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“This is not life”: the drama of the displaced in Ukraine

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The drab gray and black apartment buildings at the end of the streetcar line in this western town of Ukraine They seem oblivious to what is going on in the world. However, behind every window, there is a story.

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There is a couple who laments that they will probably never be able to live in the house that was being built in Bucha. A family spent hours in an underground shelter in Irpin, caught between two armies. A woman who managed to escape Kharkivbecame a displaced person for the second time in a decade.

They all escaped to Lvivalong with 500,000 other people, a small part of the 10 million Ukrainians forced to leave their homes and settle in other parts of the country due to the war.

Many sleep on mats, in cultural centers and schools, in crowded rooms, together with relatives and friends. Some do not plan to stay in the country, but go to the neighbor Poland or beyond. Others begin to put down fragile roots. The others don’t know what they will do. Most dream of returning to their homes, assuming they are still standing.

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Some 50 people took refuge in a nine-story building on Trylovskoho Boulevard. It’s a quiet site. Through their windows they see a school and a park for children, not tanks or shells. It is another world compared to the one they left, although in recent days Lviv has also been the target of Russian missiles.

Families live very close to each other. Many do not know each other, but recognize displaced people, like them, without even speaking to them.

If someone takes the old elevator, walks through dark corridors and visits you in your temporary apartments, you will notice that you live in a limbo.

“This apartment is not mine, this is not my life”Marta Kopan affirmed. “But now I’m here”.


Marta is 40 weeks pregnant. Her baby kicks her vigorously as she goes through a bag of clothes for the girl in a fourth-floor apartment that a cousin lent to her family. All plans for the birth of the girl, like so many other things, were left up in the air. The place where she was to give birth was bombed.

“On February 24 (when the invasion began), our lives stopped”, says Marta, 36 years old. She remembers that she looked out the window of her family’s apartment in kyiv and saw queues of vehicles going to safer places. A few days later, Marta, her husband and her two children, joined.

Now, at 300 miles (480 kilometers), sometimes he doesn’t feel a thing. Other times, she feels heartbroken. “I don’t want to read the news”he said between sobs. “I know what my friends tell me”.

His friends tell him that there are houses destroyed and corpses in pieces. A friend now works as a midwife in an underground shelter. She sent him photos of nearly 200 women waiting to give birth.

Marta knows that she could have been one of them.

Kyiv It’s not the only thing he left behind. In Bucha, on the outskirts of the capital, a new house designed by Marta’s mother awaited her. Near the house there are forests, walking paths and fields to collect mushrooms and forest fruits. The Russian occupiers have retreated, leaving behind memories of the horrors of war, and her family doesn’t know if the house is still standing.

They want to stay in Ukraine, but they don’t have a long-term plan. Marta and her husband are doctors and want to stay and help. For now, they live from day to day. Her eldest son, six-year-old Nazar, takes classes online.

Although he knows that this is not possible at the moment, sometimes the little boy says that he wants to go back to kyiv. “I want the normal life we ​​led”he tells them.

“I want my children to have their own rooms, with their Legos and different colored pencils”Martha says.

The boy curls up and kisses his mother’s belly. “I hope she doesn’t get upset when she cries”says the mother.

Hours later, as night falls, sirens sound, announcing air raids. The family does not want to go to shelters.

Out of Irpin

Iryna Sanina, 33, speaks on a stair landing, between floors. She leans on her husband, Volodymyr. She is wearing the only sweater he took with her when they left Irpin. She has slippers, no socks. Even so, she goes out to smoke despite the cold.

Tears fill her eyes as she tells her story. She and her husband were trapped for days between Ukrainian and Russian forces. Soon they learned to distinguish between the fire of one and the other. The bridge that would have allowed them to find a safer place was destroyed by the Ukrainians to hinder the Russian advance. Her husband insisted that they leave, but she resisted.

They hid in an underground shelter in the courtyard. When the shooting died down, they leaned out and yelled at their neighbors, to see if they were alive.

Volodymyr stayed longer than she did in Irpin, to help with the evacuations, but it was tough. The tires were disabled by shrapnel splinters. Communications were cut off and Iryna could only send him text messages. “I saw that he was receiving the messages, but he could not answer”, she commented. “Days went by without me knowing how he was. It was horrible”.

Elderly neighbors finally convinced him to leave, for the sake of his 14-year-old son. The boy is three hours from Lviv, with his grandmother, in a safe place, where there are no air raids or sirens.

Iryna and Volodymir share a sixth-floor apartment with four other adults from Irpin, all of them colleagues at a pharmaceutical firm where the couple worked. It is not easy to live with other people, says Iryna. “But we know that many people lost everything”.

The couple does not want others to know that they come from Irpin. They don’t want to be seen as victims.. They dream of going back to their house, no matter what state they find it in, and rebuilding it.

More than anything, adds Iryna, “I want to go back and wake up on February 24”before it all started. Tears flow again.

From Lviv

The kitchen ceiling is peeling off. The bed is an inflatable mattress. The rooms are barely furnished, but Olya Shlapank’s eight-year-old daughter Zlata is doing somersaults in her room with a new little friend, telling her parents: “Let’s stay in Lviv”.

Olya, 28, and her husband, Sasha, suspect that there is not much left in Kharkiv and the house they bought six months ago. On the first day of the invasion they took refuge in the underground train, along with hundreds of other people..

Olya remember “what I feared most in life”: waking up her daughter to tell her that the war had started. Luckily, she says, Zlata did not see too many horrors, “but when he hears noises, he tries to hide”.

A week later, they drove to Lviv, thinking they would stay a day or two. They live with their cocker spaniel dog Letti in an eighth floor apartment found “for the friend of a friend of a friend of a friend”. Getting housing in Lviv proved difficult. Some owners did not want to take in a dog and there were also those who did not want Sasha. “Many people said that the husband must be fighting”Olya said.

Sasha continues to work in computer science. Olya is not ready to look for a job. This would imply accepting that they are going to stay in Lviv, perhaps forever. “I want to wait a bit”he stated. “This is no life for me”.

Years ago, Olya escaped from the region of Donetskin the east of Ukraine, in the middle of fighting. That experience taught him not to panic. But she is shaken by the impact of Russia’s propaganda campaign on the people she loves. She almost cannot talk about the war with her parents, who live in Donetsk, a region heavily influenced by the Russians. She has a hard time convincing them that the Ukraine does not attack her own people.

Friends in Russia tell him similar things, if not worse. “You Ukrainians deserve to die”someone wrote to him. Olya told him to stop drugs and alcohol. She seemed like the best answer at the time.

He’s been avoiding the news for years. Now he sees them for hours. Kitchen room. She plays with her daughter. She works as a volunteer, helping other displaced people.

To pass the time, they are putting together a puzzle on the floor, but the dog ate some of the pieces and they will probably never be able to finish it.


Olha Salivonchuk was not displaced, but she has been preparing for it for a long time.

Unlike many of his compatriots, he took seriously the warnings coming from the West about an impending Russian invasion and had a bag of clothes, medicine, food and documents since November. On February 24, her husband woke her up and said: “It already started”. Nothing more needed to be said. She knew he was alluding to the invasion. Tears come to her eyes as she remembers that moment.

Director of the apartment owners’ association, Olha saw her building emptied at the start of the war. “The people who lived here, especially if they had children, disappeared in an instant”he recounted. “The building was almost empty. At night there were no lights. There were also no vehicles parked on the street. It was scary”.

Seeing that Lviv was not attacked, many people returned. And in the days and weeks that followed, Olha, 41, watched people arrive from places like Chernihiv Y Kharkiv and huddled in apartments with friends, family, and co-workers. Olha herself housed a dear friend from kyiv in her ninth-floor apartment for several days.

A family from kyiv settled on the eighth floor and asked what they could do. They helped make the camouflage nets that cover the checkpoints in the city, using scraps of cloth.

Olha has never thought of leaving, even when a Russian air raid shook the building. Her family has lived in the city for generations, and she has lived in the apartment for 12 years.

Every time an air raid siren sounds, she, her husband and 13-year-old daughter Solomiya go with their luggage to a makeshift shelter down the hall. She has duct-taped her windows because she saw people who fled from eastern Ukraine doing it. “Maybe they know something”He says.

Olha is aware of the nervousness of the recently displaced people around her. “I tell them ‘you’re new.’ I don’t want to ask questions. I don’t know if they want to talk about the war. But if you start this conversation, I listen to you.”.

“They are the same, they are Ukrainians”Olha says. They speak nostalgically of their abandoned towns, but “They understand that they also have a home here”.

Source: Gestion

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