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The war takes root in western Ukraine | International

Three weeks after the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, the tentacles of the war extend to the west of the former Soviet republic. They do it in the form of refugees, bombings, funerals and fear. That means, at the same time, that the war has knocked on the doors of Europe and NATO territory. The inhabitants of the Lviv region, on the border with Poland, not only have to live with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing from combat zones. They also have to learn by forced marches to live with the growing threat after the attacks of recent days.

Kilik Sergii, a physical education teacher at the Starichi school, some twenty kilometers from the Polish border, left for the front as a reservist. A shot in the neck on March 3 ended his life at the age of 54 in Bucha, on the outskirts of kyiv, the capital. His body was not able to return home until Monday. He did it in a black plastic bag surrounded by drums in the back of a van that deposited him in the Novoiavorivsk hospital morgue. From there, the caravan crossed Schklo, where the neighbors paid him homage kneeling on the shoulder in an impressive silence. Numerous soldiers were also joined in the displays of pain and respect, whom the procession caught at different points along the path along which death was walking.

The halo of security that illuminated Lviv, the country’s main western city of 725,000 inhabitants, until recently, has been darkening. In the midst of the threat from Russian President Vladimir Putin, it was chosen to become the capital of the resistance, a makeshift embassy for diplomats fleeing from kyiv and a nerve center for refugees. But the tranquility has been broken especially since, at dawn on Sunday, Russia bombed a military base near the city, leaving a balance of 35 dead and 134 wounded. None are foreigners, according to local authorities, despite the fact that the facilities have been used these weeks as a training center for guerrillas from outside the country. Four of the 35 dead were buried on Tuesday after a funeral in the church of St. Peter and St. Paul, in the old town of Lviv. Shortly after, a group of young Anglo-Saxon militiamen with backpacks, sleeping bags and military clothing were walking around the area. They assured that they came from the kyiv front, to support the Ukrainian troops, but they did not want to give more information.

Burial of Professor Kilik Sergii, a reservist killed near kyiv, this Monday in the town of Starichi.
Burial of Professor Kilik Sergii, a reservist killed near kyiv, this Monday in the town of Starichi.Luis de Vega

“Our last chance”

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Ukraine is facing a now or never, understands Alexander, 30, born three months before the country declared its independence on August 24, 1991. For this self-employed driver, the current difficulties should serve to stop the Ukrainians from be “slaves”. “If you want to change something, you have to act for yourself. Nobody is going to do it for you. Not Europe, not America”, he comments firmly, remembering the times when he worked for someone else and spent up to 18 hours a day behind the wheel. “There haven’t been many times like this since 1991 for people to build their own independent country, separate from Russia,” he says, referring to what he believes were missed opportunities with the 2004 and 2014 revolutions and that “in general They have not served to change anything.” “This is our last chance. If this war does not make people change, we will not have a future, ”he settles.

Like many other Ukrainians, Alexander has said goodbye to his wife, son and daughter, who have left for Poland. What he fears the most is a new Chernobyl and he assures that he does not want them to return until he sees that the nuclear threat disappears. Meanwhile, to show that you have to come out of tight times stronger, he has offered his house to a family that fled the attacks in the city of Kharkov —the country’s second-largest city (1.5 million)— to the that until a few days ago I did not know anything. Sergei, 51, and his wife, Olga, 43, took five days to reach Lviv with their two sons, Alexander, 15, and Alexey, 10. They are four of the two million internally displaced persons caused by this war to which must be added another three million who have crossed the border abroad. He is an engineer in a furniture factory. She is an art and music teacher at the Physics and Mathematics Lyceum center, where her children also study. Their lives, for the moment, have stopped about 1,000 kilometers from home.

Funeral and burial of four of the soldiers killed in the attack on the Yavoriv base in Lviv, Ukraine.  James Villanueva.
Funeral and burial of four of the soldiers killed in the attack on the Yavoriv base in Lviv, Ukraine. James Villanueva.Jaime Villanueva

At dawn on February 24 they began to hear the detonations. They turned on the TV and read messages from other regions of the country on the Telegram social network. “Aren’t we going to school, Mom?” asked the oldest that morning. “The war has begun,” she replied. Everyone remembers with terror in a cafeteria in Lviv the days they lived listening to the bombs —which even broke the windows of their apartment—, seeing the tanks through the window and frequently going down to take refuge in a basement that the two children describe as a nest of insects and dust. The pressure of the fighting forced them to flee on March 2, but now they see how in Lviv they are not entirely safe either.

A child with a Ukrainian flag in the center of Lviv on Sunday.
A child with a Ukrainian flag in the center of Lviv on Sunday.Luis de Vega

Despite dawning every day with the sword of Damocles from the war above, the city struggles to maintain a certain normality. One such sign is that illegally parked vehicles continue to be fined on the streets of Lviv. It is 650 hryvnias, about 19 euros. It is hard to believe that its rich architectural heritage could be bombed, but no one dares to rule it out. Alexander, the driver, is clinging to a thread of optimism: that Putin’s goals so far in this region of western Ukraine have been military.

The attacks have come closer in recent days to the north and south of this city located 70 kilometers from the border with Poland. Along with these bombings, there are daily warnings of a possible air attack. Alarms sound during the day and night. And with them, the warnings through the public address system to citizens to take cover. But, after three weeks of war, there are many who are undeterred by these warnings. At the same time, shops and restaurants keep their rhythm and the center is dotted with street singers in the evening. Traffic is normal and the presence of people on the street paints a picture far removed from that of cities in the eye of the war, such as Kharkov, Mariupol or kyiv.

The mother of the reservist Kilik Sergii, killed in Bucha, during the burial in Starichi.
The mother of the reservist Kilik Sergii, killed in Bucha, during the burial in Starichi.Luis de Vega

In spite of everything, the echo of the moans and cries like those of the mother of the reservist killed in Bucha also extends through the western part of the country. “My God, I can’t believe it’s you, son. You couldn’t do this. Is it you, my son? Are you? I do not believe it. My little son. My dear little boy. Oh my God. It is very difficult to lose children, ”the woman laments as she caresses the coffin in the Starichi church.

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