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Ukraine's Lviv turns into aid hub amid war: audio report

19.05.2022 17:30
Once a vibrant tourist destination, the western Ukrainian city of Lviv has now been transformed into an aid hub and a haven for tens of thousands of people driven out of their homes by Russia's invasion.
A makeshift shelter for displaced families in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, March 20, 2022.
A makeshift shelter for displaced families in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, March 20, 2022.Photo: EPA/MYKOLA TYS

Before the war, Lviv was a tourist centre that drew people in with its rich history and culture. Now, city authorities say it has become a “humanitarian hub” where more than 200,000 internally displaced Ukrainians have sought temporary refuge.

Anton Kolomyeytsev, the city’s chief architect, says that "the infrastructure—cafes, restaurants, all of the people in Lviv—are providing any help they can, which they used to provide to the tourists, they do for the people in need."

Kolomyeytsev envisions a village of container-style housing for families displaced by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

He sees playground equipment accessible for wounded children, meals cooked by students from a nearby culinary institute, and enough greenery to make it “the best courtyard in the whole neighborhood.”

Those plans will take months — and the first families are expected to move in this week.

“We have to invent things out of nothing,” Kolomyeytsev said. “We know that those who came here want to live in Ukraine. They can go west, to Poland or other countries, but it’s their decision to stay in Ukraine, to develop Ukraine.”

The construction site is one of many signs that the war is taking on a permanence in Lviv, a city that’s become a haven for the displaced and a hub for diplomatic and humanitarian efforts.

With the war now in its third month, the realization is that this isn’t just a quick flare-up and that things won’t quickly return to normal. Lviv is scrambling to make long-term plans to adapt to the enormous strain on housing, hospitals and other services.

Projects already are under way to turn an attractive tourist city on the UNESCO World Heritage List into a metropolis that can absorb tens of thousands of wounded and displaced people, international companies looking to move regional headquarters out of Russia, and a polyglot community of journalists and aid groups.

Specialized medical trains bring more injured people to Lviv every day, forcing urgent conversations on how to make the signature cobblestone streets in the city center more accessible to an influx of people with long-term disabilities.

The same goes for underground bomb shelters and public buildings in a historic city that was founded in 1256.

Halyna Pastushuk reports from Lviv.

Click on the audio player above to listen.