As refugee central, Ukraine’s Lviv lives between air-raid sirens and flashing blue lights

Refugees are now totalling a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million people. Lviv’s population alone has swelled from 700,000 to over a million people. In this, the second in a three-part series on the war in Ukraine, we report from Lviv as fighting rages in other parts of the country.
The third toast from a bottle of Texas Ranger whisky was made in silence and standing.
“It’s for our friends who have died in the wars,” explained Sasha, as he struggled to his feet in the small kitchen of his fifth floor apartment. His friend, the bearded Volodymyr, served in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan Province at the same time as Sasha served in Herat in 1984 when he was wounded for the first time.
He was shot while serving with Soviet forces against the mujahideen – the bullet travelled through both lungs, destroying the second, before exiting his back.
But that was nothing compared to his return to combat in 2014 in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, where he was born.
“Young people did not want to fight, so I joined to help,” he says, this time fighting alongside his son in a volunteer territorial defence unit, which lost 100 of its first 130 recruits in a bitter stand against Russian separatists.
Sasha, then 50, was badly wounded by a mortar round, spending two years in rehabilitation in a hospital in the US.
Today he walks with a stick. “At least it’s my leg,” he laughs about his injuries, unable to bend his knee.
With air-raid sirens wailing outside, he opens the door to his modest apartment, apologising. The entrance is taken up with boxes of food he is packaging for refugees, now totalling a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million people. Lviv’s population alone has swelled from 700,000 to over a million people. The two-roomed apartment he shares with his older sister, Irana, also now provided a temporary home to Volodymyr and another former soldier, Sergei.
Refugees flock around Lviv’s central railway station – from Kyiv, Kherson, Kharkiv, Mariupol . these and other cities now a metaphor for a war fought in the 21st century with early 20th century tactics.
Ukraine’s economy looks like it is caught somewhere between being Western and emerging from a Soviet nightmare, stuck between 1972 and 2022. The Soviet slab-style housing towers which ring Lviv contrasts with the superb collection of classical and baroque architecture in the old town, designated by Unesco as a World Heritage Site, its shops ...