Ukraine’s war: a deceptive state of nature (

Russian missiles hit targets in Lviv several times. On March 26, two people noticed a plume of smoke from an impact from a safe distance.

Photo: REUTERS/Pavlo Palanarchuk

The Russian war of aggression completely changed life in Lviv, one of the most important cultural and tourist cities of the country. Lviv, with a population of just over 700,000 in normal times, was also indirectly affected by the war through the Russian annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbass in eastern Ukraine – and above all through the large number of refugees who suddenly found themselves in the depths the world. West of the country, often without visiting it before. But “Psychologically, February 24 was a complete turning point,” says Taras Rad, a professor of political science in Lviv, “we used to be in the far hinterlands, and the war in the east was so far away. Until now we are still in the regions remote.But on the morning of the beginning of the war, our district was bombed, like the rest of the neighborhoods in the West.The anti-aircraft defenses worked well, but it turned out to be dangerous.She did not want to imagine this in advance.

Stanislav Besushko, who took part in the war in the Donbass and expected a quick conscription in February, found Lviv at the beginning of the Russian invasion quite chaotic. “People were in shock and hardly prepared for war. But this was no surprise to me. “Pesushko is a reserve soldier in the National Guard, but he has not been offered a place to take part in combat. That is why he continues to work as a presenter on local television at the moment. He says good media work was more important at first than getting caught in a military training area. “It took about a week before the situation stabilized again, and restaurants, for example, that initially cooked only for the military, gradually reopened to everyone.” But when a military facility near the Polish border was attacked, he said, many people left the city again. Meanwhile, Lviv was bombed several times. He says these attacks are now part of the new normal.

Especially in the early days of the war, many people left Ukraine through Lviv. The train station was completely crowded, and chaos reigned there. On the other hand, the soldiers were sent towards the front. On the other hand, Lviv was a center for internally displaced people, who often did not have their belongings left. Between 40,000 and 60,000 people tried to get one of the few seats on the train. “We’re only past the first week thanks to the volunteers,” says political researcher Rad. “This is not a criticism of the city or the region – you can’t prepare for such an influx of people.” Lviv train station was doubled as there were also up to 150,000 people in places along the Polish border. “Of course, it took some time to adjust to the situation,” Rad says. “You can’t set up many composting toilets at once, and it was still winter. But a week later the situation was back to normal.

Meanwhile, internally displaced persons in the Lviv province are distributed among the municipalities, and the use of volunteers is no longer a matter of urgency. Liana Mezko, musician and director of the municipal cultural center set up in 2020, has been committed to refugees from the start. Since the beginning of the war, the center in the city center has organized more than a dozen events a week, including art therapy for those who have just arrived or exhibitions with artists who have fled. “We used our center as a point of contact for about 400 people. We had to organize night curfews to take people from the train station. Then we searched together where they could be accommodated,” says Mezko. “I had hardly slept for two weeks, and if I did, then in our center. Of course it was exhausting. I often heard phrases like: ‘During the escape, we looked back and saw how a missile destroyed our apartment building.’ But that hardly makes it normal.”

The terror that prevailed in the first days of the war has now subsided in Lviv.  There is still daily life in the city.

The terror that prevailed in the first days of the war has now subsided in Lviv. There is still daily life in the city.

Photography: Nariman Al-Mufti

Barista Vitaly from the Kiev suburb of Bucha works in the Café Cultural Centre. With his five children in the car, he was able to leave Bucha at the first escape lane that opened on March 9. Before that, he spent most of the week in the basement – which is difficult, not least because of the children. “Fortunately, I don’t personally know anyone who was killed,” says the quiet man. “But what we saw was actually more than bad.” For Ljana Myzko, these are destinies that accompany her life every day. “I do well under the circumstances, even though I always feel like I’m not doing enough.”

Lviv has become a surreal city. The Russian army has repeatedly bombed military infrastructure and targets. Recently, the railway infrastructure in the region has been damaged, which makes it difficult for the Ukrainian army to deliver weapons and move troops. A Russian missile also hit a group of tires – seven people died and a three-year-old child was injured.

While Ukraine is now under martial law, soldiers and police mostly move around the city with guns, while many air raid alerts are ignored in the city center and most cafes remain open. “It is important that the city is alive, also from an economic point of view,” says Stanislav Pisochko.

But for Anastasija Kika, the mood is a bit worrisome. “I live almost in the market square, and somehow people are always partying here. There are those who still act like they did during the tourist season,” says the woman in her late twenties who works in the beauty industry. “People shouldn’t completely give up their lives and their normal lives, in solidarity with the victims. But when the dead soldiers are bid farewell in the chapel next to the tavern, the people’s celebration of it is mistaken. “Kika grew up in Sevastopol but has lived in Kyiv for the past few years. On the second day of the war, she and her husband from Lviv drove 27 hours to see her parents.

“Of course we thought a lot about whether we should open again,” says Ljana Myzko of the cultural centre. “But we did not ask ourselves whether we would sell alcohol in a bar or not, we are a cultural institution. Culture plays an important role in all wars. “Culture can give people control because it is part of a lost natural state and it can have a therapeutic effect. “So it was clear to us that we had to get back to work as quickly as possible.”

Mezko finds the Ukrainian culture’s reaction to Russia’s war of aggression remarkable. While before February 24, Russian pop still dominated the Ukrainian charts, now Ukrainian-language songs are on top, and most of the songs were recorded after the war began.

In the early weeks of the war, there were discussions, especially on social media, about some IDPs speaking Russian. You can still sometimes hear the Russian language on the streets of Lviv, but you rarely hear it. “Of course there are a minority who are upset about it, but it is simply too loud,” says Stanislav Pesushko. “Most of them realize, however, that now is not the time to resolve language issues. There is now a broad consensus that people should speak more Ukrainian anyway, but of course this is not always followed immediately. The car speaks loudly Listening to music in Russian can bother some people. “This was the case in the past.

Taras Rad also remembers a Ukrainian identity. Together with three colleagues, he launched an initiative to rename the streets in Lviv. More than 30 streets named after the Russians will be renamed. There are about 30 others on the Reserve List. Similar initiatives also exist in Uzhgorod, Ivano-Frankivsk and Kiev. In the next few weeks, the Lviv City Council should make the first decisions on this topic. It is likely that some of the methods will be discussed for a long time. “I am not in favor of the concept of zero tolerance for Russian culture. “We understand that there are individuals who are part of the cultural heritage of the entire world,” Rad explains. Pushkin Street, for example, is a legacy of the Soviet era, when Russian culture was considered distinctive, and other cultures, such as Ukrainian or Belarusian, were considered regional. Rad speculates on Russian expansion “But what does Pushkin have to do with Lviv and Ukraine?”

As anywhere in Ukraine, residents of Lviv are confident of victory – according to polls, more than 90 percent of Ukrainians believe in victory over Russia. But what is meant by victory remains unclear. Taras Rad says: “I am a pragmatist. The Crimean issue should not be resolved militarily. I see options in Donetsk and Luhansk, but I am not a military expert. Otherwise, the restoration of the actual borders by February 24 will be enough for me, ”says the political scientist. And TV presenter Stanislav Pesushko has a similar opinion: “I don’t know about Crimea, but I think that in the end we can get the Russians out of the entire Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” he said. But it will be a long battle. This is clear to everyone now.”

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