In Lviv, they call it Powder Tower.
It was built in the 16th century to store gunpowder and weapons, and later converted into a museum of architecture. But exactly a month ago, on the day Russia invaded Ukraine, Powder Tower was reclaimed for war — not by the army or the government but by a group of fiesty volunteers.
Since then, around 100 volunteers have made it to the building in the city’s east every day to make camouflage nets for the forces, ripping into small strips donated clothes or fabric, and tying them together to form a mesh.
This resolve is what Oleksandra Bilokur symbolises. “Ukraine must fight till the end, Ukraine must fight for its freedom,” says the 23-year-old, who is a coordinator for the volunteers.
“And Ukraine will win the war because we have a strong aim… We cannot give away any part of the country because it is our land. It is our home. We have to protect it. Our soldiers have given away their lives for it. Any concession is a betrayal,” she says.
Bilokur’s comments resonate widely. When the war began a month ago, few expected that Ukraine would put up such a resolute defence, effectively stalling the Russian forces that were far superior in terms of weapons and strength.
In Lviv at least, local officials now suggest that they have more volunteers willing to fight than they may need at the moment.
In this oblast (province), which has largely been untouched by Russian aggression, more than 30,000 people have joined the Armed Forces, and 20,000 more have volunteered to join the Territorial Defence Force, according to Maksym Kozytskyy, who heads the Lviv Oblast Military Administration.
The administration claims that Ukrainian troops have killed 15,800 Russian soldiers, whom they call “Moscowites”, and downed 108 Russian jets and 124 helicopters, and destroyed 530 tanks and 1,597 armoured combat vehicles as of Thursday.
Ukraine does not share the number of its own soldiers killed, but it has been suggested that one Ukrainian soldier has been killed for every 10 Russians.
“We trust in international help, but more in the Ukrainian army. It is the Ukrainian soldier that is defending the country. Not because they trust in NATO, but because they trust in their land. Nobody will do it for us,” says Kozytskyy.
He adds that weapons are coming from other countries, and “we are waiting for the tools to get our victory sooner”.
The volunteers, meanwhile, are ready.
Vladimir Vanderas, 58, is waiting for orders to join the forces. A musician from Kharkiv in the east, he fled to Lviv with his family as Russian forces reduced his home city to rubble. His wife, he says, has gone to Germany but he cannot leave because of martial law.
“Russian President Vladimir Putin used to say that he wanted peace and liked Ukraine, and that we are brothers. But he brought the war to this country,” he says.
Vanderas has experienced Soviet-era Ukraine before it became independent in 1991. “This is now a democracy, and people can demand their rights and change their president if they don’t like him, unlike Russia, where everyone has to obey Putin,” he says.
Kravchuk Grosswann, 48, is a chaplain in the Ukrainian Army from Kherson. Asked if he believes Ukraine can win the war, he says, “Sure”, before flashing a double thumbs-up and a toothy smile.
“Ukraine cannot agree to Putin’s demands. The war must end on our terms. They should leave our territory and also Crimea,” he says. What if Russia does not agree? “Then we continue to fight as long as we can.”
Even those who have fled the country don’t want Ukraine to “capitulate”. Going to Germany with her children from Warsaw, Svetlana Vasylenko, who left behind her husband and their home near the capital Kyiv , says: “Ukraine will fight for our freedom, and it will win.”
Her husband is fighting the war, and she doesn’t want “people, especially children, to die”. “But we cannot capitulate,” she says.
This, in essence, is also what Lviv Mayor Andrii Sadovyi has to say.
“God has given us the last chance as Ukrainians, as a state and nation, the next centuries will live in peace. Ukrainians will be proud of their ancestors who rebuffed the enemies,” he says.
Asked what has struck him most about the war completing a month, he points to the installation that was set up in the city last week: 108 empty baby carriages, each for a baby killed in the war till then. “Today, there will be 117 baby angels defending from heaven.”