On Thursday morning, air raid sirens sounded in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv for the first time — outside of regular drills — since World War II. Like clockwork, the picturesque city transformed from a tourist hotspot to a place preparing for war.
Even as TV screens flashed warnings of an imminent attack on the country in recent days, tour groups continued to flock the city’s cobblestoned streets, where dazzling baroque-style architecture stretches for miles. Diplomatic missions and international groups fled to the relative safety of Lviv from the capital Kyiv shortly after.
But that bubble burst when Russia attacked three locations — military facilities — in the Lviv region on Thursday morning.
"It was very tough this morning," Lviv Deputy Mayor Andriy Moskalenko told CNN on Thursday morning. "This morning, we had sirens and it was a sign for people to move to underground shelters ... the explosions were far away from the city."
Most shops in the city were shuttered. Long queues extended outside the few open stores— pharmacies, supermarkets, and even pet stores. The wait is over two hours long at most petrol pumps, or gas stations, where fuel is being rationed in an attempt to prevent fuel shortages.
Svetlana Locotova lets out a hearty laugh from a long queue outside a cash machine. She’s on the phone with her relatives in the heavily shelled eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, where many of the city's inhabitants are taking cover in the city’s subway station.
Next to her is her 12-year-old daughter, Margarita. Speaking to CNN, but also — it would seem — to her daughter, who nervously forces a smile, she says cheerily, “It’s totally normal that this would happen. I expected this queue. This is just how people react."
She and Margarita have just returned from a shooting range — a common pastime here lately. “We’re confident, but we’re preparing for the worst,” she says.
People here go about the day with a sense of defiance, even as the city seems transformed. “Ukraine is no stranger to war” is the common refrain. The change in mood is almost imperceptible. Many still exchange smiles and jokes, even as they speak about preparing their homes to receive relatives from the significantly harder-hit east of the country.
“Ukrainian society got used to war, not at this scale of course. But we’re used to it,” says Lviv-based Maria Toma, an official at the Mission for Russian-occupied Crimea at the Ukrainian president’s office.
“What I would like to see is [Russian President Vladimir Putin] at The Hague in court,” says Toma. “I believe he will be convicted as a war criminal.”