Interview'Russia attacked Jewish-Ukrainian history'

Ukrainians are like David fighting ‘idiotic’ Russian Goliath, Lviv mayor tells ToI

Andriy Sadovyi says his city is dealing well with an influx of refugees, having started preparing months ago, angrily denounces Russian strike that damaged Babyn Yar area

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi in his office on March 2, 2022. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)
Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi in his office on March 2, 2022. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine is like the biblical David as it battles against the stronger Russian military, standing in the breach to defend the democratic West, Lviv’s mayor told the Times of Israel on Wednesday.

Switching between broken English and Ukrainian, Andriy Sadovyi also said his western Ukrainian metropolis was dealing well with an influx of refugees from further east and bemoaned the Russian bombing of the Babyn Yar massacre memorial in Kyiv. (Sadovyi’s English quotes were lightly edited for clarity.)

“Today, Ukrainian citizens are like David,” he said in an interview from his office in city hall. “Our David protects democratic countries in world. We fight Goliath. Only together we can fight.”

Barely concealing his rage, Sadovyi, 53, denounced a Russian strike in northern Kyiv a day earlier that caused damage to a memorial site at Babyn Yar, a ravine where 33,771 Jews were murdered by Nazis and collaborators in September 1941.

“Yesterday, Russian troops attack Babyn Yar.” He stopped, then angrily breathed in sharply. “Russia attacked Jewish-Ukrainian history.”

But he also indicated unhappiness with Israel’s milquetoast balancing act between Moscow and Kyiv, calling for Western nations to take a “strong position” against Russia.

“It is very important for the future. Ukrainian future. Israel future. Freedom [loving] people’s future. I expect strong positions from leaders of the world.”

A woman holds a placard as she takes part in a rally on February 19, 2022, in the center of the western Ukraine city of Lviv (Yuriy DYACHYSHYN / AFP)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has conspicuously avoided condemning Russia by name, while Foreign Minister Yair Lapid did so on the first day of the invasion. On Wednesday, Israel voted to condemn Russia in the United Nations General Assembly. The policy is thought to be aimed at making sure Russia continues to tacitly allow Israel to carry out strikes against Iran-backed targets in Syria.

Though he had been an outspoken political critic of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Sadovyi is now backing the country’s surprisingly effective wartime leader.

“Zelensky is my president. Today, maximum Ukrainian citizens support the president. His position is very strong. Very strong. A lot of leaders want to be like Zelensky.”

People cover the windows Museum of Ethnography with metal plates in Lviv, western Ukraine, Wednesday, March 2, 2022. (AP/Bernat Armangue)

While his city of 700,000 is several hours’ drive away from the fighting, he spoke of feeling “pain” seeing other cities come under attack.

“I see every day bombing of Ukrainian cities. Kharkiv, Mariupol, Zhytomyr. Last time [it was a] very similar situation was during the Second World War. It’s crazy, it’s not right. But Russian power is idiotic. It’s completely idiotic,” he said.

In peacetime, Lviv is known for its coffee, jazz festival and architecture — the city center is a UNESCO World Heritage site. But now the mayor is overseeing a city that has swelled with tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the fighting or trying reach the borders with Poland or Hungary.

Passengers rush to board a train leaving to Slovakia from the Lviv railway station, in Lviv, west Ukraine, Wednesday, March 2, 2022. (AP/Felipe Dana)

“The last week completely changed our life,” Sadovyi said in English. “Every day Lviv hosts thousands and thousands of refugees from different cities in Ukraine. And we are building a territorial defense force. We must support Ukrainian troops. And my responsibility, my duty, my city, my citizens, and infrastructure. Water, electricity, gas.”

Sadovyi said he started preparing the city for an “extraordinary situation” six months ago.

“Water, medical treatments, we made huge supplies,” he said. “Today we can transmit water without electricity.”

Lviv can host up to 200,000 refugees, he said, and so far the preparations are proving themselves, with no food shortages and room for refugees. “It is normal,” he said.

Volunteers prepare humanitarian aid for victims of the Russian invasion in Lviv, western Ukraine, Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. (AP/Pavlo Palamarchuk)

Though he has lived in Lviv virtually his entire life, Sadovyi said he continues to be amazed by the Leopolitans lining up to volunteer to defend the country or help deal with various challenges.

“We have a robust self-organization process that is deeply ingrained in our genes,” he explained through his interpreter. “Even our authorities cannot understand sometimes how people self-organize and what they can do for survival.”

The father of five boys said his kids are doing what they can to help the city. “My children are with me,” he said. “They help me, they’re helping the city. The older ones are helping in the streets, the younger ones go to school, but of course there are no studies right now, and everyone is contributing to the city.”

Displaced Ukrainians take shelter in an auditorium in Lviv, western Ukraine, Wednesday, March 2, 2022. Russian forces have escalated their attacks on crowded urban areas in what Ukraine’s leader called a blatant campaign of terror. (AP/Bernat Armangue)

The mayor freely admitted that feels some measure of trepidation, over the situation and Russian approach, but deals with it by focusing on his job.

“Only idiots are not afraid of anything,” he stressed. “But if you are busy solving problems you have no time to be afraid because you are doing the important work.”

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