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Day 7: Visiting L'viv (Lviv), Ukraine

The title photo fo day 7 shows a dog and some dog food

We gasped when the waiters brought our breakfasts to the table.

Luksaz smiled brightly, as if he had made the food himself.

We were at the top restaurant in L’viv called The Grand Café. We each ordered a three-tiered breakfast. After several meals of dried beef sticks that I brought from home, I was ready for something more interesting.

For my bottom plate, I ordered an egg dish, chicken sausage made in house and slices of avocado. The middle tier was a liver pate resting in grape jam—omg, so good. And my dessert layer was some kind of creamy gelatin dish.

Sitting in a restaurant surrounded by food
(Breakfast at the Grand Cafe in L'viv, Ukraine)

I ate every bite.

We were in a celebratory mood; our efforts to bring supplies to people in great need were a success. People got what they needed and we were safe.


We still had to get out of the country, which could take many hours at the border, so we weren't ready to claim complete success, yet. But we were close. Our vans and drivers hadn’t made it back yet; we would all leave the country together.

We had a few hours to spare, maybe more.

Buildings showing an old part of the city.
(Walking around the old quarter of L'viv, Ukraine)

After breakfast we walked around the square in the old part of the city. Not many people were walking around. Andrew said that there were so many more people out now than when he came to L’viv a year ago to offer his support after the war started.

A monument protected by a barrier
(A monument is covered for protection in L'viv, Ukraine)

Monuments were covered with large, metal panels to help protect them if there was an attack.

A church has boards over the windows.
(A church is protected from possible attacks.)

On the way to the flea market, we passed a giant church. I wanted to go to the market, and I wanted to go into the church. The church won.

I would find the group in fifteen minutes.

Got it.

The outside of the church didn’t look like a lot: the windows were boarded up, as if they were expecting a hurricane. All of the statues outside the church had either been removed or covered over. On the outside the church looked like a work in progress.

But inside it was alive with color, sculptures and art.

Gold. Bright. Colorful. Real candles. Enormous. Museum-quality paintings.

A church with many colors

Although I do not attend church services, I love the tradition of adding more light to the world and even speaking an affirmation or a prayer into a candle. I light candles in churches everywhere I go.

An older man was selling candles at the back of the church. I had no idea how much they cost and was mostly sure that he couldn’t speak English. I handed him a bill with a 20 on it which was less than a dollar. In Poland candles cost about fifty cents each at the church.

He asked me something.

I pointed to the money and then to the candles, attempting to pantomime that I wanted to spend all of it buying candles.

I've never been good at the game of charades.

He asked me something, again.

I said in English, “Sorry. I don’t speak Ukrainian. Just give me all of that in candles, please.”

Side note: I was warned about using my internet in Ukraine. The Russians can track texts or cell usage, know that I am American, and send a drone to greet me. Yes, this has happened.

So I have been using Rosie's and Luksaz’s phones—with Ukrainian SIMS card in them—as a hot spot. But that only works when they are with me, which is most of the time but not now.

I couldn’t use my translation program on my phone without internet access to talk to this man.

The man selling candles looked at me for a moment, handed me three candles and then gave me a bill with a 10 on it.

I accepted the money back from him and found a place to donate the change back to the church.

I lit the first candle for Ukraine, that the war may end soon with Ukraine as the victor. The second candle I lit in gratitude for our safety on this trip. The third candle was for the people of L’viv, that they may be protected from war.

I found my friends and we hopped back into the new van with our newest driver and headed to the post office.

I was mostly sure that we wouldn’t be able to buy anything there since today was a Sunday. Post offices are never open on Sundays.

I was wrong. It was open.

On a Sunday.

Luksaz bought some stamps as souvenirs. I might have bought some too, but most of them had machine guns on them.

Not my interest.

We headed to the other side of town to give out pet food.

Humanitarian Aid Stop #10: Pets

people and dogs
Bringing dog food to elderly dog owners.

Many elderly dog owners were waiting for us at the park with their dogs.

Rosie fundraised on her own to buy dogfood that we could distribute since the cost of dog food is so high that elderly people have to spend 25% of their pensions buying it.

That’s a lot of money. Imagine if you had to spend 25% of your salary to buy pet food.


And many dogs have been shipped to L’viv during the war because there have been less attacks here.

Dogs of every shape and size were ready for some attention. And some food.

One woman who wore a blue and white skirt said that she rescued 10 pets from the war. Four live with her in a one room apartment, she pays people to care for the rest of the rescues.

Yes, we gave her dogfood.

How could she possibly afford to feed that many dogs? Is she forgoing food for herself?

We had enough bags of food to give at least one to each person in need.

Rosie met a veterinarian who gives his services for free to anyone who needs them. She got his contact information so she could do some more fundraising for him.

Being in Ukraine and meeting the people who are already doing the work is the best way to make contacts for sending money in the future.


People stand around a guide in L'viv, Ukraine
(Learning about the history of L'viv from an English-speaking guide.)

While we waited for our vans to make it to L'viv so we could all leave the country together, Luksaz found an English-speaking guide to show us around the old town area. (He called contact after contact until he found a guide.)

The guide told stories about famous poets, explained why the statue of Venus was wearing clothes (She was looking at a church), and explained why warring armies liked capturing L’viv years ago (It is in a valley, so it’s easy to protect: you can’t sneak up.)

(Nowadays the valley advantage doesn’t help much since missiles are launched from many miles away.)


Humanitarian Aid Stop #11: Refugee Center

(We carry 27 computers into the refugee center. They will be gifted to children so they can continue their online learning for school.)

We lugged our heavy computers into the refugee center. These were specifically bought for children so they could continue their online schooling.

The woman in charge wasn't there, but someone called her. After some discussion back and forth, they pointed out that there were 200 children at this center, and we only had 27 computers.

If we started giving the computers out, we would be mobbed. How would we explain to the children who didn't get a computer that we didn't have enough?

We left the new computers with the priest, who was working on a Sunday.

He and the woman in charge would compile a list of children who needed the computers the most and hand them out privately. We were sad to not be there to share in the joy of giving, but all understood that distributing the computers privately was the best answer.

But we did have some chocolates. We each took a handful of bars and gave them out. Two boys thanked me politely, looked at each other, then ripped their bars open and started eating them.

I noticed a few elderly woman watching us from their bench and I thought that maybe they needed a chocolate bar, too.

The giggled with toothless smiles and thanked me.

That was fun.

When I was out of bars, I suggested that Rosie give a few of hers to some older people. She chose a few elderly women standing near the playground.

They giggled and bowed to her in gratitude.

“You’re right,” Rosie said. “That was fun.”

Greg handed me his last bar and said I could give it out to someone.


I looked around. Who...

The refugee center was a wonderful place. It provided food and shelter and services that the Ukrainian truly needed.


A man walks on a sidewalk with large, block buildings.
(Luksaz walks through the refugee center.)

The center was a collection of large, white buildings. The halls were white. The doors along the hall that led to small apartments where they people lived were white, too. Everything about the center was boring and devoid of feeling.

There were no gardens. No flowers. No art. No music playing in common areas.

The center looked like an enormous Department of Motor Vehicles where people were waiting for their turn in uncomfortable chairs.

These people had nothing to wait for; this was their home now.

The people sitting around looked bored. There was nothing for them to do. No place for them to go. Nobody needed them. It felt like they were trying to make themselves as small as possible so that they didn’t bother anyone.

I’m sure that they were enormously grateful to have a place to stay, but at the same time it’s clear why those people in the remote villages refused to leave. Those villagers were holding on in hopes of getting their lives back.

The people in these centers were going to have to build completely new lives.

That’s harder to do than it sounds.

There was one woman I noticed who stood out from the crowd. She was dressed in mismatched clothes – as many villagers wear and sitting on a bench apart from the other people. She was reading a book.

She looked, dare I say… happy.

I wanted to ask her what book she was reading. How did she hold on to herself and not get burdened by this drab environment? I wanted to ask her where she found her joy.

I walked up to her. She looked up and smiled and greeted me in Ukrainian.

I said, “Here’s a candy bar for you.” and handed it over.

Her eyebrows went up as she thanked me. She accepted the gift, held it high as if holding a trophy, nodded to me and began unwrapping the chocolate as she continued reading her book.

Maybe the secret to happiness is in finding joy wherever you are.

(The rest of this day will be published in tomorrow’s post.)

Two woman sit on a narrow bunk on a train.
(View from the top bunk of the train. Oksana on L, Rosie on R.)

Two signs with photos of fallen soldiers stand on the main square.
Every day there are funerals for fallen soldiers. These two soldiers from L'viv,, Ukraine would be remembered today.)

A bookstore cafe with all of the bindings facing the wall so all you see are the white pages.
(A bookstore/cafe in L'viv, Ukraine)

A small statue sits next to a window.
(A small statue of Venus is dressed -- unusual for Venus. The was required becuase she was looking at a church.. In L'viv, Ukraine.)

A woman walks down a street in Ukraine.
(A street in the old part of L'viv, Ukraine.)




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