2023 11 Ukraine Tyachiv Drohobych Lviv
Misha has been at the frontline for nearly a year. I meet him on a freezing day at the central square of Drohobych where his cousin accidentally bumps into him. In Ukraine, a cousin is often referred to as a brother. She is upset and only later I find out why. Misha has been a drone operator and was badly hurt by shrapnel half a year ago. In the same incident, his brother Oleksandr died but Misha was brought back for revalidation. His left-hand bears scars and should be operated on again as there is still shrapnel inside. He leads an isolated life and does not feel at home at home.
On seeing me he instantly shows me videos of successful drone attacks he accomplished. The conversation is emotional as his desperate sister (cousin) tells me later he told her he would go back. Although he will be a drone instructor he still has to operate at the zero line. His mother may lose her last child but Misha is determined not to forsake his comrades. They will go back again too.
The war is everywhere
21 months of war affects every family in Ukraine. A cousin died, a husband is at the front or a niece is serving in the army. Towns and villages have flags on the graveyard indicating the graves of fallen soldiers. It is hardly possible to travel without encountering yet another funeral. Some are in small villages where the whole population follows the coffin. In Lviv every day at eleven the city centre comes to a halt.
Fallen soldier’s photographs are displayed. Villagers stop and pay their respects and family bring fresh flowers .
Towns and cities have changed. Tourist-based businesses have disappeared. A shadow fell over a flourishing country and the colours have faded to black, grey and white. The war is everywhere. Un undeserved fate.
This is home
Local communities look after internally displaced compatriots. Most have more or less settled. They could have left the country but did not. When asked why they stayed they tell me: “This is home”. Temporary housing has created complete villages. Still life is hard. Others choose to leave the country.
The economy has changed fundamentally. The poor get poorer, and some rich get richer. This process was going on already but was accelerated by the war. There is less work and it is badly paid. Due to the devaluation of the hryvnia by 30% a qualified teacher earns just 350 Euro per month. Refugees in Europe are homesick but even if they accept the possible risk it will be difficult to make a living while the war goes on.
Support for ZSU, the Ukrainian Army
Most Ukrainians support their soldiers irrespective if they are family or not. Impressive are the private initiatives to supply just about everything the boys ask for. In Tyachiv I met Kalina and Ivan who have been running a complete informal organization from the start of the war.
Рух підтримки закарпатських військових
The Transkarpatian military support group is a purely privately organized civil initiative, not some NGO. Apart from products Ivan also delivers cars to the frontline (average lifespan 4 weeks) and he purchases and imports drones. Both do not take any money out of these activities. Kalina is a teacher at the local high school. Ivan devotes all his time to the support of the army. All funds are provided by private sponsors in Ukraine and abroad, partly from the Ukrainian diaspora in e.g. Canada. For donations use:
Sniper camouflage, cars, drones, candles and borsch
In the small city, the couple is well known. Volunteers contact them if they want to contribute by making mavkas (sniper camouflage outfits), candles, trench socks and vacuum-dried packages of vegetables for the preparation of borsch at the frontline. Ivan drives the products to the front (together with other volunteers) and returns with bodies. A gruesome exchange.
“Everywhere private initiatives keep the boys going. We realise if we not continue everything would collapse.”
Mavkas are made from pieces of coloured fabric attached to nets and then the nets are sewn together. Time-consuming production process where first cloth is colored, then cut into pieces and then tied with thread to the nets.
The candles are made from spare used tins pizzerias bring. Then carton is cut and rolled to the right dimensions and stuck in the tins. At last, paraffin is melted and poured into the cans. At the frontline, the candles are used for heating. Simple but effective.
A team of volunteers, some in the villages surrounding Tyachiv do this work at home. Some of the work is done by internal refugees, who get a small reward from the municipality.
Hope and courage
Parents face a devil’s dilemma when they have boys. Especially when they turn 18. Should they leave the country and circumvent the enlistment? What would you do? Or when your brother returns from the front wounded by the same attack that killed your second brother and he wants to go back after revalidation?
Still there is hope and courage: all will be well, все буде добре