Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war machine expanded Saturday and intensified its attacks on Ukraine, launching multiple cruise missiles into the heart of Lviv, a city once considered a safe haven for families fleeing violence.
Everywhere is a target, and anyone can be a victim, it seems, but a few hundred families believe they’ve found the safest place in Ukraine, tucked away in the Carpathian Mountains.
The remote urban settlement of Slavsko is a popular ski destination for locals, but as spring melted its snow-capped peaks and Russian troops invaded the country’s east, a lucky few found solace in the slopes.
Many of the hotels welcomed the families, offering a handful of rooms for free and others at discounted rates. Staicy Chernilevskaia, who fled with her partner Ramir Holubov from Kharkiv, is among 50 people staying at the Karpatsky Zatyshok hotel.
“It’s mind boggling when you look at these mountains and read the news,” Chernilevskaia said. “It seems like it’s not real.”
The couple’s families are still in Kharkiv where Russian artillery consistently strikes residential areas, according to Ukrainian officials.
“You are here, you are safe, but you feel guilty,” Holubov said.
After a terrifying week spent sheltering in the car park of their apartment block in Kyiv and two failed escape attempts, 12-year-old Diana Kovalyova and her mother finally squeezed onto one of the overcrowded trains leaving the capital.
But they didn’t know where to go until they remembered a family trip one summer to the ski resort.
“We had good memories here,” said Larysa Kovalyova, Diana’s mother. “The people were kind and we knew they would take care of us.”
Situated in a valley between two rivers, the idyllic town has one small gold-domed church and little interest in Russian firepower that has targeted military infrastructure and urban centers.
“I feel safe here and also the view is perfect,” Diana said. “I like it so much, but I hope the war is over soon and we can go home because living at home is still much better.”
The town now hosts about 3,400 internally displaced people, nearly doubling its population, but the mayor says it’s not a burden. The community wants to share its mountain sanctuary.
“We think that it is our duty to host people who were thrown out of their homes by the war,” Mayor Volodymyr Beha said. “We feel a responsibility to make them warm and comfortable.”
Some are staying in less traditional accommodations. Olesya Matiushenko found peace for her two children in a glamping pod perched atop the mountains.
“My daughter wakes up every morning, opens the curtains, wipes the dew from the windows and says, ‘Mommy look!’” Olesya said with a smile as she looks out at her stunning view.
“It’s calming here,” she said. “I feel lighter. And I start to believe everything will be okay.”