Lviv mobilizes as Ukraine Western fallback as Russians advance

Lviv mobilizes as Ukraine Western fallback as Russians advance

LVIV, Ukraine — An art gallery downtown is now a makeshift factory for camouflage netting that will soon be sent to the front lines, and lots on the outskirts of this city are being used for the mass production of molotov cocktails.

Located in the far reaches of western Ukraine, Lviv has been spared from Russian shelling that has leveled buildings and destroyed bridges in the country’s north, south and east. But the city is very much at war, having frantically mobilized over the past two weeks into a rear hub of operations now supporting Ukrainian forces around the country.

The 16th-century buildings lining Lviv’s ornate city center have survived two World Wars, reassuring residents that the city will survive the next, which some fear may be in the making.

Many businesses that closed during the first few days of the invasion had reopened by this past weekend, with store shelves stocked. And, for hours leading up to what is now a nightly, 10 o’clock curfew, the city’s streets and alleyways are well-trafficked by people who’ve fled from intense clashes in Kyiv, Odessa, and Kharkiv.  

There is a somber anxiousness on the streets, but also pride amid messages that have popped up on billboards around the city in recent days, telling people to prepare to crush the Russian invasion, and rallying support for the Ukrainian resistance fighters on the Eastern front.

Just blocks from Rynok Square, Lviv’s cobble-stoned city center dotted with statues and normally flooded with tourists, is where an art gallery has been hastily converted into a makeshift factory for camouflage netting.

Hundreds of volunteers now line each level of the gallery’s interior. They’re ripping donated clothing into strips and removing any buttons or glitter that could reflect light, before weaving the strips into massive nets, strung around a skeleton of boards that’s been erected between walls where paintings and photographs still hang.

The mood inside is jovial but focused. Music plays at a volume you might expect to hear at a coffee shop down the street. The volunteers – many of whom look like they might otherwise have been studying for springtime exams at that coffee shop – chat amongst each other while they weave.  

“We only play Ukrainian music,” said Bohdana Syniakevych, 25, the lead organizer behind the effort who said she occasionally interrupts the music to provide brief updates from the front.

“People are really involved in the process,” Mrs. Syniakevych said. “They have no time to check the news.”

‘The hardest things to get’

In a warehouse outside Lviv‘s center, hundreds of other volunteers are working in shifts to sort through donations pouring in from other cities and towns across Western Ukraine, as well as from neighboring countries.

“The hardest things to get are bandages and tourniquets,” said Nadia Ostashevska, 21, one of the volunteers in a call center set up on the warehouse floor to field requests coming from the front lines. She said medicine and painkillers are also top requests from the hotspots.

Motorcyclists are donating their helmets. Residents are buying up military surplus gear from shops and dropping it off at collection points across the city. Others are sending in surplus gear from abroad.

The warehouse shelves are lined with sleeping bags, clothes, and bottles of water. A stack of Molotov cocktails sits on the lot outside.

The volunteers, most of whom are in their early 20s, load pallets full of supplies and stage them for the steady stream of long-haul trucks and panel vans that pull up to the docs lining the warehouse.

“We try to find brave drivers,” said Andriian Dorosh, 22, a volunteer at the warehouse. “Some drivers demand a military escort, but it is often not possible.”

Mr. Dorosh said many of the volunteer drivers have made multiple trips to the front lines and back. The drive to Kyiv, which normally takes under eight hours, can last days due to checkpoints and bridges along the route that have been destroyed.

Other cities remain completely cut off from supplies. Negotiators have agreed to set up humanitarian corridors in certain hotspots like Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine, but the ceasefires have broken down.  

Those in the warehouse receive constant updates from their friends on the front lines and from the drivers that return. Mr. Dorosh said the stories keep the volunteers motivated. 

Ms. Ostashevska, at the warehouse call center, said the updates are a reminder of why to keep backing the fight from Lviv.

“Each person here feels a lot of responsibility because one wrong move can have an impact on the war,” she said. “If we forget to pack an item on a truck we know there will be consequences for those on the front lines. That is why we all work hard and work together.”

‘This is my contribution’

At the art gallery turned camouflage factory downtown, strips of ripped clothing are organized by color and size and placed into piles – greys, blues, and dark greens.

The strips are then affixed in a random pattern to create an assembly of jagged lines and muddled colors designed to disguise weapons, troops, and checkpoints now scattered throughout Ukraine.

For Mrs. Syniakevych, creating military hardware like camouflage netting is a far cry from her normal job. In peacetime, she is a university lecturer and volunteer for youths. But like most in Lviv, she has abruptly shed her past life over the past two weeks, becoming fully invested in helping the war effort any way she can.

“For me, as a citizen of Lviv, which is a safe place, a beautiful place, this is my contribution,” she said. “I cannot take a weapon to the front and fight, so I use my organizational skills and relationships for volunteering and contribute all of my effort to this.”

Residents, Mrs. Syniakevych said, are turning out in droves to help.

Schools have paused lessons and non-essential work has ground to a halt during the day, allowing those removed from the front lines to dedicate every last waking hour to supporting the fight against the Russian invasion. 

“In the first few days we had about 500 people coming throughout the day to volunteer,” Mrs. Syniakevych said. “People were fainting because it was too hot, too busy, and the space was overcrowded.”

She now only allows 200 volunteers inside at one time.