‘It’s like parallel realities’: Rituals of life and death are blurred in a vibrant Ukrainian city

LVIV, Ukraine. The tiny shriek of newborns echoes in the incubators and cribs that decorate a small, mint-green-walled room at a maternity hospital in Lvov.

Twenty-seven years ago, the chief pediatrician of the neonatal department, Lilia Mironovich, gave birth to a boy, Artemy Dymid, here. She’d watched through her front window last week as his funeral took place in the cemetery across the street, a military band’s funeral service mingled with the cries of newborns.

“That was my boy,” the doctor said. This was stated by 64-year-old Mironovich. Dimid, who died during the fighting in eastern Ukraine in mid-June. “That was my child.”

Contradictory images of life and death play out side by side in the western Ukrainian city of Lvov. They can be harsh, such as when children are born within walking distance of a crowded military cemetery where young Ukrainian soldiers are buried.

But they can also be thin.

On the facade of the maternity hospital, windows decorated with paper storks are also covered with masking tape so that they do not break in the explosion.

The air raid sirens that once sent Lvov residents scrambling for basements no longer generate the same level of alarm as they did in February and March, though the alarm intensified last week when a flurry of missiles was fired from Belarusian airspace within walking distance from the city.

Lviv remains relatively peaceful, having become a center for humanitarian aid and a place of refuge for those fleeing the fighting in the east. However, death still comes, as evidenced by the continuous stream of fallen soldiers whose funerals take place here, sometimes several times a day.

Funerals absorb the daily rhythms of city life. Trams stop. Bus passengers wipe tears from their eyes.

“Every time we say goodbye to them, it’s like the first time,” said Kristina Kutsir, 35, who stood on a Lviv street one afternoon in late June, waiting for another funeral to pass on her way to a military cemetery. .

Across the street, 10 medical students in black and red robes gathered in the square in front of their university to celebrate their graduation.

As the funeral cortege passed by, the students knelt along the sidewalk to pay tribute to the fallen soldier. They then gathered themselves, dusted off their legs, and headed back to the university to pose for pictures.

One of the graduates, 23-year-old Igor Purii, said he had mixed feelings about the long-awaited day.

“In one moment you are happy that you graduated from the university, and new horizons open up before you,” he said. “And at the same time, situations happen that bring you back to reality and the times we live in.”

All the usual graduation celebrations were canceled due to the war, but friends were trying to find a way to mark the occasion. However, Mr. Pury said it was extremely uncomfortable to see soldiers of his age dying on the front line without seeing their own future realized. He and his fellow students are exempted from conscription because of their studies and the future profession of doctors.

“We are trying to keep our hope for the best to avoid the negative thoughts that each of us have,” he said. However, according to him, it is impossible to get used to the daily reminders of death.

Honoring the fallen warriors has become a grim ritual for the staff of the medical school, as well as several other colleges and office buildings along the road between downtown and the cemetery. Sometimes there are five funerals in one day, says Anna Yatsynik, 58, who works as a toxicologist at the city morgue and gets up from her desk every day to go outside with her colleagues to watch the grim processions.

RS. Yatsynik said that she and her colleagues began to organize their working days so that they could see the processions.

“It has become a sad routine,” Ms. says. Yatsynik said. But we always come. We consider it our duty to express our gratitude and pay tribute.”

On a June afternoon, they knelt to honor the dead as a minibus carrying a coffin drove by. In the summer heat, many women wore sundresses, and the coarse cement dug into their bare knees.

When a black car drove by, an elderly relative of the deceased soldier looked out from behind the glass of the window and, folding his hands, shook them and nodded gratefully to those gathered.

Everyone knows someone who fought in this war. And increasingly, everyone knows someone who has died as the war reaches even the most peaceful communities.

But as the conflict turned from weeks to months, and as the chilling days of the winter invasion gave way to summer heat, the initial sense of dread in this city gave way to milder unease. .

Lviv parks and green spaces, cafes and terraces in summer look like in any other European city. Outside the opera house, children run through the fountain, giggling, escaping the heat, their wet clothes and hair sticking to them as they dodge the water.

And then you look a little closer. On statues wrapped in protective materials. Street musicians perform patriotic songs about war and death.

In the bare rooms of the National Gallery, faded squares on richly decorated wallpaper signal works of art taken away for safekeeping. On men in military uniform, holding tightly to the hands of their partners.

People in their 20s note that they only reunite with large groups of friends when they attend the funeral of one of their peers.

So it was with many friends of Mr. Dimid, a young man who was born in a Lvov hospital and buried across the road. But still, life goes on.

He should, said Roman Lozinsky, 28, who has been Mr. Friend Dimid for two decades.

“This is the reason we are here,” he said. “That’s what we protect.”

mr. Lozinsky, a Marine and member of the Ukrainian parliament, volunteered for the army three months ago and served in the same unit as Mr. Lozinsky. Dymid. It is important for him that Ukrainians live their lives, even though returning home from the front line can be annoying.

“It’s hard psychologically because it’s like parallel realities,” he said of his time in Lviv with friends and family during his brief respite from the war to attend a funeral.

Back at the maternity hospital, new mothers give birth every day and find hope amidst all this chaos.

“When you talk to mothers, there is no war,” the doctor said. Mironovich, pediatrician.

28-year-old Christina Mnykh gave birth to her first child on June 28, the Constitution Day of Ukraine. While she was in labor, an air raid alarm went off. She just had an epidural so she couldn’t go downstairs to the shelter.

A few weeks earlier, a rocket attack had blown out the windows of her neighbor just one mile from her home. But when she took her daughter Roksolana in her arms, these memories seemed to fade.

“You are looking at your tiny baby in your arms,” Mnykh said: “And understand, sooner or later life will go on.”