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Far from home, Ukraine’s displaced seek baby clothes and blankets

LVIV (AFP) -Standing between boxes of donated clothes in western Ukraine, Tatyana Kaftan clutched a soft baby onesie and tiny pair of trousers against the green jumper clinging to her belly.

Expecting her first child and with her due date just three weeks away, she arrived in the city of Lviv three days ago after fleeing Russian bombardment from her home in the south.

“We left everything at home,” said the 35-year-old travel agent, who drove with her husband all the way from Mykolaiv on the Black Sea.

“We have nothing.”

In a financial consultancy office turned aid distribution centre in Lviv, she quietly asked a volunteer if they might have a soft toy for her unborn son.

Her husband, who is waiting to be called up to the army, stood by her side.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February has triggered one of the fastest-growing displacement and humanitarian crises ever, the United Nations (UN) said.

Displaced Ukrainian dentist Yana and her daughter, five-year-old Maya, look for clothes and toys at an aid distribution centre in Ukraine’s western city of Lviv. PHOTO: AFP

The war has displaced more than 10 million people, both within and outside Ukraine.

The population of Lviv, the country’s largest city near the Polish border, has ballooned in recent weeks.

To help those who left home with little more than the clothes on their back, aid distribution points offering garments, blankets, bed sheets, shoes and toys for children have popped up across the city.

Under a motivational quote on the wall, Ukrainian dentist Yana held up a small jeans jacket against her five-year-old daughter Maya to see if it might fit.

The mother of two, who did not give her second name, said she had spent 12 days in a basement hiding from shelling in the eastern city of Kharkiv near the Russian border, before the Ukrainian army could organise a convoy of cars and buses to evacuate them in early March.

Yana, who had her own dentist’s practice in Kharkiv, said former clients had offered her and her children shelter in Lviv.

But she broke down in tears explaining that her mother and mother-in-law had stayed behind.

Volunteer Severyna Padovska said hundreds visited every day in the early days of the war to collect clothes, toys, baby food and nappies.Today the numbers have dwindled, but the aid centre is still busy.

A block away, outside an administrative building, 55-year-old Natalia Ivachenko clutched a red folder containing her passport and other documents to register herself in the city.

She left her home in the eastern region of Donetsk last week to join her daughter who was already in Lviv.

“I was able to grab some things, but it was the first things I saw, and nothing I needed,” said the post office manager, laughing at herself.

“I didn’t take anything to wear,” she said, wrapped up in a grey jacket with warm pink lining.

Up the street in yet another queue, 38-year-old Katerina waited outside a cinema distributing clothes and toys, her six-year-old son Ilya clutching a stuffed panda by her side.

She had arrived in Lviv in early March with Ilya and a second son aged 13 from the city of Dnipro, in the centre of the country.

“When we left, my son took a backpack with equipment, because he is a programmer and he needs to study, and I took only a backpack with basic necessities,” she said, dressed in a pink tracksuit and silver puffer jacket.

Inside the repurposed cinema, near the popcorn stand, she examined colourful woolly hats in a box on the floor.

Other mothers looked at coats, treading across a giant floor poster of 2020 fantasy film Mulan on their way.

In a corner, Ilya made a new friend, each taking turns pretending to play a blue and red toy trumpet.