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Refugees and helpers head to Lviv in west

Oleksandr Kunyzkyj
February 28, 2022

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed the lives of many Ukrainians. DW reporter Oleksandr Kunyzkyj visited the western city of Lviv which has seen thousands of people arriving from different parts of the country.

People stand in line in front of a building
Lviv residents wait in line to donate bloodImage: Kunytskyi Oleksandr/DW

Lviv in western Ukraine has narrow streets, historical buildings, cosy cafes, busy streets. At first glance, life in Ukraine's seventh-largest city seems largely unchanged. But, the sudden piercing sound of an air raid siren makes it clear in an instant that life is anything but normal here.

The air raid siren means people have to seek shelter in a bunker, and suddenly, fear is palpable among the people standing in line at ATMs or blood donation centers.

Russia's military attack on Ukraine has already forced thousands of civilians to leave their homes and flee either abroad or to western Ukraine, including the city of Lviv.

Rental prices soar

But there aren't enough vacant apartments for the new arrivals, says Kateryna, a realtor in the city. "As for long-term rentals, perhaps there are some left. But there are no apartments for rent short-term at all," she says. "Refugees don't rent apartments for a year, but only for a week or a month, hoping that the war will be over soon and they can return home."

People exit a train and leave a platform to walk down a set of stairs
Thousands of people from eastern Ukraine have been fleeing west, many of them to LvivImage: Kunihiko Miura/Yomiuri Shimbun/AP/picture alliance

Online platforms like booking.com no longer offer short-term rentals in Lviv. People can still find a few apartments via Airbnb, with prices starting at €600 ($676) for a week, which Kateryna finds "very expensive." The apartments she usually offers cost the equivalent of €180 a month, except during the summer tourist season when the realtor can ask for higher prices. The prices have shot up because of the war, a fact that Kateryna says she deplores.

Volunteers eager to defend their country

Meanwhile, Lviv residents are increasingly volunteering for Ukraine's Territorial Defense and Armed Forces. From the start of the war, long lines have formed every day in front of the offices. "From the moment I came here, I felt better. Just following the events from home is hard," says Dmytro from Lviv. He enlisted for territorial defense mainly because he wants basic military training. "I want to know how to handle a machine gun, how to shoot with it," says Dmytro, adding that is every man's duty now.  "Sitting at home is simply unmanly," he says.

Ukrainian volunteers help war effort

Andrij also signed up for territorial defense. "I do not want the occupiers to come here, I don't want acts of sabotage, but that order continues to prevail," the Lviv local says. "I assume people will do this in other cities, too, and it will have an effect." Andrij and Dmytro say they would not only defend their hometown, but also other cities in Ukraine if necessary.

Vyacheslav Mordik, a designer from Lviv, has decided to join the Ukrainian Armed Forces. "There is great demand, and there are many men, even among my acquaintances, who want to join," he says. Vyacheslav also doesn't want to stay at home and watch the war on the news. "I don't want to sit around while others defend my state and my freedom," he says.

Surge in blood donations

The residents' eagerness to help out and play a role in defending their country is also evident in blood donations for wounded soldiers. There are long lines at the city's blood donation centers; for many it's the first time in their lives.

Men mill around in front of a building
People wait to enlist for the Territorial Defense forcesImage: Kunytskyi Oleksandr/DW

Lina, a volunteer at one of the centers, is pleased that so many people are willing to take the step. "Only half an hour after opening, 100 people were waiting in line, which is about as many as we can handle in one day," Lina says. "Many people are upset when we have to turn them away. But we are proud of everyone who wants to help."

Lina says women are being turned down for the moment. "We were told women should stay in reserve for the time being. Because you are only allowed to donate blood every two months."

This article has been translated from German.