It’s about kindergarten. It’s about medicine. It’s about a whole social infrastructure. So what is now is a question how to build mobile capacities – food, sleep, education, kids, care.
WESTERVELT: This renowned history center is a research institution, a group of sociologists and historians accustomed to looking back into the region’s complicated and contested past. But director Dyak said, no one hesitated a second to shift focus to this historic present.
DYAK: We are not objective, standing aside academics. We are citizens. We are living here. We are human beings. It’s important to think not only about using but actually how you’re giving.
WESTERVELT: Lviv’s mayor Andriy Sadovyi says with the help of aid groups and the private sector, the city has been stockpiling generators, medicine and food for a while now. That resilience plan, the mayor says, has been key. But Sadovyi says most of the charitable and volunteer help seems to be going to refugees at the border. He says displaced Ukrainians need more help right here in Lviv.
ANDRIY SADOVYI: (Through interpreter) I’m asking the international organizations for their support. We need you now, and we need you here. We need large tents we could roll out with the ability to cook food and to keep people warm. You need to be here with us to support us in this important time.
WESTERVELT: The musical director of the Luhansk Philharmonic had to flee fighting in the Donbas region. Now Igor Shapovalov is in Lviv, as are most of his musicians, many of whom have had to put down their instruments to aid the war effort.
IGOR SHAPOVALOV: (Through interpreter) I think right now there are just more important things to do. Most of our team, our musicians, are volunteering at railroad stations. They help women with children distributing aid. Everyone’s just helping.
WESTERVELT: Shapovalov is being hosted by his friend, conductor Ivan Ostapovych, Lviv’s culture director. We meet at the city’s 17th century concert hall, located inside the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. The 300-seat hall is empty now, of course. Under martial law here, all public events are cancelled. But Ostapovych says he’s eager to see people return, to fight Vladimir Putin, he says, with Ukraine’s art and culture, not just bullets.
IVAN OSTAPOVYCH: (Through interpreter) We understand that the city has its limits. The city now is a bit overcrowded, but we’ll always support all cultural institutions. This is very important because we know that Putin claims there is no Ukrainian culture, and we don’t exist as such. And so it is vital we show the world who we are and what we are. This is our culture.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WESTERVELT: Alone at the grand piano inside the cavernous church, maestro Ostapovych begins playing Ukraine’s national anthem.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WESTERVELT: Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Lviv.
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A grain silo destroyed by Russian airstrikes in the Donbas. Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Ge…