Valentina Kurushenko ran through a field, carrying her six-week-old granddaughter when Russian shells exploded over her hometown of Kherson.
Kurushenko fled the Russian-occupied city on Friday with his 22-year-old daughter and drove in two days, nearly 900 kilometers, to Lviv, a safe haven in the west. Ukraine for thousands of people to flee Russian army.
Now the trio waits in a small, hidden room above the still-crowded platform of Lviv train station, along with dozens of other women and children, who have left everything to escape death in a most besieged cities in Ukraine.
“Our house was destroyed. Only the walls remain,” Kurushenko said through an interpreter, rocking her sleeping niece in her arms as her daughter sat, head bowed, on a nearby mattress.
“We managed to escape here with barely anything.”
It is the same story for many of the women in this room, tucked away on the third floor of the large Lviv-Holovnyi train station, a monumental Art Noveau building that stands guard over crowded platforms.
While the flow of refugees has slowed as the war in Ukraine enters its fourth week, Mayor of Lviv Andriy Sudovyi The train station is estimated to still receive around 10,000 people a day, from a peak of about 60,000 – but this number could rise again if Russian aggression in other regions continues to escalate.
More than 200,000 refugees remain in Lviv, Sadovyi said, and the refugee crisis costs the city $1 million a day.
As of March 19, estimated 3.4 million people have left Ukraine, while 6.5 million people in the country have been displaced. Many of them went to Lviv, known as the country’s cultural heart, and a western city largely untouched by the devastation wrought elsewhere.
The streets of Lviv, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, remained relatively quiet when the attacks hit Mariupol, Mykolaiv and Kyiv, but Russian forces fired warning shots into the city last weekend. , hit an aircraft repair facility at the airport.
Further attacks on the humanitarian center the city has become seem likely. But right now, for many people, it’s the safest place in the country.
When the train doors opened on the carriages from Kyiv, Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil, crowds of mostly women and children flooded the platform, carrying small suitcases and plastic bags – anything they could gather. timely.
Many of them have left their fathers, husbands, brothers; Men of combat age, between 18 and 60, are not allowed to leave the country by presidential decree, in case they are called up to fight.
While most arriving refugees go straight to the main entrance of the station, the focus is on a makeshift humanitarian center outside, complete with medical tents, cafeteria and a man playing ‘Let’ It Go’ on the piano, other refugees, more vulnerable, are directed in a different direction.
Up two flights of stairs and through a series of large wooden doors, is a dedicated safe space for women and children who need urgent shelter while they figure out their next steps.
Thin mattresses were spread side by side on the floor, blankets and pillows were scattered across their surfaces. A food bench has been set up in front, stocked with hot drinks, bread and fruit. The room was a symphony of confusion – children crying, children screaming with joy as they ran after each other, unaware of the danger they had just left behind and mothers singing. Blame those who refuse to be silent.
Kurushenko and her daughter found a brief respite here as they waited for the shuttle to go to Poland to stay with relatives. As Kurushenko describes her escape, there was a tired and haunted look on her face, characteristic of many others in this room.
The port city of Kherson, near the border of the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia, was one of the first cities in Ukraine to come under Russian control. Home to more than 280,000 people, much of the city’s outskirts have now been destroyed.
In MondayRussian soldiers used stun grenades and opened fire to break up a protest in the city. Video from the scene showed hundreds of protesters approaching a city square before being forced to flee after automatic gunfire broke out.
Russian-Ukrainian conflict: Footage shows Russian troops opening fire in protest in Kherson
Kurushenko said that the Russians seized her house before it was peeled and almost completely destroyed.
She described her escape from the city as “running through fields under shelling.” Her husband remains at Kherson in the city’s self-defense unit, as is her daughter’s partner. Her daughter didn’t raise her head the entire time we talked to her mother, staring instead at her almost empty suitcase.
‘I can’t live under shelling anymore’
Nearby, Alena Seitch sat on a mattress, her hand resting on the back of her sleeping one-year-old son protectively, as her eight-year-old son wandered around the floor, eating a cookie . The family arrived in Lviv from Sumy, in northeastern Ukraine, via a humanitarian corridor. Sumy was heavily shelled by Russia.
Seitch was supposed to go to Poland, where she had arranged for refugee accommodation, but got news that she was no longer in Lviv. Now, she plans to stay with relatives in a nearby town.
“I can’t live under shelling anymore. I’m not ready to sleep in the station,” she said, through tears.
“I had a train to Poland, but when I realized no one would take us there and would not provide us with accommodation, I changed my ticket and contacted my relatives.”
Seitch is a professional gymnast, as demonstrated by her delicate posture as she sits on a mattress, left foot bent beneath right foot, right foot extended forward and toes pointed forward.
She was a gymnastics coach before the war, she explained, showing off videos of the well-dressed young ladies she trains in Sumy on her phone, competing at competitions. international before. All of her girls, she says, have escaped Ukraine, because “they’re rich and they can do it.”
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Seitch hasn’t eaten for four days, because she’s nervous and stressed. She said she stayed in Sumy as long as she could, before the bangs became too much. Her mother is still there, because she refuses to leave her house.
“When you hear shelling all the time, you think you’re going to be buried under this building,” says Seitch.
All she’s doing is “sacrificing for my children,” she said, impacting the person she is clearly suffering.
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While her one-year-old is too young to understand what’s going on, she says her eight-year-old has already started wetting the bed and even now in Lviv, in the near future. Instead, he held his head and received the fetus. position every time he hears the sirens of the air raid.
“He is very, very healthy. He’s an athlete like me, but because of this situation, our nerves have almost reached their limit,” she said.
Driving to bring orphans from burned cities
Every woman in this room has a similar heartbreaking story. Another mother of two, named Anya, came here with her sister and two young children. She said that her parents are still staying in the basement of her house.
“I had a phone call with my parents…. and they told us that a shell had landed, like not far from them but they didn’t know exactly where. Now they don’t have a mobile connection.”
Volunteers raced around delivering hot tea and snacks to empty faces as children tumbled on nearby mats. A group of stretcher-carrying volunteers waved people out of the way as they ushered a small, blanket-covered person into another room at the back of the hall.
Olha Slushinska stood at the door of the room and instructed the newcomers. Her eyes became glassy as she talked about the people she had met in the past three weeks.
She remembers a mother and child arriving on the first day they opened the door to this room, the day after the war broke out, on February 25. The baby was completely naked, wrapped in a blanket. That moment was firmly attached to her.
Volunteers came from all over, she said, including an Italian man who appeared to speak no English or Ukrainian and had just left yesterday.
Orphans and children are also arriving without parents and are being sent to nearby churches and refugee camps set up inside Lviv schools and kindergartens.
She spoke fondly of a man who was driving back and forth from here to the front lines, picking up orphans and bringing them here. She hasn’t heard from him for several days and is very worried.
The weight of war on Ukrainian children
Shlushinksa wasn’t sure about the capacity of the room but said it was always full, especially at night. She observes women who quietly grieve, “passing on their emotions to their children.”
“Everybody is very emotional. Someone who seems very stable and does emotional things very easily,” she said.
Slushinska has worked here since the beginning of the war and will continue to do so until it continues. She feels obliged to do so.
“I feel that for the people out there it is harder than here. I know a lot of women who were in the basement seeing the explosions,” she said.
“So we’re trying to support these people as much as we can.”
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