In western Ukraine, far from the battlefield but not the war

A couple, both soldiers, were on the last day of a five-day trip with their twin sons. He told me that he was worried that this might be their last vacation together. A hotel owner in a nearby town told us that his son was stationed in the town of Bakhmut, the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of the war. A young soldier talks about returning to his job as a snowboard instructor as a way to heal his mind and body.

Still, the crisp mountain air and tall cedars of the Carpathians brought some respite to many, if not complete escape. Of course, the idea of ​​life continuing in such a troubled country is nothing new and certainly not a unique feature of the conflict in Ukraine, but I also think it’s an important part of the story of this war and I feel committed to sharing.

Life is spreading all over the country. My visit coincided with the Orthodox Christmas season, and families were finding out what the festivities look like in a country at war. Before moving to the Carpathians, I had traveled with a photographer and two local colleagues to a village near Kiev that had been briefly occupied during the early days of the war and met a family whose home had been shelled. was done.

During the festive period, there was a lull in the capital as almost constant air raid alerts sent residents to shelters, giving us an opportunity to explore other aspects of life in Kiev. We followed commuters who committed to reaching their workplaces even though the lights were off for most of the day, and others who stayed in co-working spaces powered by generators.

The Carpathian region was just one stop on my reporting journey, and by the time I left Ukraine at the end of January, I had traveled hundreds of miles and spoken to dozens of people for whom the war was the shocking new normal. The atmosphere was created. I crossed the border into Poland, packing their stories in my notebook and imprinting their faces on my mind.

On my way to the airport in Warsaw, my phone suddenly rang a siren. A mobile app linked to air raid alerts warned me of a possible threat to Kiev, where I stayed for most of my trip. This surprised me even though I had left town the day before.

Moments later, my driver’s phone started flashing too. His phone was set to his home city of Lviv. It was likely that the entire country was on alert, a reality we both knew all too well during the past year. He said he was thinking of his three children at home.

We both let out a tired sigh. Even as life continues, it cannot escape this background of war.

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