top of page

“What Will You Do if the War Ends Tomorrow?”

Updated: Jan 29

By David Elley

"Red alert? Are you sure sir? We will have to change the bulb"

This was the question Lesha posed as Lakewood and I helped her sort out the good from the bad tomatoes and move them to the other side of the back shed, so that more potatoes could come in overnight, just this Sunday afternoon.

For Lakewood, the answer is easy. She is not going anywhere, she has chosen Lviv as her new home, after leaving the Tacoma area in the Pacific Northwest of the US, not far from my home just NE of Seattle, almost 18 months ago. “Americans have everything, but know the value of nothing”, we agreed, when I met her over a week ago. She will volunteer wherever there is something needed. If the Lviv Volunteer Kitchen (LVK) closes tomorrow, Lakewood will simply move on to the next opportunity to serve people in Lviv. Lakewood has a lot of skills to offer any community.

The question sounds simple, but then what does “the war ends” mean? Are the soldiers coming home tomorrow? Will they no longer need kitchens like LVK tomorrow? I do not think anyone thinks that the Russians will simply go home – they have been here since 2014, why would they? So, there will still be Ukrainian men and women, risking their lives to keep their homes and families safe, just like today. If so, then there will still be an LVK, drone factories, and everything else just like today.

So, what will change if there is a ceasefire tomorrow? In Lviv it will be hard to see any difference from now. The Opera House will still be heaving on a Saturday night. LVK will still need to work for the UAF. Many other support activities will continue as before. Right now, Lviv is home to a population of nearly 1.4M people, of whom almost 700,000 are refugees from the East and South. Will they go home tomorrow? Yes, some will. Some will want to go and see if their house is still standing, and if it is safe enough to return and perhaps think about the future again.

But as I saw in the far suburbs of Lviv last Thursday: a parish church supporting 300 refugees with food, a bakery, a church school and a trench candle factory. What would they do? Many come from communities as shattered as Kherson, or Kramatorsk or countless others in the East and South, who goes back to those? I think it must be better to be home and try to rebuild than to stay in this twilight of life, as a refugee in a welcoming, but stressed West and North. I think some will go, but many will remain afraid.

I thought about all the kids and the families I met in Nice in France, when I first arrived in Europe, just over two weeks ago. What will they do? The ones I met did not speak much French, I wonder whether they can assimilate into the French community. Will they try to come back, or will the Ukrainian community in Nice continue to support them and help them become French Ukrainians? It has taken my friend there eight years to apply for her citizenship.

What about the people at the LVK? My Ukrainian friends in Nice, the parish priests here in Lviv with their huge responsibility of care, the local artist and her daughter, who work with traumatized kids. Do they simply stop being exhausted, emotionally drained, their futures and dreams before the war restart as if nothing happened?

As you can see, I thought of many more questions and complications with the rest of my day after Lesia posed that question to us. What was my answer, you are probably thinking. And yes, I have dragged you all the way to here before answering this question.

I said, almost immediately: “I am not going anywhere, I am here another month. I can find lots of ways to be of help. I have contacts in schools here and maybe in Kyiv.”

“You teach English?”, asked Lesia.

“Yes, I could, and I can also continue my project to tell Ukrainian kids’ stories through art.”, I said.

“I see, I like that.”, said Lesha. Lesha does not impress easily.

I am also an experienced youth leader, with 16 years’ experience leading kids in a variety of different activities. It would be easy for me to find a way to volunteer through the Knights of Columbus, or otherwise.

I do not know Lesha well at all, I show up at the kitchen and she is one of the ones who tells me what to do. I do know she has never been to the opera, I know because I invited her to go when she said that (and then I apologized for being inappropriate). But I do have a question for her: “What will you do if the war ends tomorrow and the kitchen can close?”

(Carmen, at the Lviv Opera House, Saturday, January 27th, 2024)



bottom of page