Hosting thousands of war refugees, Lviv looks towards recovery
As Russia’s war in Ukraine enters its second year, the city’s challenge is to integrate tens of thousands of refugees displaced from fighting in the country’s embattled east, while creating a recovery system to make them stay.
Standing in the cobblestone square that is Lviv’s historic marketplace one could forget that this is a country at war if it wouldn’t be for the banners commemorating the city’s war heroes and the omnipresence of men in army uniforms.
As the biggest city in western Ukraine turned humanitarian hub, thousand displaced in the first months have been housed in schools and sports arenas turned into shelters, first in open rooms with mattresses on the floor and then separated by wooden partitions.
Hundreds of families have moved into container housing set up in parks and empty lots.
Several hundred thousand Ukrainians have passed through Lviv, many crossing into Poland about 100 kilometres away, but local officials expect the majority of those displaced to remain unless the war reaches the city.
“We had days when we hosted two million refugees, it was a huge pressure to my city, but we prepared,” Lviv’s Mayor Andriy Sadovyi told EURACTIV, sitting in his office overlooking the main town square.
Sadovyi estimates that about 5-6 million displaced people passed through his city since the start of the war, while it has become home to 150,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs).
“20 times Russian missiles attacked Lviv and the region, destroyed all the power plants, destroyed critical infrastructure and killed people,” Sadovyi recalled over the past year.
“This is our reality but we continue to live a normal life, our children go to school, our shops and restaurants are open – the air raid sirens remind us of the war, and the funerals of young people, which happen every day,” he added.
At the same time, the city has sprung into action since the first hours of the Russian invasion, with volunteers and local humanitarian organisations having been the first line of response.
Modular container towns
Over the past year, container towns for internally displaced Ukrainians have been built with the participation of the Polish Government Agency for Strategic Reserve (RARS) and the British government. In dozens of them all over Ukraine, more than 10,000 people have found a place to temporarily stay.
In Lviv, the latest project was opened in March, able to house over 700 internally displaced persons in 8 buildings consisting of 80 modules with two floors with 22 apartments.
The inhabitants do not pay for their stay, and are supplied with food by the city as well as legal and psychological assistance.
Local authorities told EURACTIV during a visit to the container town they have made sure that the towns integrate well into the district and with supermarkets and other facilities reachable via foot nearby.
The majority of the current residents EURACTIV met said they either want to return as soon as possible to their regions once liberated, find their own apartments in the city or attempt to reach their relatives in EU member states, but did not see their current housing as a long-term solution.
“We don’t know how much longer this war will take, but for many young people like me the best option is to continue our lives in Europe if we can,” Masha, a 24-year-old business student from Zaporizhzhia region told EURACTIV.
“Because then we can return and rebuild our country because, in the end, this is our home – I would have not left it if not for the war,” she added.
With the initial focus of refugee support having moved towards long-term solutions and recovery, internally displaced persons with special needs from all over Ukraine who suffered from the war will need rehabilitation.
“Our hospitals were filled to the maximum with the wounded, and now there is a need for surgeries, prosthetics, psychological, physical, social rehabilitation,” Sadovyi said.
UNBROKEN, a new project for the construction of a rehabilitation centre in Lviv, is meant to create a fully-fledged rehabilitation therapy centre that had not been available in Ukraine.
The objective is for Ukrainians to get treatment in a single facility and receive the treatment they previously had to go abroad for.
”We are the city which guarantees the possibility for people from other cities and other regions to stay in Ukraine,” one of the local administration officials said.
“And we hope they do stay in the country because we will need them to rebuild after our victory.”
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]