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Leaving Lviv, to Kyiv and my Bucket List

By David Elley – “Space (and Ukraine) is big. Really big”

I have just arrived at Lviv Railway Station, a massive monument to some distant Soviet glory, but a perfectly comfortable place to rattle off this next missive. That is, if you have the small Hryvnia notes to go ‘see a man about a dog’, standing over a porcelain hole in the floor, and pay by the hour in the cathedral-like waiting room, cherry wood chairs and a central snack bar, also of deep cherry wood.

I am on my way out, to the East, to Kyiv. A 500km, seven-hour train ride. Ukraine is big, reallly big. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to Ukraine.

First leg of my tour done, second beginning today. It has been two weeks to the day since I arrived in Lviv, and it has been nothing but intoxicating. I wish I could share everything that has happened, the small events and interactions with other people, the clarity of purpose and belonging that I achieved in this short time. Yes, it is possible to fall in love here, with this place, in two weeks.

Besides the feel of the city, the familiarity with its places and rhythms, of course, it is mostly the people I have encountered here. The friendships I have struck with other volunteers from all over the world. We are here, in Ukraine, so we already know each other’s value system and beliefs, and from there bonding is easy. And then the local people themselves. I made it my purpose to go out from the community of volunteers, whenever I could. My project to find children’s art has helped this: a local artist and her daughter, and a church on the edge of Lviv, currently straining to support 300 refugees from the East. And of course, the Lviv Volunteer Kitchen, where I belong. I belong to all those local people, who come every day to that place and give quietly, cheerfully and with great stoicism. And they, for their part, have taken me in.

My hostel, the Old City Hostel has been comfortable, quiet and easy. There have been few other guests that I have seen, their haunting of the teabag jar and the occasional croissant in the fridge being about the only evidence of co-habitation.

I dropped off my first batch of children’s art this morning to Lakewood at the LVK, and she will look after them until I return. It was as if Lviv was showing me what I would miss, the brightness of the morning, the crispness of the air, as I strode down the Svobody esplanade past my Opera House. I was on a high for the time I have had and for what is to come.

Kyiv has been on my ‘bucket list’ since 2014: the Revolution of Dignity. It has been a long road to get here, but I am on the very brink now. From renewing a friendship from ten years ago, with someone from that time, just a few months ago at the end of 2023, to becoming a volunteer in Ukraine in this time of war, to right now, in Lviv station, waiting for my train.

My art collection project is proceeding and continuing to exceed my expectations. I have already secured the commitment of three schools to make art for me and received the first batch of very precious artwork from one art therapist. I will be taking the artwork somewhere it can be seen and to tell the stories of the children of Ukraine at war. I now have my fourth school in Kyiv opening up. I have an appointment to meet the principal tomorrow in Kyiv. There are also some other possibilities opening up with the local Lviv artist, it seems that with energy and a willingness to try, you can do almost anything in Ukraine. It has been a long time since I have felt so energized and motivated by something, because it feels so right to be so.

Today I have that backpacker’s itch, the desire to pack up and move on, and I feel the energy you pick up when your plan is underway, your gear is packed up and you are ready to move. There are those who have cautioned me what to expect in Kyiv. This truly is a city at war, damaged and hurt, perhaps much of the joy withered away like the colours of Spring and Summer now deep in Winter. But I do not think so, my reasons for my anticipation are personal, not to be shared here, but I think they will overcome the reality for which I am already prepared. I look forward to the next few days very much indeed, even with the prospect of greater exposure to this horrible war.




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