Six weeks ago Yuliia Kleban was living in Massachusetts, a visiting scholar at Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s business school. Now she is back home in Ukraine, worrying about the safety of her family and the fate of her country.
For Kleban and other residents of Lviv, life has taken a grim and unexpected turn as it has for millions across Ukraine as Russian forces have mounted a brutal full-scale attack on the country.
“It’s like a bad dream that came to be reality,” Kleban said in a phone interview Friday from Lviv, a city of 720,000 people in the western part of Ukraine.
While Lviv has not yet come under direct attack by the Russians, life in the city has been upended as people hastily prepare for the worst. She has seen lines of people waiting to donate blood. One of her colleagues, a university professor, has volunteered to join the Ukrainian military forces.
Kleban, 36, an assistant professor at Ukrainian Catholic University, came to the United States to learn how American business schools are run and was a visiting Fulbright scholar at Worcester Polytechnic Institute from August through mid-January. During that time, she exchanged offices and homes with WPI Business School Professor Renata Konrad. While Kleban was at WPI she lived in Konrad’s home in Newton, while Konrad was at her institution and living in her home in Lviv.
Kleban and her husband, Taras, 39, returned to Ukraine at the end of January. At that time, Russian troops were already massing along the border, but for many Ukrainians the likelihood of full-scale war seemed remote, almost unthinkable. That changed Thursday morning, and the professor found herself contemplating next moves.
At her apartment in Lviv, she’s been packing essential items — money, documents, medicine, and some nuts and dried fruit — into a backpack that she can grab quickly in case she and her husband have to evacuate.
Kleban was considering taking a train to Medyka, a village in southern Poland that’s on the border of Ukraine. Poland is a member of NATO, and officials there are expecting a flood of refugees from Ukraine as the invasion continues. But that’s now not a viable option for Kleban and her husband.
On Thursday, the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine announced that male citizens between the ages of 18 and 60 would be prohibited from traveling outside the borders of Ukraine. “That means my husband won’t be able to leave the country,” she said.
She’s also concerned about her 40-year-old brother, Yura, who lives in Lviv and has disabilities.
“I don’t know if he can cross the border,” she said.
Kleban was in her apartment when she recently heard an air raid siren, signaling that a Russian aircraft had potentially entered the local airspace. The sirens are used to warn the public “so people can hide,” she explained.
She has seen long lines of people waiting to get cash from ATM machines, get medicine from pharmacies, and fuel up their cars at gas stations.
She managed to buy some fuel for her vehicle at a gas station late Thursday night. Customers were limited to a maximum purchase of 20 liters of gas per car, she said. That’s the equivalent of about 5 gallons, enough perhaps to make it to the Polish border 50 miles away.
But Kleban said residents of Lviv are also preparing for the influx of people who are fleeing from other parts of the country that have been invaded by Russia.
“We’re getting ready for these internally displaced people, so we can host them,” she said.
At her university, spaces have been set up for people to use as shelters in case of emergency. Food and water has been set aside as well, she said.
Kleban said she is concerned about the amount of misinformation being put out by the Russian government, describing the invasion as a “peacekeeping mission” of sorts.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised address Thursday morning that he decided to carry out the military operation to protect people in the separatist regions of eastern Ukraine. But Kleban said that’s not the case, and she fears that people won’t understand the full scope of what’s happening across the country.
“They need to know the truth. We are a peaceful country not asking for any help [from Russia],” she said. “This is literally an invasion.”
Emily Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney and on Instagram @emilysweeney22.