By Rostyslav Averkuk
Lviv, Ukraine, Oct 2 (EFE).- Ukrainians forced to flee their homes have been concerned about their relatives, who still live in the four illegally annexed Russian-occupied regions.
“I am shocked about the illegal annexation but believe that Mariupol will be free again,” says Andriy, who moved to Lviv from Mariupol ahead of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Andriy, together with his wife Aliona, attends a meeting for the internally displaced Ukrainians in a Lviv center to talk about their culture, cuisine and history and get support from the people who have also lost their homes to the Russian occupation in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv and Crimea.
Aliona is worried about her parents who cannot leave the city because they have to take care of her elderly grandmother.
“The invaders treat the locals badly. My mother feels like an alien there. She is depressed and cries all the time,” Aliona tells Efe.
“This used to be our favorite place,” says another Mariupol native, while showing a picture of the local theater that was destroyed by Russian strikes in March, leaving dozens killed.
“It was always full of happy people and now it’s become a source of immense grief where Russians are trying to stage new plays as if nothing happened,” she adds.
She says that Russian president Vladimir Putin’s decision to annex Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, does not really change anything for her.
“Mariupol is Ukraine,” a slogan she chants together with several other employees of the center that seeks to support the displaced residents of the seaside city in Lviv.
Olesia Milovanova, head of Luhansk Ethnographic Museum, does not seem surprised by the annexation either.
“It’s hardly any news, it was clear Russia wanted to do that,” she tells Efe.
Milovanova says people are trying to leave the annexed area but some are not able to do so.
“Some are afraid to leave because their empty houses would then be taken over by the Russian soldiers.”
Milovanova points out that she just heard that her friend was taken into a makeshift prison, while her car was confiscated.
Milovanova, as well as her employees, was forced to leave Luhansk after the war broke out in 2014, but she believes she will be back by next spring.
“Probably next spring we will be home,” she highlights, predicting that the Ukrainian army is likely to move deeper after recapturing the key eastern city of Lyman.
Amet Bekir, a Crimean Tatar who had to abandon his job as a tour guide at the Bakhchisaray Palace in 2014, is now hopeful that he will be able to return to his home, where his father is buried.
“Keep calm and believe in the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” he says. “Light will overcome darkness.”