Published on: Amended:
Lviv (Ukraine) (AFP) – With large blue and yellow wings spread behind her, Marina speeds gracefully on her scooter through western Ukraine, determined to smile despite little hope of finding tourists wishing to get henna tattoos.
“I don’t know if there will be any this summer, because there is a war,” said the young angel, who did not wish to reveal her age or her surname.
“It’s unbearable. My soul aches for my country and my people,” she said.
The western city of Lviv attracted 1.5 million tourists last year.
But the Russian invasion scared off all foreign visitors, even though the cultural hub remained relatively safe from conflict.
In Lviv today, customers of souvenir shops are Ukrainians uprooted by war, or foreign volunteers and journalists.
Most of the city’s architectural gems have been boarded up to protect them from Russian airstrikes, and many statues are swaddled in fabric or put out of sight.
Off the city’s main square, Taras Hordiyenko waited patiently under gray skies and pregnant as patrons sought a tour of the city on his golf cart.
“These days it’s not business. We don’t have tourists, we just have refugees,” he said.
Hordiyenko recounted driving a mother and son who had managed to escape from the besieged city of Mariupol, who told him they were glad to just be outside after spending weeks hiding in a cellar.
“It’s very hard to feel that, to hear that,” he said.
The war has killed thousands, ravaged swathes of the country and forced millions more to flee their homes since the Russian invasion on February 24.
Many of them, mostly women and children, fled to or via Lviv.
At a small souvenir market nearby, a handful of stalls offered everything from flowery scarves and patriotic wristbands to toilet paper printed with the likeness of the Russian president.
At one of them, Sonia, 13, bought a large blue and yellow flag decorated with pompoms.
“I buy a Ukrainian flag because it’s my nation and I support it,” said the teenager, from the capital Kyiv.
“I know that’s not really going to help,” she said. But she wanted to hang it in her new room like her brother.
Beside her stood her aunt, who had fled her own home in the besieged eastern city of Kharkiv.
“Brand New Life”
Anna, a 36-year-old doctor from the eastern city of Sumy, was also looking for a flag.
She and her two children, aged 6 and 10, wanted to bring it as a thank you gift for the woman who volunteered to welcome them to England.
“We’re worried,” she said of the upcoming trip.
“It will be a whole new life – a new school for the children and a new job for me. I will have to learn the language well.”
On an empty terrace in the main square, Vladislav, 20, took a break from his new job since fleeing the eastern region of Poltava.
“I’m in a lion costume because I haven’t found any other work,” said the former delivery man, a large maned head resting on the table beside him.
“But I really like it. I give people positive energy.”
Most of the children he received for a small fee also came from other parts of Ukraine, he said.
Back in full suit on the cobblestones, he squats down to chat with a shy little boy in a gray and white hat, on a walk with his mother.
Shortly after, the mother took a picture of her smiling child. His new animal friend pretended to bite off the top of his head.
© 2022 AFP