Ordinary Ukrainian civilians across the country are resisting Russian invasion as fiercely as Ukrainian armed and territorial defense forces. Ukrainians’ bravery manifests itself in a variety of ways, including mass protest rallies with blue and yellow flags in cities where Russian forces have already arrived, such as Kherson and Melitopol; unarmed civilians blocking roads and lying on the ground in front of Russian tanks; girls throwing Molotov cocktails at Russian military vehicles from car windows; and even women hitting enemy drones with jars of pickled tomatoes. Civilians in still-safe parts of Ukraine are banding together to assist Ukrainian soldiers and their fellow countrymen affected by the war.
The situation in Western Ukraine is relatively calm. Daily, sirens warn of possible airstrikes, urging people to seek refuge in the nearest bomb shelter, but the area has not yet been affected by fighting. Locals believe that Russians will have little desire to invade the western part of Ukraine, which has long been opposed to Russian dominance. After WWII, an insurgency group supporting Ukraine’s independence fought the Soviet authorities here well into the 1950s.
The main impact of the war in Chernivtsi, some 600 kilometers (372 miles) south-west of Kyiv and 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the border with the E.U. and NATO member state Romania, is an influx of internally displaced people. According to local authorities, at least 36,000 people have arrived in the Chernivtsi region, Ukraine’s smallest, since the beginning of the invasion. 12,000 of them are children.
Maryna Makushchenko, a journalist and writer who lived in Horenka on Kyiv’s outskirts, is among the missing internally displaced people. She and her family, including her five-year-old daughter, had to hide in a bomb shelter for two days as Russian troops attempted to take over nearby Hostomel military airfield. “It was very cold in the shelter, and we were shivering, but luckily there were kind people nearby.” “They offered hot tea from a thermos to me and my child,” Maryna recalls.
Finally, on the third day, the family managed to flee to Kyiv and spend the night in a friend’s apartment in the western district of Nyvky. Because the area was rife with fighting, Maryna decided to flee the capital. She made it to Chernivtsi on an overcrowded train, the last one before a weekend curfew went into effect. She, her daughter, and niece were briefly separated from Maryna’s husband at a train station and had to leave some bags behind due to a lack of space. Her husband was able to board the train and spent the entire 17-hour journey on his feet, crammed in the corridor with other passengers, while she, her daughter, and niece shared a compartment designed for four people with seven other adults, five children, three cats, and a dog. They found refuge with a friend in Chernivtsi. Many locals offered up their homes for free in order to house the IDPs.
Local authorities in Chernivtsi, like elsewhere in western Ukraine, set up a hotline to assist IDPs who didn’t have contacts in the city, and offered municipal property to help coordinate the relief effort. A central coordination point was established in a local youth community center in downtown Chernivtsi. It assists those affected by war: internally displaced people, frontline soldiers, and civilians stranded in Ukraine’s war-torn regions, primarily Kyiv and Kharkiv. While public servants coordinate the effort, the majority of the work is done by local volunteers.
The news of a relief coordination center in Chernivtsi quickly spread, and residents of this 250,000-person city began bringing all kinds of goods to donate to IDPs, the army, and those in need in the war zone. Boxes of food–cabbage, potatoes, carrots, and other long-lasting staples–are strewn about the premises. Other boxes are filled with medicines, badly needed at the frontline and at hospitals in areas under heavy Russian shelling, bags with warm clothes, blankets, pillows and diapers for internally displaced people and children.