Commentary on Political Economy

Thursday 3 March 2022


Lviv locals brace for attack with stoicism and guns

In the west of Ukraine, citizens are drinking coffee and eating in restaurants as workers busily cover key statues and historical artefacts in an attempt to protect them from artillery damage.

Misha ZelinskySpecial correspondent

“Our enemies will vanish like dew in the sunshine”, a poster outside the Kebab cafe in downtown Lviv proclaims.

Written underneath in black marker are the latest numbers of Russian soldiers, tanks, helicopters and jets that have been destroyed by Ukrainian defence forces.

Taken from Ukraine’s national anthem, the posters are ubiquitous on Lviv’s shopfronts – describing the mood of a city and nation refusing to surrender. In the battle for hearts and minds, at least, Ukraine is winning.

A nearly empty street in central Lviv. Bloomberg

“We are hurting them” Anthosha Lenov, 24, tells me from behind the glass of one of the many cubicle-like kebab stands that dot the city. “I look forward to the new numbers; they make me smile.”

With the first shock of the Russian invasion of Ukraine now gone, fear is draining away too. Locals drink coffee and eat in restaurants in the very same square where workers are busily covering key statues and historical artefacts located near the administration building in case of attack. Only once have I seen people move quickly to get inside.

In Lviv, at least, it seems there are sirens and then there are sirens.

The mood in the city can be described as quietly determined, a shift from the frantic early days of the war where frenzied action seemed to be prized above all else.

It is common to see trucks being unloaded with important supplies of food, medicines, and weaponry. But the manic plastic bag deliveries from citizens are not as common as they were when I arrived several days ago.

After being overwhelmed with hundreds of thousands of refugees, the city appears to be catching its breath. There’s a feeling of a more centralised, planned approach that is helping calm residents digging in for a long battle of attrition with Russia.

Inside the Black Honey coffee shop in Lviv’s trendy city centre, Gene “Zhenya” Geziker is trying to help his country win the world’s first smartphone war.

Working in Los Angeles until just three weeks ago, Geziker, 43, sits with four phones and five SIM cards stacked in front of him. He is part of an informal network that sprung up the moment Vladimir Putin launched his hot war last week. Geziker shows me a WhatsApp group with 79 translators. Anyone who can speak English, Ukrainian and any other language is welcome to join and help.

Though information is important, wars still need guns, bullets and soldiers prepared to fire them. At 6pm on a frigidly cold Thursday night, a crowd spills on to the street out the front of the Styvol gun store. Several men in fatigues unload boxes of newly arrived weaponry.

Waiting in line for guns and ammunition in Lviv, Ukraine.  Misha Zelinsky

A guard stands with a clipboard, ticking off a list of Ukrainians who have registered to purchase a gun, with some waiting days for the opportunity. Shipments arrive daily, and the deliveries include basic shotguns as well as advanced sniper rifles.

Tania, a woman in her 20s, bounces her baby boy in her arms. Her husband has waited two days to buy a gun and is also helping others make their choice. “I think it is a good thing. We need to be protected from the Russians.” she says.

Restaurants are still operating but mostly in the city centre. The Bambula restaurant, located in an underground cellar, would ordinarily be doing a roaring trade with locals and visitors mixing in its cosy environment. “We are only open to help people” the owner, Lanya, 27, tells me.

Businesses like Lanya’s are receiving rent and tax holidays. Lanya says any money made from daily operations goes into feeding those defending the city, and refugees. As I eat my borsch, it’s comforting to know that I am helping in some tiny way, though it doesn’t ease the guilt.

Shelter hard to come by

The refugee crisis, while perhaps more orderly, has not abated. Accommodation is still ridiculously tight.

Eating dinner, I run into three Indian expats – Niven, Nani and Harry who have fled their jobs in tech in Kyiv. They tell me that when the bombs hit, a local Ukrainian family looked after them in a shelter as they all hid from the Russian assault. “Ukrainians are so generous. They worried about us, more than they worried about themselves” Niven says.

Fireproofing statues near the administration building in Lviv. Misha Zelinsky

The company Harry works for, Luxoft, not only extracted the three of them, but also helped take the Ukrainian family out with them.

To say thanks, the three have chipped in to pay for the accommodation of the family of six, who have a son fighting the Russians. It’s these little stories that keep you going after hours of news about deaths, Russian advances, and failed peace talks.

Many churches are packed night and day as Ukrainians look for comfort in the gloom of winter and war. The Greek-Catholic denomination – almost unique to Ukraine – dominates the city. The sense of quiet unity inside is profound, and the service and setting feels very familiar to memories of childhood Sundays spent in Russian Orthodox mass.

Inside the stunningly ornate Church of the Most Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, a crucifix of Jesus Christ is adorned in yellow and blue. Overlooking a memorial honouring the names of those who have died in the war thus far, a sign says: “God and Ukraine is above all.” 

No comments:

Post a Comment