“Last night I woke up at 4 o’clock and started crying, then I took a sleeping pill and tried to sleep, but I couldn’t and I started crying again, so as soon as the curfew was over, I went out.” This is the first thing Svetlana tells us when we met her on Wednesday morning in Theater Square in Lviv.
Svetlana lived in Italy for 17 years and returned to Ukraine on December 5, for love. Her partner is in the military and has now been sent somewhere in the east, “but I don’t know where, he can’t say, for security reasons.”
She wants to get things off her chest, it’s obvious; and despite the bitter cold, we stand there in the middle of the square and listen to her. “I can’t believe that this madman wants to destroy the whole world. Aren’t you people afraid that he’s going to drop an atomic bomb?” We try to calm her down, to tell her that it won’t happen, but she looks at us with a half-smile as if she pities us. “You don’t understand, in the West you don’t understand that what is happening to Ukraine is only the beginning.”
We still try to get her to see reason, to explain to her that Putin has no intention of exterminating a part of humanity by starting a nuclear war. Unfortunately, she doesn’t care about reasoned arguments; she’s only thinking about her partner on the front lines, about the news on TV and about the West, which doesn’t want to stop the Russians.
Calmer, but no less striking, is the story of a lady at the municipal library who tells us about the phone calls she has every day with her husband. The first question she asks him is “Are you alive?” and then they talk as usual. She and her daughter have escaped from Kiev and now they are here in Lviv, together with tens of thousands of Ukrainian women who have decided not to leave the country so they can be as close as possible to their men: husbands, sons, fathers, involved in the war effort that is taking place in every part of this enormous nation that goes from the Carpathians almost to the Don River.
Since Friday, February 25, the day after the Russian invasion, thousands have arrived in Lviv. Women of all ages, almost always with their children in tow (and men only if under 18), terrified and completely disoriented. Most of them had never been to this part of Ukraine, and it is estimated that only three out of ten had the possibility of finding accommodation in the city.
Fortunately, the so-called “solidarity machine” was immediately set in motion, and the citizens of Lviv, first through self-organization, then with local and international aid, have managed to set up facilities to host the evacuees and distribute hot meals. As if it wasn’t bad enough, since the beginning of the war, temperatures have also dropped dramatically, so much so that even during the day, your fingers will get red if you try to take photos.
As of Thursday, almost two million of these displaced people have already crossed the border to Poland, Slovakia or Moldova. When talking about “European solidarity,” one should certainly think about the behavior of some member states and evaluate whether there really are shared values such as welcoming refugees, to name just one.
In any case, those who remained were either too afraid of going into the unknown or stayed behind for someone. In the second case, after the shock, flight and disorientation, they also felt the need to fill their time. Many evacuees have become volunteers at the collection centers, working on the sorting of basic necessities, while others, like the lady we mentioned in the beginning, are preparing equipment for the soldiers or coordinating supplies.
All of this is happening while televisions, radios and smartphones are constantly blaring with the latest news. It’s easy to guess the thoughts that fill up the minds of these people as soon as they hear the sound that notifies of a possible attack. Where will it be, who will be involved, will there be casualties? And so their thoughts go towards their loved ones, and the day seems to last forever.
Especially since news of attacks on civilians are multiplying. On Wednesday evening, in Sumy, which for two days has been the scene of a mass evacuation (5,000 people on Wednesday alone, according to the mayor Dmytro Lunin), 22 civilians were killed, including three children, during a bombing raid by Russian troops.
The aerial bombardments, this time with “dumb bombs,” unguided ordinance, were also responsible for the massacre of 47 civilians on March 3 in the city of Chernihiv. Amnesty International revealed this fact, stressing in an official statement that it “was not able to identify a legitimate military target at, or close to, the scene of the strike.” Therefore, it was an indiscriminate attack.
On the matter of Svetlana’s fears, Ukraine’s state nuclear power company Energoatom has announced that it was disconnecting Chernobyl from the power grid for safety reasons. Stopping the process of spent fuel cooling runs the risk of releasing radioactive substances into the environment. However, according to Ukrenergo, the operator of the power transmission system, the power connection cannot be restored while the fighting is going on.
On the same subject of energy, Ukraine is counting on being able to connect to the European electricity transmission system within a week, according to Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko. This news is particularly significant, considering that until February 23 (one day before the invasion) Kiev was part of the same transmission system that includes Russia and Belarus. This would explain, at least in part, the difficulties of the Russian army in cutting the power lines to the cities under attack.
Returning to the topic of civilians, in Kherson, the scene of bloody battles and at least three reversals of control, 400 people were arrested by the Russians on Wednesday, most of them civilians. According to the Ukrainian army, the intention of the Russians is to break the resistance inside the city. At the moment, the arrested people are in the custody of the Russian National Guard, and there is no news about their status or identity.
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