Lviv, a City at the Crossroads of Ukraine’s Refugee Crisis
Hundreds of thousands arrive every day as they flee Russia’s invasion.
All photos © Oleksandr Solonenko
Ludwig Silven Tumnoue hugs his 12-year-old son, whispering words of comfort. The shelter where they are resting after their 23-hour journey to escape the shelling in Kharkhiv is not like home, but it is warm, welcoming and safe.
The 48-year-old, originally from Cameroon, has called Kharkhiv home for 22 years, since he moved there as a university student and then built a family with his Ukrainian wife Nataliya.
His family is one of hundreds of thousands arriving every day in Lviv, a city of 800,000 in western Ukraine that has found itself at the crossroads of the country’s refugee exodus. These include thousands of foreigners who have been studying and working in Ukraine for years, like Tumnoue. Others had found a safe haven in Ukraine, like 67-year-old Nurlan, who settled in Odesa a decade ago after fleeing persecution in his native Kazakstan due to his work as a journalist.
Families gather at the grandiose Art Nouveau train station, trying to board one of the evacuation trains heading to neighbouring Poland. Across the city, scores of buildings have been transformed into shelters: sports arenas, warehouses, shops, even theatres have been filled with beds, field kitchens and toilets.
In the station’s car park, volunteers from local aid organisations wearing yellow ribbons distribute warm meals, medicines, clothes and toiletries, and direct travellers to the free bus rides to Poland. Those leaving are all women and children as men between 18 and 60 years of age cannot leave the country.
In the parking lot, Olena Guzyova fills a car trunk with suitcases, ready to leave for the Polish border. Guzyova says that she packed her life up in 20 minutes. She noticed increased military movements in Shchastya, a town of 12,000 people near the contact line in Luhansk region and felt something was happening. She grabbed a few suitcases, put her children aged 12, eight and one year in the car, and as they left missiles started raining on the town. Twelve hours later they arrived in Kryvyi Rih, in central Ukraine, and from there they proceeded by train to Lviv. The family is heading to Italy where Olena’s sister lives.
The UN refugee agency stated that almost ten million people have been forced to flee their homes, making this conflict the most rapid driver of displacement since WWII.
This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.