‘It’s Like Parallel Realities’: Rituals of Life and Death Blur in a Vibrant Ukrainian City


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LVIV, Ukraine — The tiny wail of newborn babies echoes out from the incubators and cribs lining a small room with mint green walls in a maternity hospital in Lviv.

Here was Artemiy Dymyd born 27 years ago by Liliya Myronovych. She watched from her front window last week as the funeral of Artemiy Dymyd was held in the nearby cemetery, with the dirge of the military band and the cries the infants.

“It was my boy,” said Dr. Myronovych, 64, said of Mr. Dymyd, who was killed in the fighting in eastern Ukraine in mid-June. “It was my baby.”

In Lviv, a western Ukrainian city, dissonant images of death and life play out side-by-side. They can be stark, as when babies are born steps away from the now overflowing military cemetery where Ukraine’s young soldiers are laid to rest.

However, they can also be subtle.

The front windows of the maternity unit are lined with masking tape, which prevents them from shattering in an explosive explosion.

The air raid sirens that once sent Lviv’s residents scrambling into basements no longer cause the same level of alarm as they did in February and March — though anxiety was heightened last week when From Belarusian airspace, a torrent of missiles was launchedThe city is within easy reach.

Lviv has remained peaceful and is now a center for humanitarian aid as well as a refuge for people fleeing from the east. Yet, death is still a possibility, as evident by the steady stream of soldiers who have been killed in action and whose funerals are held here sometimes multiple times per day.

Funerals take over city life. Trams come to a halt. Bus passengers weep.

“Every time we say goodbye to them as if it is the first time,” said Khrystyna Kutzir, 35, who stood on a Lviv street one afternoon in late June, waiting for the passage of the latest funeral along the route to the military cemetery.

Ten medical students in black and red robes were seen gathered at the university’s plaza to celebrate their graduation.

The students kneeled on the sidewalk in honor of the fallen soldier as the funeral procession went by. They got up and went back to school to pose for photos.

Ihor Puriy (23 years old) said he felt mixed emotions about the long-awaited day.

“In one moment, you are happy to graduate from university, and new horizons are opening in front of you,” he said. “And at the same time, situations happen that bring you back to the reality and times we are living in.”

The war forced the cancellation of all graduation celebrations, but friends tried to find a way to commemorate the occasion. It was, however, deeply distressing to know that soldiers his own age were dying on front lines and never to see their futures realize. Because of his studies and future career as doctors, he and his fellow graduates are not drafted.

“We are trying to keep up our hope for the best, to avoid the negative thoughts each of us is having,” he said. He stated that daily reminders of death are difficult to ignore.

For the staff of the medical college, along with a few other offices and colleges that line the road, honoring fallen soldiers has become an unpleasant ritual. Anna Yatsynyk (58), who works in the city morgue as a toxicologist, sometimes attends five funerals at once. She also rises from her desk each day to walk outside with her colleagues and watch the somber processions.

Ms. Yatsynyk stated that she and her colleagues have started to plan their work days so they can see the processions.

“It has become a sad routine,” Ms. Yatsynyk said. “But we always come. We feel it’s our responsibility to show our gratitude and pay tribute.”

They knelt in honor of the dead while a minivan pulled the coffin along. The summer heat saw many women wear sundresses with the rough cement buried to their knees.

As a black car passed by, an elderly relative of the soldier who died looked out from behind the window’s glass and clasped his hands together, shaking them and nodding in appreciation to those who had gathered.

Everyone knows someone who has been fighting in the war. Everybody is more likely to know someone who has been killed in the conflict, even those from the most peaceful of communities.

However, as the conflict has evolved from weeks to months and the cold, bone-chilling days of the winter invasion have given place to the heat of summer, so has the initial terror in the city been replaced by a more relaxed feeling of disquiet.

Lviv’s parks and green spaces, cafes and terraces, look like any other European city in the summer. Children running through the fountain outside the opera house to escape the heat, with their wet hair and clothes clinging to the water, giggle out loud.

You can then look closer. The statues that are covered in protective materials. The buskers singing patriotic songs about war and death.

The faded squares of ornate wallpaper on the walls of the national gallery signal art that has been taken away. At men in military fatigues tightly holding their partners’ hands.

People in their 20s say they are reunited with large groups of friends only when their peers attend the funerals.

Many of his friends, a young man who was born in Lviv and buried on the street, felt the same. Still, life goes on.

It has to, said Roman Lozynskyi, 28, who was Mr. Dymyd’s friend of two decades.

“It’s the reason why we are there,” he said. “It’s what we are protecting.”

Marine and member of the Ukrainian parliament, Mr. Lozynskyi volunteered for military service three months ago. He served in the same unit with Mr. Dymyd. He believes it is vital that Ukrainians live the lives they choose, even though it can be difficult to return from war zones.

“It’s difficult mentally, because it’s like parallel realities,” he said of time spent in Lviv with friends and family on his short reprieve from the war to attend the funeral.

Mothers give birth each day at the maternity hospital. There is always hope in the chaos.

“When you speak to the mothers, there is no war,” said Dr. Myronovych, the pediatrician.

Khrystyna Mnykh, 28, gave birth to her first child on June 28, Ukraine’s Constitution Day. The air raid alarm went off while she was still in labor. Because she had just received an epidural, she was unable make it downstairs to shelter.

Weeks earlier, a missile strike just one kilometer from her home had shattered her neighbor’s windows. But, when Roksolana held her daughter, it seemed like those memories had vanished.

“You look at your tiny baby in your arms,” Ms. Mnykh said, “and understand sooner or later life will go on.”


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