LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainians continue to stave off a full-fledged invasion from Russian along the country’s northern, eastern and southern fronts. But now residents of Ukraine’s westernmost cultural capital, Lviv, are joining the frontlines.
Typically a buzzing university town of about one million people, the streets here have been almost empty since the bombing began last week. The exception has been long lines wrapping around banks, pharmacies and supermarkets or the thousands of people at the train station trying to find a way out of the country.
Over the weekend, security around the town visibly increased. Roadblocks popped up near refugee welcome and logistic centers as well as transportation hubs such as the airport and train station. Some of the city’s popular cafes, restaurants and stores have been turned into bomb shelters with armed guards at the door requiring entrants to show their passport and to leave any weapons they may be carrying at the door — even to pick up a coffee.
More men in military fatigues can be seen everywhere — at new checkpoints, in public squares, sitting inside cafés. But not everyone dressed in a uniform is necessarily part of the country’s formal military. After Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy imposed martial law and issued a general call to arms of all men aged 18 to 60 Thursday, any man or woman willing to fight can sign up to receive a weapon and fatigues, when available, to join the mobilization.
Some are trained soldiers with years of experience fighting Russians in Crimea or the Donbas regions, where Russia invaded in 2014. Others are newly minted militiamen and women who have been attending weekend combat trainings as members of the local territorial defense forces formed in preparation for a worst-case scenario — precisely like the one the country faces now.
“We are waiting for a train south,” said a member of the Ukrainian army speaking under the condition of anonymity because he lacked official permission to speak to the press. With piercing blue eyes, a well-worn uniform and a cigarette dangling nonchalantly from his lips, he said “we will not come back to Lviv until Russia leaves our country. Every part of it.”
Ukraine has been at war with Russia since President Vladimir Putin sent in troops in 2014, but the fighting and devastation were almost completely limited to the areas of Crimea and the Donbas. Over the last eight years, more than 14,000 people were killed in the fighting in those regions. Since last week, many more have died and countless Ukrainians are displaced throughout the country or have fled across the border into neighboring Poland and Hungary.
While most of the country had been unhappy with the stalemate, they were still able to maintain a sense of normalcy outside of the disputed territories. Now, many expressed a new determination to not only stop the current Russian invasion, but also push back those forces who have occupied Crimea and the Donbas for years.
And still there are more fighters from this city and every region of Ukraine that are lining up to join their compatriots in the regions of Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odessa, where the bulk of Russian forces have amassed, to engage in street warfare with a global superpower that outmans them and outguns them by almost every measurable standard.
“We will fight and we will win,” a reservist said, also speaking under the condition of anonymity because he lacked official permission to speak to the press. He was waiting in line beside a long queue of buses waiting to bring hundreds more fighters to the area. Like many of the men there, he said he had helped the women and children in his family escape to safety before presenting himself for service. And although he hadn’t seen combat for years, he said he was eager to get to the front and help stop the attacks on his beloved Ukraine.
When asked about the United States’ response to the war, he grinned and said, “American javelins are good,” before turning more serious. “Thank you, President Biden, for your support. It is helping.”