Königswinter/Sankt Augustin · Vitalii Koval came to Germany from the Ukraine about seven years ago. Together with his wife, he lives a completely normal life in Sankt Augustin. Until the war broke out in Ukraine on 24 February. Virtually overnight, the couple decided to return to their homeland and help on the ground.
There is a crackling noise on the line. Then Vitalii Koval sounds so close at the other end of the telephone receiver, as if he were standing in the room next door and not somewhere in Lviv in western Ukraine, some 1,400 kilometres away. "We are doing well so far," he says. "My wife and I are healthy and it's quiet here in town at the moment.“
Less than a fortnight ago, the 46-year-old and his wife Svitlana, who is two years younger, returned to their home country to do something in the face of war, to make themselves useful, to help somehow. "I am not a soldier," Koval emphasises. "But when news of the Russian attacks reached us on 24 February - a Thursday - I couldn't stay calm. I just had to go back.“
By train to Lviv
Koval, who lives with his wife in Sankt Augustin, came to Germany from Ukraine seven years ago. He works as a sales engineer for the testing equipment manufacturer Zera, a traditional Königswinter company that moved from the old town to Oberpleis about two and a half years ago. "On Friday morning I stood in front of my boss and said I had to go home," he recalls. "And I was immediately given leave." Just one day later, he says, he and his wife were on the road. "Svitlana would never have let me go alone," he says, and it sounds like a smile on the other end of the line. "Not a chance."
By then, virtually all flights to Ukraine had already been cancelled. The couple travelled by train first to Katowice in Poland on the Ukrainian border, then on to Lviv in the west of the country, where they stayed in the flat of an acquaintance. "The war hasn't come this far yet, it's completely quiet," says Koval. At least almost. "There have been a few air alarms, but no bombings."
Every morning Vitalii and Svitlana Koval find out where help is needed in the city via various Telegram chats. "Aid transports are always arriving somewhere," Koval tells us. "From Germany, but also from all over Europe." Unloading, sorting and reloading - that has been their daily triad for almost two weeks now. All the relief supplies that reach Lviv have to be quickly transferred to trucks, which then make the dangerous journey to the embattled areas and cities - to Kiev, Kharkiv or Mariupol, for example.
Food is becoming scarcer
What is the mood like in the city? Koval ponders a bit. "The solidarity shown to Ukraine from all sides is good for everyone here," he finally says. "And we are definitely not going to give up." Food has become scarcer in the past few days, he says, and the shelves in the shops a little emptier. There is still enough petrol and diesel so far.
"I wouldn't call it a supply crisis at the moment. But the city is getting more crowded every day," he observed. "There are thousands who arrive here every day and sleep on the floor with their children and babies in the town hall, for example." Feeding all the people could become a problem in the foreseeable future. Above all, durable food and especially medicines are needed, Koval believes. "Because there are many injured not only among the soldiers, but also among the civilians."
There is a little rustle in the telephone line again, the sound of traffic in the background. Is he afraid? This time Koval's answer comes more quickly. "The situation is not ordinary," he considers carefully. "With the pictures from Kharkiv, where virtually everything is destroyed, you do get scared. But we have to keep going.“
Relatives in the embattled areas
He himself also has relatives in the embattled areas. His mother, for example, lives near Donetsk in the Donbass, the region in eastern Ukraine that has been repeatedly fought over since 2014. "We are in daily contact," he says. "It's quiet at her place at the moment, because the Russian soldiers are moving towards Kiev." She does not want to leave her home, he says. "Her husband is buried there, after all. She is not leaving," says Koval.
He is also in daily contact with his older brother, who lives in Kiev. "So far he is doing well despite the bombings," says Koval. "He sent his daughter to Slovakia to stay with friends, and his son is now here with us in Lviv." How long will he and his wife stay in Ukraine? Koval can't say. "My boss gave me time off," he says. "We will stay here as long as it takes."
Original text: Heike Hamann
Translation: Mareike Graepel