Death and defiance in a historic Ukrainian city after a Russian rocket strike


Police officers near a residential building in Lviv which was hit by a rocket, July 6, 2023. Photo by Yulia Abibok, fair use.

Before sunrise on July 6, 2023, Lviv was woken up by the sound of loud strikes. Ukrainian air defense downed seven of ten rockets Russia had fired at the city; the remaining three landed in residential areas, damaging infrastructure, offices, and apartment complexes, killing ten people and wounding 42. 

Lviv, a city whose population was about 700,000 before 2022 and lies close to NATO and EU member Poland, is one of the most westerly regional centres in Ukraine, and the most lively of them. With a turbulent history dating back to the 13th century, Lviv has a beautiful mix of 17th–early 20th-century architecture. Its historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and its narrow mediaeval streets redolent of coffee are one of the most important components of the city's brand and reputation. Historically, the city has been one of the main drivers of Ukrainian cultural and political renaissance, and for decades has been one of the country's hottest tourist destinations. Since 2022, it has also been a major sanctuary for those fleeing Russia's full-scale invasion.

The city continued booming during the most difficult phases of the invasion, filled with local and international volunteers, organisational headquarters relocated from Kyiv and elsewhere, and thousands of young, well-educated, and entrepreneurial people from all around Ukraine treating it as their new home. A lighted sign bearing the slogan “It is safe here” and a call to invest in the city greets guests arriving in Lviv along the main road from the railway station to the city centre. 

So, it was not only the local community, but the entire country that was shaken by what happened on the night of July 6. On social media, some posted verses by Victoria Amelina, a prominent Ukrainian writer, promoter of Ukrainian modern literature and benefactor — also a former Lviv local — who was killed recently by an air strike at a popular restaurant in the eastern city of Kramatorsk: 

Повітряна тривога по всій країні / Так наче щоразу ведуть на розстріл / Усіх / А цілять лише в одног / Переважно в того, хто скраю / Сьогодні не ти, відбій

Air alert in the entire country / Like if every time, they force to a firing squad / Everyone / But target only one / Mostly that who is on the edge / Today, this is not you, all-clear

In the middle of the day of July 6, a small crowd comprised predominantly of teenagers stood in front of damaged buildings, watching rescue workers attempt to find people under the rubble. In an interior courtyard, a much bigger crowd of busy volunteers and representatives of various foreign and international NGOs and charities mingled with stunned residents, many of whom were just sitting silently, gazing at the ground or in front of them without any focus or sense of what was happening around them. A middle-aged woman schooled a group of teenagers who were filming themselves in front of the damaged houses. While I was filming on the road, a woman behind my back declared loudly to someone that those filming the scene should be shot, and that she would do this herself. In another group nearby, a man commented to his companion that if everyone who came to watch donated at least 100 hryvnia — the Ukrainian national currency, equivalent to about USD 2.50 — the immediate problem of those who had suddenly lost their homes would be solved. 


The courtyard of the damaged building, Lviv, July 6, 2023. Photo by Yulia Abibok, fair use.


People gathered in the yard of the damaged building in Lviv, July 6, 2023. Photo by Yulia Abibok, fair use.

What may have looked to some like an irritating cynicism, shocking indifference, or a lack of solidarity, was especially visible at the late 19th-century park across the road, where people were jogging, walking, and picnicking as if nothing had happened. Three kilometres away in the city centre were much bigger crowds who appeared to flaunt themselves, seemingly in defiance of any attempt to force them to mourn, even as the city authorities indeed proclaimed two days of mourning. One could say that news about new deaths had become routine for the people as Ukraine entered the 17th month of the full-scale war.

But there were not many smiles on people's faces, and some of the conversations I overheard were in fact about the strike. Apparently, the majority was simply conscious that it was only one more day in front of the firing squad when they happened to be not on the edge. One more precious day of celebrating life which would surely be the last for someone somewhere in Ukraine as the Russian rockets and drones kept flying every night. 


Lviv city center, July 6, 2023. Photo by Yulia Abibok, fair use.


Children bathing in the water fountains in front of the Lviv Opera Theater, July 6, 2023. Photo by Yulia Abibok, fair use.


Men playing cards near the Lviv Opera Theater, July 6, 2023. Photo by Yulia Abibok, fair use.

Within a day, a private crowdfunding campaign managed to raise the amount requested to buy a new car for a local activist to replace the one destroyed by the strike, so he could continue his efforts to help Ukrainian soldiers on the frontline. Donations — which sometimes amount within days to millions — have become the most popular and effective way to express solidarity and channel hatred. Otar Dovzhenko, a media expert residing in Lviv who was raising money for the activist, told Global Voices that he lives with his family close to the damaged area and was used to visiting it frequently:

As it turned out, several of my acquaintances live in the house which was hit — none of them was killed, but all of them suffered to a certain extent. In Lviv Tech City, the office centre where the windows were smashed, we held the Lviv Media Forum 2023 conference, and my wife often worked in Credence café on the ground floor, taking our dog with her because it is very animal-friendly. We also used to go to the Love&Lviv restaurant, and we celebrated our youngest daughter's birthday there. The last time I was sitting there, I looked at the Love&Lviv logo and thought one could make an anagram: Lvov&Evil [“Lvov” is a Russian spelling of the city's name]. And then evil came and mixed up all the letters.


Love&Lviv restaurant in the house hit by rocket, Lviv, July 6, 2023. Screenshot from a video by Yulia Abibok, fair use.

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