I arrive under cover of darkness as the sound of air raid sirens echo in the distance. We slowly roll past barricades of sand, concrete and hundreds of anti-tank crisscross metal obstacles. It’s been a long day of flights followed by a nine-hour journey from Poland through checkpoints and borders.
It’s nearly 1:00am on the silent, disserted streets as soldiers huddle in groups behind their barricades. It’s cold. It’s not a time to be on the streets. A curfew of 8:00pm has been in place since the war began. Through the foggy, damp night, I can see the dim glow of cigarettes in the distance as soldiers check my passport.
Winding through the narrow European-style streets, the clickity-clack of our tires on the old cobble stone streets echoes in the night. We are the only ones on the road. I finally arrive in oldtown. The wooden slated floor in my hotel room creaks with every step, but I’m certain guests below me barely take notice over the sound of air raid sirens. I fall into bed, exhausted, but also eager for morning when we will set in motion the final piece of our network for the Corridor of Hope; the network that will carry critical supplies and medicine to the front lines.
I wake early, but the city still sleeps, so I decide to take a walk. It’s bitterly cold. The sun peaks through for a few minutes before snow begins to fall. It is similar to walks in Vienna or Paris. This ancient part of picturesque Lviv is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Founded in 1254, it is home to the largest number of architectural monuments in Ukraine. Today, however, national monuments are surrounded with white sandbags. Stain glass windows are covered with plywood. Museum signs have been removed from buildings and artifacts hidden to preserve their national and spiritual heritage.
As dawn gives way to the busyness of morning, city streets come to life. I watch soldiers, young and old stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the sidewalk, resolute and stoic as their anthem plays. Citizens halt their morning business to stand and pay honor to those heading to the front lines; their fathers and brothers, their people – it does not go unnoticed. Everyone around understands the gravity of reporting for duty. As the anthem ends and soldiers disperse, life goes on in the city.
Central-park areas come to life as old men gather to play cards, peddlers sell their books and antiques from blankets near the sidewalk. Couples walk hand in hand. As I make my way up the path near the opera house, the faint melodies of young artists filter through the air inspiring hope for all who hear. Worshippers file into cathedrals; for many it’s Passover week. I quietly slip in the back door. The majestic church is packed with people on their knees. I don’t know what they are praying for, but my guess is protection for their families and peace for their country.
I continue my walk on the way to meetings; aware of the dichotomy of quaint, historical coffee and chocolate shops that line the way, as well as workshops with women weaving camouflage nets for Ukraine’s front lines.
I’m here this week for meetings with our entire network of hospitals and front-line medical professionals. I’m here to finalize our MoUs with local Ukrainian partners; brave volunteers who risk their lives to help get supplies to the forefront of the battle. I’m here to listen and learn. More than 600 medical facilities have been bombed since the war began. Walking the 9-story soviet-style trauma hospital, its apparent life is anything but normal. The surgeons I speak with know they are targets. Lights are kept off, unless absolutely necessary. Critical patients have been moved to the lowest floors for protection.The faint sound of sirens sound above as I tour basements that now serve as bomb shelters. They are overwhelmed with patients from the hardest hit areas of Mariupol and Donbass. They lack supplies needed for surgeries. I walk the halls with doctors and nurses who could leave, but choose to stay.
I’m in the company of heroes – those who’ve made the sacrifice to stay and save others. These are the people who make up our Corridor of Hope.