The Ukrainian army and its territorial defense forces are fiercely resisting Russian invasion. This is also true for ordinary citizens across Ukraine. There are many ways that Ukrainian citizens show their bravery: protest marches using blue and yellow flags, in cities like Kherson or Melitopol where Russian troops have entered; civilians unarmed blocking roads; and girls lying down on the ground before Russian tanks. Molotov cocktailsCar windows can be seen pointing at Russian military vehicles; women even hitting enemy drones using jars filled with pickled tomatoes. Civilians are joining forces in safe areas of Ukraine to support the soldiers wounded by war and help their countrymen.
Situation in Western Ukraine remains relatively stable. Every day sirens sound warning of possible airstrikes. They urge people to go to the closest bomb shelter. However, the region hasn’t been affected yet by any fighting. According to locals, Russians won’t be interested in invading the Western Ukraine. This region has long been opposed to Russian dominance. Here, after World War Two, insurgency group who supported Ukraine’s independence fought the Soviet authorities well into the 1950s.
Chernivtsi is located approximately 600km (372 miles), south-west of Kyiv, and only 40 km (22.5 miles) away from the E.U. border. The main effect of war on Ukraine and NATO member Romania is the influx of internally displaced persons. According to authorities, 36,000 people have arrived in Chernivtsi since the beginning of the invasion. This region is one of the most remote in Ukraine. There are 12,000 children.
“These are only those people who reached out to us asking for help with accommodation. But there are many more who arranged it on their own and who are not registered,” says Viktoriya Hatrych, director of communications department at the Chernivtsi regional military administration.
Maryna Maschchenko (journalist and writer) is missing from the list of internally displaced persons. Maryna lived in Horenka near Kyiv. As heavy fighting continued, Makushchenko and her family (including five-year-old daughter) had to shelter in a bomb shelter for the next two days. “It was very cold in the shelter and we were shivering, but fortunately there were kind people around. They offered me and my kid hot tea from a thermos,” Maryna recalls.
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Finally, on the third day, the family managed to flee to Kyiv and spent the night in a friend’s apartment in the district of Nyvky, in the western part of the city. Maryna decided that she would flee from the capital because of heavy fighting. Maryna managed to board an overcrowded train from Kiev to Chernivtsi before the weekend curfew. She, her daughter and niece were briefly separated on a train station from Maryna’s husband and had to leave some bags behind as there was not enough space. She managed to get her husband on the train. He spent the 17 hour journey on his heels, in cramped quarters with others. Her daughter and niece shared the compartment which can be used by four persons. They found shelter in Chernivtsi with a friend. Shelter for the IDPs was provided by many locals who offered to let their houses.
As elsewhere in western Ukraine, local authorities in Chernivtsi launched a hotline helping IDPs who didn’t have contacts in the city, and offered municipal property to coordinate the relief effort. In downtown Chernivtsi, a youth centre was set up as the main hub of coordination. It provides assistance to those affected by war: internally displaced people, soldiers on the frontline and civilians, stranded in Ukraine’s war-torn regions, mainly Kyiv and Kharkiv. Although the efforts are coordinated by government officials, the majority of the work will be done locally by volunteers.
“We couldn’t remain indifferent to what was happening in the country,” says Svitlana Oleksiychuk, director of the Chernivtsi youth community center. “In the morning of February 24, when the news of the Russian invasion broke out, there were just ten people who work in this office. But within hours, dozens of volunteers knocked on our door offering help.”
There is a Chernivtsi relief center. This rumor quickly became widespread and Chernivtsi residents began to send all sorts of items to IDPs, soldiers and others in need. All over across the premises, boxes lie on the floor with food–cabbage, potatoes, carrots and other long-lasting staples. Some boxes contain medications, which are essential at the frontline as well as in hospitals that have suffered heavy Russian shelling. Other boxes include bags filled with blankets, warm clothes and diapers to be distributed to children or those internally displaced.
There are many volunteers in the area: they help sort clothes and linens and others keep their eyes on their smartphones and tablets, register for assistance requests, and then load backpacks with supplies to help buses arrive. When a siren alerting of a possible air raid goes off, all of them rush to a bomb shelter nearby, and then return to work when it’s called off.
Katya Diachynska (23 years old) is one of these volunteers. Before the war, Katya Diachynska was an English teacher living in Chernivtsi. She used to visit the youth center to attend lectures and watch films. “When Russia invaded, this was the first place I rushed to, because I knew there would be people willing to help,” she said. Nadia Vaskivska is 25, a Kyiv university student. Her parents, who live in Chernivtsi, are her grandparents. She returned to her hometown due to war and is currently spending her days helping to sort clothes and bed linen.”‘People come here every day, offering help. They bring clothes, items for children, medicine, foodstuffs… A woman came the other day with bed linen which she said was her wedding gift. She decided to donate it to IDPs.”
Vova, a local resident, stated that he moved here when he was told by the army recruit office they were receiving too many applicants from soldiers willing to fight. “I went to the recruitment office with my friend on the second day of war. We had to stand in line because there were so many people. Finally, they informed us that there were enough volunteers and would only accept military veterans. They just registered our data and let us go,” Vova said. “So I came here. My job is to help load and transport goods. I am a photographer, but my conscience doesn’t let me take photos now. I’d rather carry stuff.”
The willingness of Chernivtsi residents to help—and the amount of goods they donated—was so big that several more locations had to be opened across the city. “Currently, we are focusing on providing support to Ukrainian soldiers, such as medicines, dry food, hygiene items,” says Tetyana Sadovnik, head of communications at the Chernivtsi youth community center. “Pharmacies here are still open and well stocked, while in Kyiv and Kharkiv there are shortages of drugs. We also send medicines to children’s hospitals in these regions.”
Sadovnik claims that the majority of their humanitarian assistance comes from local residents. But, in recent years, there have been more aid buses coming from Spain, Italy, Romania and Bulgaria.
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“The war will end very soon and we will organize movie screenings and cultural events once again here,” Tetyana says. “I told all these volunteers: don’t you dare to ignore our events in the future! All of you who are here now should come back to us once the war is over.”
The volunteers are all young, old, and those with disabilities. Volodymyra (70), a retired pharmacist who has 30 years’ experience in pharmacy, still has some bruises from the work of making camouflage nets. She volunteers with other volunteers to help Ukrainian soldiers in another area of Chernivtsi. This net helps to conceal the Ukrainian army positions. Mariyka Nyrkova (7 years old) and other family members are creating nets next to her. They were brought by her father to safety in the war-affected region of Ukraine and later returned to combat Russians.
Another location saw a Chernivtsi NGO for people with disabilities bring them together. Molotov cocktails. “We are the same people as the others, and we want to be useful for Ukrainian society at this moment because we want peace,” says Lyubov Svyrydenko, head of Mriya (‘A Dream’), the NGO. “Our organization was established 28 years ago. We organize many events to make people with disabilities visible. This was another chance to make us visible.”
Why Molotov cocktails “We need thThey are used to defend civilians, as the enemy is attacking from all directions. While we hope that there won’t be war in Chernivtsi, we remain very concerned. But we will do all we can to stop the Russians.”