The Exodus to Lviv

Civil society mobilises as western city becomes a hub for those displaced by the war.

The Exodus to Lviv

Civil society mobilises as western city becomes a hub for those displaced by the war.

Thursday, 17 March, 2022

Vitaliy Turovtsev, 40, is one of many Lviv residents offering his home to fellow Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion of their country.

Turovtsev, the regional spokesman of the State Emergency Service (SES), explained that he was now sleeping in his office and had sent his family to stay at his parents to make more room for the incomers.

"Already a dozen families have spent the night at my home,” he continued. “And they are the best guests that I have ever had.”

More than 2.8 million Ukrainians have left the country since Russia invaded on February 24, while at least 1.9 million people are internally displaced, according to the UN.

Many head to Lviv, a large city in the west of the country with a population of 720,000. Some use this as a transit point to other European countries, but others remain.

Civil society and official organisations are mobilising to deal with the huge influx; according to Lviv mayor Andriy Sadovyi, the city’s population has grown by 200,000 people.

IT specialist Nataliia Panchyshyn, 32, works for the national committee of the Ukrainian Red Cross. Оriginally from Lviv, she returned to her native city from Kyiv after the invasion. 

"Lviv is a relatively small city, everyone here knows each other… this is how we coordinate our work with city and regional authorities, with rescuers, doctors, and other NGOs,” she said.

Since the beginning of the conflict, the Red Cross team in the Lviv region has grown to cope with the influx, with more than 40 new volunteers joining up. 

"Today, people mostly come to Lviv to the railway station,” Panchyshyn said. “And this is the main point where we work with IDPs. We have a field kitchen there where we provide people with hot meals and takeaway food. We have hygiene kits, in particular nappies. We have clothes, blankets and basic medicines.”

The SES have also set up tents at the railway station and at all checkpoints on the Ukrainian-Polish border. Volunteers make tea and hot meals, allowing those in transit to rest and keep warm.

"Employees of our service are located next to the tents and help the migrants with information work with the migrants; where and which train departs, where are the buses, how to get to the tram,” Turovtsev said. “Our psychologists also work at the station.”

The Arena-Lviv sports complex, originally built for the Euro-2012 football championship, has been transformed into a coordination centre to receive and register IDPs.

"Work began immediately on the creation of a centre to work with migrants,” said Kateryna Shuvarska, 28, executive director of the Lviv Regulatory Hub NGO. “No one spent a long time conferring, there was no bureaucracy, they immediately set to work.”

Those who pass through the centre are provided with food, clothing and basic medical care.

"We have a medical team, family doctors and psychological support at Arena-Lviv,” Shuvarska said. “They measure blood pressure, talk heart to heart, help people with special needs.”

From the start of the fighting, NGOs were flooded with volunteers.

"During the war, most Ukrainians showed the best sides of their character,” Panchyshyn said.

Shuvarska’s team set up a helpline for volunteers and created a database of those offering aid, and initially set up a chatbot for IDPs to register online. But they soon discovered that people wanted to talk to directly to those helping them, to hear a human voice and connect with others.

"Many men bring women and children to Lviv, and they themselves return to fight the invaders. And one of these couples wanted to [marry],” said Shuvarska. “They told us about it and we helped them organise the wedding. It was a very emotional moment.”

Emergency accommodation was also a priority. Following the influx of IDPs, rental prices in Lviv soared, with prices for a one-bedroom flat now reaching 1,000 euros a month, out of reach for most ordinary Ukrainians. Even at such prices it was difficult to find housing and co-ordinators began expanding their efforts to the suburbs, organising transport for IDPs to reach their new accommodation.

The city is using 440 cultural, educational and religious institutions to provide temporary lodging. Shuvarska’s team settled nearly 125,000 people in the Lviv region between February 24 and March 12, and are trying to plan beyond an emergency response.

"At first, we only thought about how to respond promptly to the wave of migrants,” she continued. “But now there is already a person responsible for helping the IDPs find work. Many companies are now moving from the affected territories to the Lviv region and these companies need employees. Also because of military conscription local companies need workers. We try to bring these people together.”

This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.

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