A last bastion of hope: Under siege, Ukrainian city Lviv vows to protect its freedom

People arrive at the railway station of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv to board a train to leave the country on March 7, 2022
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Lviv
10 March, 2022
As Russia's indiscriminate bombing of Ukrainian territory causes havoc across the country, the Ukrainian city of Lviv has become a shelter for many fleeing the perils of war. Yet, as the Russian invasion creeps closer, citizens prepare for the worst.

For days, thousands of people have been waiting under the snow at the Lviv railway station, a major Ukraine western municipality and one of the last big cities largely unaffected by the Russian army's invasion of Ukraine

People have been gathering at makeshift fires out of the station to stay warm and to deal with the frigid temperatures of the night.

Inside, every corner is packed with people, mostly families and children. They have arrived from Kiyv, Kharkiv, and the cities under the threat of the Russian artillery. Those in caravans have travelled 48 hours without eating or sleeping.

"We will win eventually. Ukrainians are not afraid of Putin and his threats... I won't leave the city if the Russians advance. I am ready to fight"

"We were in our bed at the university guest-house when the first bomb hit the building next to us," say Mubi, a medical student from Pakistan who studied in Kharkiv and is now waiting to travel to the Polish border. "The entire place shook after we heard a huge explosion, everyone panicked and rushed out to seek shelter," he adds. 

"For eight days, we hid inside the metro station with hundreds of other people – we had no food or anything to drink. Some of us tried to get something to eat when there was a gap in the shelling. However, my friend was killed after being hit by a mortar shell while out on the street to look for food. Many of us thought we would have died here in Ukraine," Mubi told The New Arab.

Since the beginning of the hostilities, Lviv has become a central hub for those attempting to flee the country to reach the borders of Poland, Romania, Hungary. Huge queues of cars, convoys of aid, and military trucks in and out of the city are slowing down the pace of the evacuation and the number of displaced grow hour by hour.

The city is preparing for the worst with the government imposing curfew at night. Residents are preparing shelters, while statues and historical heritages are wrapped with cellophane and foam rubber to preserve them from being damaged by mortar shells.

Yet, the morale is still very high.

"We will win eventually. Ukrainians are not afraid of Putin and his threats," says Yuri, the owner of a small coffee shop situated next to King Danylo's monument in Halytska Square. "I won't leave the city if the Russians advance. I am ready to fight," he says.

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Citizens of Lviv are rushing to buy weapons in anticipation of the Russian army's next moves. Many believe that Moscow will try to take the city, with their current incursions part of a wider desire to move west. 

The queues outside the armouries are doubling as the occupation continues. Regardless of age, Ukrainians are willing to fight back the invasion.

"I'm not scared of the Russians. I'd rather fight and die than avoid my duties as a citizen," says Alex, a 21-year-old who is in line with others to buy his weapon.

"I tried to enrol in the Army or the Defence forces, but they had already so many requests that government choose to close the enlistment."

"If Kyiv should fall, Lviv is the last major bastion of Ukrainian resistance"

In the last ten days, over 100,000 territorial defence troops have signed up. Most of them are civilians who have set up military positions around the city, representing the first defence against the advancement of Russian tanks.

At the headquarters of the Lviv Regional Administration, they have set up in a building previously used as a cultural centre for battlements. Officers welcome volunteers who come daily to help and support the assistance network.

Here people work relentlessly to process the international aid and distribute it to the civilians and soldiers on the frontline. Shifts are so tight that volunteers often sleep on the floor.

"Although we are in a predicament, the organisation endeavours to meet the need of our soldiers at the frontline and people in need of supplies," says Yuriy Vizniak, chief coordinator of the Humanitarian Aid at Lviv.

Trucks from Latvia and Poland arrive daily with supplies provided by private citizens and western governments as the centre works 24/7 to meet the increasing needs, particularly for foods, medicine, clothes.

Hundreds of volunteers work without sparing energies to receive the aid sent to the city, organise it, and deliver it to the military and civilians. The Regional Administration then dispatch it to the frontlines and the different cities along the line of combat in the eastern part of the country.

"We still are in desperate need of blood bags, tourniquets, gauze, surgical scissors and medicine," says Vziniak.

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Lviv hopes for the best but as the preparation suggests, they are ready for an imminent attack. "We are proud of each of our soldiers, who protect every inch of our land. In these difficult times, it is crucial that everyone does their job well," said the mayor Andriy Sadovy to local reporters.

"We have already formed the 103rd brigade. Now we are organising the 125th brigade. There are queues – 3,000 citizens are already patrolling the city, and many will join as the district administration is providing training to everyone who wishes to join," Sadovy added.

If Kyiv should fall, Lviv is the last major bastion of Ukraine resistance. After that, there is only the border with Poland and NATO. And while a no-fly zone is a scenario unlikely for Washington and most of the European capitals, the prospect of having millions of refugees right at the border of Europe is getting closer.

Nino Orto is a freelance journalist who specialises in the analysis of Iraq, Syria and wars in the Middle East. He is the editor-in-chief of Osservatorio Mashrek which provides insight and analysis on the Middle East

Follow him on Twitter: @OsservatMashrek