A Vancouver Island-based author and global analyst reporting directly from western Ukraine since last week says the situation is getting more tense and fearful.
“Lviv is beginning to look like a city under siege,” Michael Bociurkiw, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council and former spokesperson with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, told Black Press Media in a message sent Monday evening Ukraine time.
The country continues to resist Russian attacks, which began last Thursday.
A Sidney resident, Bociurkiw has been in Ukraine almost a month, including Kyiv “when it was calm,” before moving to his current location in Lviv. “It has been safer, it has been untouched,” he said.
But that is not to say that the broader effects of the war have bypassed the city. By virtue of its size and proximity to the Polish border, the historic city – Bociurkiw describes it as “a museum under the open sky” – has become a staging ground for western aid arriving in Ukraine. It is also a transit point for individuals from other parts of Ukraine seeking refugee in neighbouring NATO and European Union member states.
The city has also personal significance for Bociurkiw.
“It’s the region from where my parents come from,” he said. “Obviously, I have a lot of affection for this place, a lot of feeling of connection. But we are very fearful that this may be seen as a prize by the Russians. It holds a lot of symbolism and I am seeing today (Monday) a lot more congestion. People coming from the east, other parts of the Ukraine, going toward the Polish border or staying here.”
He described the situation at the border as a humanitarian crisis. “We have heard of waits of up to 40 hours to cross and it is just a two-to-three hour drive from Lviv.”
As hundreds of thousands of people are looking to cross the border, temperatures are dropping, he added.
“There is snow on the ground. It’s very, very, very bad for anyone, especially women and children and the elderly, to have spend time out in the cold. So one of the things I am advocating for is the immediate opening of a humanitarian corridor, so that the most vulnerable can go without having to go through checkpoints and everything.”
Other, more immediate aspects of life around him are also changing. “It’s getting more difficult to get cash, many places don’t take credit cards,” he said.
Bociurkiw’s message also suggests a sense of helplessness has gripped the city.
“A lot of us are shaking our heads,” he said. “We can’t believe what is happening in the year 2022 on the doorstep of Europe.”
Personally, things are getting more difficult, said Bociurkiw, who has in the past worked in several international hotspots, including the Middle East in Turkey, Israel; Sudan, the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border, Pakistan and Myanmar.
“I’m kind of lucky in the sense that I am able to use my platform to tell the world what is going,” he said. “I also speak Ukrainian, I understand the language (and) I have a lot of Ukrainian friends feeding me information. So that has been very helpful.”
This said, fatigue sets in after a while. “I’m trying to employ the techniques that I have learned over the years in the field … to take time to eat, sleep and see friends. But the situation is changing.”
He has a small bag of personal items with him in case he needs to flee.
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