Just three weeks ago, Garden (Сад), 25 kilometers south of Lviv, was a romantic resort for weddings and other celebrations. People came here to spend their most precious moments with family and friends. Garden's Instagram account shows memories of countless couples who cemented their vows in this picturesque environment.
These images of hope and love changed dramatically on the 24th of February when Russia invaded Ukraine. Seeing the tragedy that was to follow, Garden's owners immediately made modifications to their property to turn it into a center for displaced people. Thanks to Garden's owners, local volunteers, and the local administration, 70 mattresses complete with pillows and bedsheets appeared on-site in just a few days. Additionally, the kitchen began providing three hot meals a day to people displaced by the war.
The owners bring people fleeing the war directly from Lviv to Garden. This is usually done at the request of the Lviv oblast administration. Others have found out about Garden from social media. More are coming thanks to information provided by those who have already passed through Garden. According to owners, the majority stay just 2 or 3 days, take a rest, think, and continue further. Some stay longer. So far, Garden has provided hundreds with refuge from the war: most are women and children or seniors.
It was scary when the rockets were flying
Olena, a mother of two from Korosten, about 170 kilometres north-west from Kyiv, is one of the people who have stayed at Garden. When Korosten came under attack, Olena fled with her daughters, 3-year-old Arina and 5-year-old Karina. Her husband remained in their hometown. "It was horrible and very scary when the rockets were flying. Four houses were on fire and burnt down completely," says Olena. "My children didn't know before what the war means, but they've spent time in the basement, experienced fear and the horrors of the shelling," she adds.
After a long trip by train to Lviv, Olena and her daughters found respite in Garden. However, whilst Karina and Arina run around and play on the mattresses, Olena remains very concerned about the future. She doesn't know what to do and where to go. For now, she is staying in Garden but is considering moving further. "Maybe we'll go to Poland, or maybe not… I don't want to leave Ukraine, but I'm concerned about my children's safety. I don't want them to hear the sirens and experience the horrors of war again," she explains.
While standing on the terrace where wedding guests would drink champagne in the peaceful past, Olena thinks about her very uncertain future. "I don't know what will happen tomorrow, but I know that I want to live and be with my children. And my biggest wish is the end of the war so that I can go back home. I simply want to go home and be there with my family, as before the war."
In the meantime, the owners are trying to increase the capacity to accommodate even more displaced people. Next to the displacement center, they have one more wedding hall, which they intend to equip with mattresses and heaters to offer 70 additional places for people fleeing the war. To make the place more humane and habitable, they need boilers for showers, washing machines, and toys for children. They are thinking about psychological support, as many of the people who have fled are heavily traumatized. A psychologist friend is coming once a week to provide counselling to people.
People in Need is ready to support Garden as well as other centers for displaced people with essential equipment like mattresses, bedsheets, food or hygiene items.
Back in front of the main wedding hall Olha, a senior from Irpin, shares: "I will never forget the day I tried to get out of Irpin. I was outside when my neighbour's car was shelled. The father died, and the mother and her child were wounded. It is difficult to accept this and impossible to understand. I desperately want this war to come to an end," she says.
The stories of displaced people passing through Garden juxtapose starkly with the beauty and calmness of the place. Everyone here hopes that the people fleeing will be able to return home soon, and this place can return to its past practice of celebrating the joys of life rather than reducing the sorrow of war.