By Rostyslav Averchuk
Lviv, Ukraine, Feb 24 (EFE).- In the year since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, the city of Lviv became a reception center for millions of displaced people due to its location in the country’s west, far from the front-line.
While it is far from the brutal clashes in Ukraine’s east, the city has not altogether escaped Russia’s missile strikes over the past year.
More than 5 million people have either stayed in or crossed through the city of some 800,000 people since the invasion. At the height of the crisis in 2022, the population swelled to 2 million, according to the city council.
From the very first day of the invasion, as lines formed near gun stores and conscription centers, the city’s heart shifted to its railway station, which had already survived the two World Wars.
Packed trains were arriving non-stop from all over Ukraine and only stopped for minutes before embarking on return trips to the cities under fire.
Thousands of tired and disoriented people, who often only had documents and basic necessities with them, had to be fed, accommodated and clothed. Thousands of locals rushed in to meet them and help the huge crowds of people navigate between various reception points that sprung up in the city’s schools, universities, monasteries and libraries.
“Back then, getting information, a hot drink and some food after a long journey was the most important thing to many,” says Myroslava, one of the volunteers meeting new arrivals at the railway station for the last year.
One year later, the railway station looks relatively empty.
Still, several evacuation trains and buses arrive daily, bringing in hundreds of people from the regions of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk.
“Having spent months under occupation or shelling, these people often are in dire psychological conditions,” Myroslava, who provides psychological assistance to about 30-40 people every day, together with other volunteers, says.
Oleksandr Riabinin had to flee from Kharkiv after a fragment of a Russian bomb, which he showed to Efe, flew into his family’s apartment.
Stressed by the arduous journey and uncertainty around his family’s future in the unfamiliar city, Riabinin had to be admitted into the cardiac surgery department of the Lviv regional clinical hospital due to a blood pressure surge.
His distress became apparent to one of the department’s doctors, Dmytro Averchuk, who eventually invited Riabinin, as well as his wife, two children and grandparents, to stay at his apartment for the next few months.
“Probably half of all patients were, like Oleksandr, internally displaced Ukrainians from Kharkiv, Kyiv, Odesa, and other regions directly under Russian attack,” Dmytro tells Efe.
His father and head of the department, Vitaliy Averchuk, confirms that the department had to treat an unprecedented number of patients in the first months of the invasion when other large cardiac centers were cut off by the fighting.
“Many of these cases were extremely difficult because only those people who couldn’t wait any longer turned for help amid the war,” the surgeon tells Efe.
There were worries about whether the department could keep funding its work and find the necessary supplies amid the logistical disruption. Major help came from abroad, especially from Poland, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Averchuk says that locals and displaced Ukrainians have got to know each other better, reinforcing the ties that help keep the country together in the face of the existential threat.
“We are happy to help. It feels natural to give them a special welcome, so that they know they are still at home here”, he underlines to Efe.