Last summer, I spent a month volunteering in Lviv. In November, I revisited the city, catching up with many volunteer friends, from all over the world as well as those displaced from occupied parts of Ukraine.
All over Ukraine, there are netmaking workshops. Large frames are constructed and people work together, some cutting the strips, others weaving them into the nets. The armed forces use camouflage nets to cover tanks, guns, equipment. In the summer, they needed ‘camouflage colours’ – greens and browns. Now it is winter, the nets are made with white fabric, to blend in with the snowy landscape. They look different, incongruously pretty, bridal.
Working together for Ukraine
There is a new centre, where the organisers work hard to create an atmosphere for casual workers to take part. The room is large enough for several frames, on each of which a net can be completed in two to three hours.
There is a small ceremony when a net is finished. All the volunteers stop what they are doing and help to roll up the net, while the national anthem is played on someone’s phone. Sometimes there are some short announcements – about how nets are being used, or some words of thanks from the soldiers. Someone will always translate into English, for those who do not speak Ukrainian.
Casually and informally, the work proceeds, alongside chatter and gentle guidance from the organisers. There are usually plenty of snacks, cake, tea and coffee – in Ukraine, it is never optional to refuse hospitality. A small book is kept, logging all the volunteers. On my second day, I was asked to write my name and a few details about myself, to which a small headshot was to be added.
It was good to meet up with old friends, volunteers who have been in Lviv continuously, some for over a year. We talked as we wove the fabric into the frames, handing each other more strips, sharing scissors and chairs for climbing up to reach the tops. Most of the international volunteers have now obtained ‘volunteer visas’, giving them leave to stay for longer than the visa-free 90 days available to most countries.
A loose community has developed, held together by WhatsApp and word of mouth. If there is a need for extra help – to unload a lorry full of humanitarian aid, to take pizzas to a nearby children’s home, or to find someone who can drive a car across the border – a message is posted and people quickly respond.
There is an animal shelter in Lviv, where lost pets from the occupied territory have been rehomed. Once a week, a request is sent out for dog-walkers to meet in the park. There is a website providing information for new arrivals. The group has a social function too, meeting up in the evenings to eat and drink in the one of the many bars or restaurants.
Now settled in, these long-termers are starting more ambitious projects. A few people run a kitchen making energy bars for the troops. A retired American engineer has raised money to purchase several 3D printers. Joining forces with a Romanian software developer, they are making components for the military. There is a new project at the city library, making trench candles from cardboard, wax and paraffin.
Life continues in Lviv
I had coffee with a Ukrainian friend from Donetsk, with whom I had previously worked most mornings, peeling vegetables in the Lviv Volunteer Kitchen. She fled Donetsk in 2014, when the Russians bombed her home and has been in Lviv ever since, with her husband, both now retired. I asked her how long she thought the war would last.
“I don’t know”, she said, with a sigh. “You have to understand that Putin does not want the War to end.”
Putin, the warmonger, has no desire or need for peace. Constant chaos and uncertainty is what keeps a dictator in power. In the meantime, this lady, like thousands of others, has had to make a new home, living in reduced circumstances. We went to a concert together in the Lviv Organ Hall, excellently played by the Luhansk Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra itself is displaced, getting on with what they do just like everyone else here.