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in Lviv, “ten days of war is as long as ten years”

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The front is far away but the war is there, around the corner, even if we only hear it when the sound of the sirens rushes the inhabitants into the basements of buildings. The war is there, from the checkpoint erected at the entrance to the city, with sandbags, chicane and anti-tank obstacles. 80 kilometers from Poland, the large western Ukrainian city of Lviv has been transformed into a rear base: at the same time the last stopover for refugees on the exodus route, a center for the transport of humanitarian aid and a hub for arms deliveries from Western countries.

In the historic center, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, municipal employees have wrapped the statues of the deities of Roman mythology and sheltered some stained glass windows. At curfew time, between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., territorial defense patrols crisscross the deserted streets. The municipality coordinates an army of volunteers, engaged in the collection and distribution of clothing, food and medicine for the benefit of the refugees, and housed in private homes or in schools, universities and the stadium of the city. Franz-Liszt Street, Roman, 35, a construction worker, who arrived the day before from around Kiev, queues in front of the district administration to receive aid. Just opposite, Iouri, 19, a student at the University of Lviv, manages a collection point for donations in an art gallery.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees

“Ten days of war is as long as ten years, loose Sofia, on the station platform where thousands of displaced people converge every day. The world I knew has collapsed. » Arrived the day before from Kharkiv (east of the country), this specialist in information technology accompanies Anastasia, leaving for Warsaw, with her mother and sister. She, childless, will stay in Lviv with her husband. Soon, the two friends will leave each other. An undone link in the anonymous wave of stressed faces, muffled in hats, crowding into the great hall, waiting to be able to access the crowded tunnel, to the platform from which four or five trains leave every day for Poland .

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“I’m not sure of anything anymore, Anastasia whispers. DSuch things should not happen in the 21st century. The whole world sends us words of support, Facebook is in the colors of the Ukrainian flag, but I feel bad. What we need is real help against the Russians. » On the forecourt, others warm up over braziers or line up for hot food and drinks, served by volunteers. Further on, the queues lengthen in front of the buses leaving for Poland.

spirit of resistance

Phoney War, in a city preparing for battle. Few signs, however, of an attack to come, since the three airstrikes which hit the west of the country on the first day of the invasion. The authorities fear a military operation launched from the Belarusian border in the north, cutting off the rail and road arteries to Poland and the supply of the country. An executive order from the governor now requires all men between the ages of 18 and 60 to register with the territorial defense forces. “Few people have been mobilized so far but it has had a psychological impactrecognizes Ivan Horodysky, lawyer, in his office in the city center. Something has changed. »

“Each will fight, each in their own way”

Something has changed in people’s minds, but what? Very skeptical at the start, like many here, Ivan recognizes the flawlessness of President Volodymyr Zelensky. “I think his speeches are excellent. We will not win this war with rockets or guns alone. The spirit of resistance will be the most important. And everyone will fight, in their own way. »

Last week, Lviv buried its first soldier, 21-year-old Vitali Sapilo, a local football club player, who died defending Kiev. The city has 937 emergency shelters, listed on a virtual map available on the city administration’s website. No less than 571 of them, basements of residences, theaters or hotels, do not meet safety standards, flooded or not ventilated.

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Bottles of beer and Molotov cocktails

Instructions were given to the population on how to target Russian vehicles with Molotov cocktails, setting tires on fire or aiming at windows and ventilation systems. Vadim, a former physical education teacher, filled his cellar with bottles full of oil and gasoline, ready to use. The owners of the Kryivka restaurant joined the war effort to make “the people’s weapon” with craft beer bottles. At the university, students make camouflage nets for soldiers. Mobilized in the Lviv Territorial Defense Battalion, Oleh Yaskiv, 49, a vice-rector at the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU), prepared for war all his adult life by attending the gymnasium and doing survival experiences in the forests.

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The return of the Soviet ghosts

The Soviet ghosts are back in the city of “blurred borders”, a turbulent microcosm of 20th century Europe. Taken from Poland in 1939 by Soviet troops, after the signing of the non-aggression pact with Germany, the former capital of Galicia never easily submitted to Russian authority. After the Nazi occupation and the return of the Red Army in August 1944, the Soviet political police waged a fierce war against Ukrainian partisans. “It’s as if the Second World War had not ended, (that she was) simply frozen, without (that there were) final release”, says the writer Taras Prokhasko. On the walls of the cellar of his house, where he takes shelter in the event of an air alert, are still the scratched dates of the Soviet bombardments.

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