Blog: Local Relief Operations in Lviv, Ukraine
By Kai Hopkins, Head of Humanitarian Programmes
It takes a few seconds to register the first time you hear it, your brain slow to compute the potential significance. After the third or fourth time, it blends into the background wall of other city sounds like car engines and horns. In Lviv, the daily air raid sirens are one of the few indications of war, along with the boarded-up monuments and covered ornate church windows, the sandbags and checkpoints, and the quiet evening streets as the curfew approaches. Yet after just a day or two, these signs of war simply sit faintly in the air, like a background smell. It is not an all-pervading stench as it is further East, but you can still sense it.
Lviv, a city of just under one million inhabitants, has swelled since the start of the war, extending its protective arms around those forced from their homes by the brutal Russian invasion. To understand where the fighting has been and where people have come from, simply look at the number plates in the city centre. Standing in the shadow of the impressive Opera House you can see cars from Kiev, Kharkiv, Sumy, and other areas targeted by the Russians.
There are very few new arrivals in Lviv these days. Even along the border with Poland, where a month ago the numbers were vast, those crossing have been reduced to barely a trickle. Of course, as the Russian advance shifts focus, more may arrive, but for now, the flows remain minimal. Those who have left the East find comfort and shelter here in Lviv, where the grand buildings stand proud and defiant, their Baroque facades silently screaming their resistance.
Going to one of the several temporary shelters for those who have left their homes, I meet the shelter coordinator; Ivanka. The shelter is in the large Lviv football stadium, and we sit huddled deep in the bowels of the building as another siren whines outside. Ivanka and her team are exhausted. They have been working non-stop for weeks welcoming those who have fled, providing food and medical care, and arranging longer-term accommodation. Like the Lviv architecture, however, they remain strong and are not going anywhere. “This is our duty”, she explains; “some are fighting with guns, while we are fighting here”. It’s a mentality that is felt across her whole team; a sense of pride, a sense of purpose. As they sit wrapped in blankets in the cold stadium basement, it is clear their spirit is unbroken. They are braced for further arrivals from the Southeast, those who see the changing Russian positions, and who hear about the atrocities left behind in places like Bucha. Ivanka and her team are ready for them.
The Lviv football stadium is transformed into a makeshift shelter for internally displaced Ukrainians.
There are millions of Ivankas across Ukraine; ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Not for money and not for recognition, but out of passion. The darkness of adversity has shone a light on the power of collective action. Everyone is playing their part. At World Jewish Relief we see this in the work of our partners every day – many of whom have remained in their communities to deliver vital services. Not because it is their job, but because it is their country. In our warehouse in Lviv, where we are sending tens of thousands of boxes of food, hygiene items and critical medicines, people are working around the clock to sort and send on supplies to the East, motivated by their shared sense of purpose. If we think the response of the international community to the crisis has been impressive, the response of Ukrainians has been monumental. As a humanitarian agency, our role is not so much to do, but to enable, and thanks to the support of our generous donors, we are enabling Ukrainians to conduct one of the most impressive relief operations in living memory.
You can read more and donate today to our Ukraine Crisis Appeal here.
Below: Kai visits the warehouse in Lviv where our massive shipments of humanitarian aid are arriving.