I woke up today in Lviv to be visited by a kitten who met me at the window as soon as I woke up. I let her in, and she toured the place. I gave her something to eat and then she ran off, and I haven’t seen her since.
I gathered myself and went out to see what Lviv is like during the day, and it felt remarkably like a day in any other beautiful city. Nothing is bombed out. It's just beautiful--old buildings, cobblestone streets, trams running, fancy dress shops, restaurants, Apple stores. Everything is running. Shops are full, and people are living their lives. You'd think it was any other European place.
I went along and wound up at the Ukrainian Catholic University. I was referred there by Father Yaroslav in Boston, and sure enough it's another beautiful modern place with students running about. I sat down with the media director and arranged an interview for tomorrow. We talked about life and their enclave, and how normal everything seemed. I asked him about their recent bombings and sure enough one of the bombings last Saturday, a missile strike not even a week ago, had lit up a fireball about a mile from the campus, obviously changing the lives of everyone there--and yet, they were all still just going about their business.
So, that was my day. I walked back in the rain during rush hour and all felt very normal. I got back, got myself organized, and went out to eat. I was all on my own in a beautiful restaurant that could have been on South Beach or just about any other hip place in the United States, but there was no one there because of the ten o’clock curfew.
Along the way I had taken some footage of an army outpost I ran across, sand-bagged and soldiers out, and sure enough, as I walked along a couple of soldiers chased me down and demanded I delete the videos. I did, of course, and they checked my passport again. I must’ve had my passport checked ten times in the last day. They let me on my way.
Now here I am, at night, in my room, getting ready for the interview we’re going to do tomorrow at the university. I open the window and it’s raining, and I realize how strange it is to be in a place where seemingly everything’s normal, and yet there’s the threat of a missile coming in and hitting just about anywhere in the city. So far, the Russians have chosen semi-military targets. They haven’t hit the middle of Lviv like they have so many other places in the east and the south, and tried to in Kyiv, but all of these places are holding. The Ukrainian military is amazing to everyone, how strong they are with the backup they're receiving from the United States and other NATO allies, and yet if you're a citizen in the city--and of course I wasn't here when the missile struck, and I probably won’t be here when they do again--you realize what a strange idea it is that here you are on a lovely night, and there's no guarantee the missile won’t come right in your door.
Tomorrow, back to the school, and I hit the road.
My trek from Warsaw to Lviv started calmly enough. I had to go from the Holiday Inn in Warsaw to the bus station, but I mistakenly got taken to the train station. So I then walked to the bus station in a bit of a panic, and I wound up getting a bus ticket to Lviv which would have gotten me in sometime later in the evening--however, I missed the bus. The next bus wasn’t going to be until midnight, but in the meantime, I met an ex-soldier from the United States. He was on his way to Lviv as well, so we got together and through his presence (he was all outfitted with military gear so he was pretty obvious), people came up to him including a Brazilian soldier who was also on his way to Lviv to fight. Before I knew it the American met a former Ukrainian army officer who offered to give us all a ride in his yellow minibus.
Next thing I knew I was packed in the minibus with his family, the two soldiers, a ton of supplies, and a few other passengers and spent the next eight hours on the road to Lviv through the Polish countryside.
Around midnight we stopped at a well-stocked Polish grocery store near the Ukraine border and picked up some groceries (we got gas in Ukraine as it was cheaper) and next thing you know we were at the Ukrainian border.
We then ran a gauntlet of checkpoints, armed soldiers, police officers, border agents, and others. We had to show our passports I believe four times at various checkpoints before getting across the border.
Once in Ukraine, it was a very dark and lonely stretch of road until we got to Lviv. There were miscellaneous checkpoints along the way. The Ukrainian army was definitely in control. We got to Lviv which turned out to be not bombed out. We checked into our hotel, and now, here we are.
Yesterday I started the Ukraine trek from Boston to Warsaw, where I’m going to pick up transportation to Lviv. It was a pretty good flight, went through JFK and London, got into Warsaw, and then I trekked/walked to the Holiday Inn. It was a really interesting walk—I passed through a very first-world country obviously, it is in the heart of Europe. And at the same time, probably the most striking thing that I remember was what looked like a Soviet-era graveyard with these massive structures, and a very large area full of numbered graves, a few headstones here and there. But they were too big to include in the posts that you’ll see in today's video, but we’ll certainly include them in the finished documentary. Obviously Soviet-era, World War II. But then I went into the city and it was just a beautiful place. I had a lovely meal, nice hotel, and in the morning I’ll be heading to Lviv.
In every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance. —Phillis Wheatley, 1774
A Message From TheoEco's Managing Director Steve Richards
Well, it looks like I’m going to Ukraine. I’ve bought my ticket on American Airlines from Boston to Warsaw via JFK and London Heathrow. Leaving Monday, March 28th. My daughter Bobbie seems okay with it. Not thrilled exactly, but getting used to the idea. She’s also instrumental in making it work by holding down the TheoEco fort in Boston. She’ll be editing and posting the regular daily (?) updates on my trek from Western Ukraine and linking them up with short videos being uploaded to video editor Amit Nepali in Kathmandu. Bobbie will also be my primary point person as I venture through Western Ukraine over the month of April, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) a day on average. She’ll be updating the map, social media, and communicating with interested/concerned folks in general as I traverse the 600+ kilometers from Lviv to Rivne to Khmelnytskyi, and then back to Lviv.
Why We’re Going
Why Western Ukraine? We are going to shoot a documentary about the area focused on the economic and ecological entanglements the area is engaged in as Putin conducts his war in the midst of active nuclear power plants, two of which are located in Rivne and Khmelnytskyi. The notorious Chernobyl plant is no longer active and is under Russian control, as is Europe’s largest nuclear plant in Zaporizhzhia, which attracted worldwide attention recently as it was being shelled by Russian troops. This is what spurred me to want to head to Ukraine and document the situation at these plants, at least the ones I could get close to relatively safely. Those in the west are not currently in battle zones though things can change quickly so we’ll be closely monitoring the situation.
TheoEco’s focus as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization is on the potential environmental catastrophe that local human economic activities—like the need for electricity and control thereof in wartime—might inflict on its ecology. Additionally, the theological underpinnings of the conflict are always in the background, and I will be digging into these as well. And to that end, I will be looking to network with the Christian community as I go. My first contact with a member of a Ukrainian denomination was last week with the Very Rev. Archpriest Yaroslav Nalysnyk, MD, DMin., at Christ the King Ukrainian Catholic Church in Boston. I’m expecting a deep and fascinating dive into the Ukrainian Christian world on my travels and hope to juxtapose that tradition with that of Russia’s, which appears to be at the heart of Putin’s—and much of Russia’s—belief system as it relates to the war.
TheoEco has a very specific point of view on all this, however, which is why it is producing this documentary. TheoEco was set up in 2015 in the immediate aftermath of the Nepal earthquakes of that year. An outcome of my three years at the Yale Divinity School, it is principally concerned with the intersection of economics with our ecology. When I saw the nuclear plant on fire I knew the catastrophic potential was big. And it seemed like a worthwhile and doable project if I just got on a plane, took a train to Lviv, and started walking. I want to see firsthand and hopefully interview authorities that can reassure the world of the steps being taken to safeguard and defend these facilities.
After flying into Warsaw from Boston and then taking the train to Lviv, I will aim to hike 600+ kilometers—or about 360 miles—over the month of April, more or less. That’s about a week and a half from Lviv to Rivne, another week or so to Khmelnystki, and then another week or two back to Lviv, then another train back to Poland. This route and timeframes will be subject to change depending upon various conditions, including the weather, my legs (I'll be carrying my life on my back), the war, interview opportunities, etc. I may also need to hitch a ride rather than hike at various points along the way depending on the aforementioned conditions. If you would like to encourage my aching feet along, please consider a pledge of a dime per kilometer (or more) for each kilometer I finish on foot as proven by my Apple Watch logs updated daily.
Along the way I am planning to document and tell some great stories about the people I meet. Ukraine’s struggle and fight for liberty is something people everywhere can understand. Certainly those of us in the United States where the Alamo, Minutemen and the Declaration of Independence are at our core “get” these folks, as do free people throughout the world, and those struggling to be.
So off I go, and I hope you will consider going with me! To stay in the loop there are several options. You can sign up for our newsletter/blog, follow the Facebook page, or follow my new Instagram account. I also hope you’ll consider helping us defray the costs of the trip and production and supporting the folks in Ukraine.
Most of all, please send a thought and a prayer my way as you do for Ukraine. I’ll be needing all I can get.