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Lviv takes in displaced Ukrainians but space and resources are strained

More than 200,000 internally displaced Ukrainians have temporarily settled in the western city of Lviv, which is home to 725,000 in normal times.
Ryan Kellman
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NPR
More than 200,000 internally displaced Ukrainians have temporarily settled in the western city of Lviv, which is home to 725,000 in normal times.

The remarkable exodus of Ukrainian civilians from their homeland in the face of war has topped the 3 million mark.

Nearly 2 million others are internally displaced, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. More than 200,000 of them have temporarily settled in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, whose population is 725,000 in normal times.

Lviv residents have welcomed the newcomers with open arms. Businesses, government and civic groups have set up makeshift quarters in nearly 500 theaters, schools, gyms, yoga studios and homes. Others are distributing food and additional relief.

But space and resources are strained, and Lviv's mayor is calling for more international help as his city braces to receive and aid even more fellow citizens.

People cross the tracks at the Lviv train station. The city's mayor is calling for more international help as Lviv braces to aid even more fellow citizens.
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People cross the tracks at the Lviv train station. The city's mayor is calling for more international help as Lviv braces to aid even more fellow citizens.
Nearly 2 million Ukrainian civilians are internally displaced, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Claire Harbage / NPR
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NPR
Nearly 2 million Ukrainian civilians are internally displaced, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Russian forces have intensified their attacks in western Ukraine, launching strikes on airfields in cities to the south and north of Lviv, as well as a military base less than 30 miles from the city's center that killed 35 and and wounded more than 100 others.

Lviv, so far, has not directly been targeted.

"Whether a rocket might fall on Lviv tomorrow, I don't know," says Mayor Andriy Sadoviy. "Nobody knows."

Igor Shapovalov, the musical director of the Luhansk Philharmonic, fled the Russian invasion to the relative safety of Lviv, in western Ukraine.
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Igor Shapovalov, the musical director of the Luhansk Philharmonic, fled the Russian invasion to the relative safety of Lviv, in western Ukraine.

Igor Shapovalov, the musical director of the Luhansk Philharmonic, recently fled to Lviv. Many of the musicians he leads are now helping the war effort.

"I think, right now, there are just more important things to do," he says. "Most of our team, our musicians, are volunteering at railroad stations — they help women with children, distributing aid."

Conductor Ivan Ostapovych says the Lviv Concert House is home to one of Ukraine's first and oldest giant pipe organs, a classic Rieger-Kloss installed in 1933. It survived World War II and he's praying it survives this conflict.
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NPR
Conductor Ivan Ostapovych says the Lviv Concert House is home to one of Ukraine's first and oldest giant pipe organs, a classic Rieger-Kloss installed in 1933. It survived World War II and he's praying it survives this conflict.
Ivan Ostapovych plays the Ukrainian national anthem in the Lviv Concert Hall, located inside the Church of St. Mary Magdalene.
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Ivan Ostapovych plays the Ukrainian national anthem in the Lviv Concert Hall, located inside the Church of St. Mary Magdalene.

Shapovalov is being hosted by his friend Ivan Ostapovych, a conductor, composer and Lviv culture director.

Ukrainians uprooted by war walk toward the train station in central Lviv.
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Ukrainians uprooted by war walk toward the train station in central Lviv.

The Lviv Concert Hall, where Ostapovych typically performs, is now empty. He looks forward to people returning someday. Ostapovych says Ukraine's art and culture can help fight Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Lviv's Center for Urban History has converted its cafe into a temporary living space for people displaced by war in Ukraine.
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NPR
Lviv's Center for Urban History has converted its cafe into a temporary living space for people displaced by war in Ukraine.

"We know that Putin claims that there is no Ukrainian culture — that we don't exist, as such. And so it is vital we show the world who we are and what we are. This is our culture," Ostapovych says.

Lviv's Center for Urban History has turned its lecture and conference rooms and cafe into makeshift shelters for the displaced. This center is a research institution, mostly for sociologists and historians accustomed to looking back into the city and region's complicated and contested past.

However director Sofia Dyak says that no one hesitated to shift their focus to this historic present.

"We are not objective, standing-aside academics. We are citizens, we are living here, we are human beings. It's important to think about not only how you're using, but how you're giving," she says.

Vitali Frolov fled the Zaporizhzhia district in the southeast and is staying at the center's cafe.
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Vitali Frolov fled the Zaporizhzhia district in the southeast and is staying at the center's cafe.

But Dyak warns that a host of complicated challenges are fast approaching, well beyond finding more bed space: "It's about kindergarten, it's about medicine, it's about the whole social infrastructure."

In a place where, not long ago, people sipped cappuccinos and ate pastries, an older man now sleeps on the floor of the cafe at the Lviv Center for Urban History.
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NPR
In a place where, not long ago, people sipped cappuccinos and ate pastries, an older man now sleeps on the floor of the cafe at the Lviv Center for Urban History.

The city now, she says, will likely need to scale up mobile capacities "for food, sleep, kids, education, care."

Vitali Frolov recently fled the Zaporizhzhia district in southeastern Ukraine. Some of his extended family have gone to Poland, but he worries about friends and relatives who have so far been unable to leave Zaporizhzhia. He's living temporarily in the Center for Urban History's former cafe.

Olena Lysenko contributed to this report.

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Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.
Ryan Kellman is a producer and visual reporter for NPR's science desk. Kellman joined the desk in 2014. In his first months on the job, he worked on NPR's Peabody Award-winning coverage of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. He has won several other notable awards for his work: He is a Fulbright Grant recipient, he has received a John Collier Award in Documentary Photography, and he has several first place wins in the WHNPA's Eyes of History Awards. He holds a master's degree from Ohio University's School of Visual Communication and a B.F.A. from the San Francisco Art Institute.