Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Postmen deliver the goods on Ukraine’s home front

Parcels may be rattled on roads pockmarked by shell blasts, delayed at sandbag checkpoints, and held static during overnight curfews pierced by wailing air raid sirens.

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There is war raging in Ukraine but the postmasters in the western city of Lviv promise to keep making deliveries.

Parcels may be rattled on roads pockmarked by shell blasts, delayed at sandbag checkpoints, and held static during overnight curfews pierced by wailing air raid sirens.

But Volodymyr Shved and Anatoliy Goretsky – who manage the Nova Poshta courier company in Lviv – insist parcels will arrive at their destination.

“The only places we aren’t working is where the bombs are falling, at the moment they’re falling,” said 39-year-old Shved.

“When the alarms go off we stop, but when they are silent we go back to work.”

The war at home

Since Russia invaded Ukraine three weeks ago the pro-Western country has moved onto a war footing.

Thousands of soldiers have been mobilised and cities have been fortified on the orders of President Volodymyr Zelensky, who addresses the nation in military fatigues.

The “home front” of Ukraine has also been transformed, as civilian life pivots to buttress the war effort and usher aid to refugees fleeing conflict zones.

Lviv, which is located 70km (45 miles) from the border with Poland, was initially largely spared military strikes from Russian forces.

But the cavernous Nova Poshta warehouse on the northern outskirts has nevertheless been transformed by the demands of war.

The workforce has slimmed by more than half. Just 22 work here with most of the rest called up for combat.

The hub once sorted one million parcels a day, mainly for online shoppers.

Now the 100,000 daily parcels are mostly food, medicine and clothing – care packages criss-crossing conflict-riven Ukraine.

Pasta and military boots

A cursory glance at rusted red cargo trolleys reveals pasta noodles and military boots nestled among anonymous cardboard packages.

Ninety mechanised lines hurl them along a conveyor belt through a yawning red scanner, sorting them for onward travel.

Shved said the only day this process paused was Feb 24 – when Russia invaded – as a grip of panic passed across Ukraine.

“Over the next few days we realised the company is one of the few that can keep people united,” he said. “That’s why we decided to regroup.”

Now the postal trucks are guided by a backroom team mapping “safe routes to pass aside warfare”, he explained.

They account for infrastructure hobbled by Russian airstrikes and Ukrainian checkpoints manned by twitchy recruits.

Nova Poshta once made deliveries anywhere in Ukraine within 24 hours. Now it takes between four and six days.

Nevertheless “we do our best to deliver every package to its final destination”, pledged Shved.

On a wall in the front office a caricature of Russian President Vladimir Putin is daubed on a whiteboard.

Though far from most battles, combat is clearly on employees’ minds.

“Many of our workers are on the frontline and many are still working here,” said 42-year-old Goretsky, wearing a red down jacket.

“It’s also a frontline.”

Outgoing aid

Shved and Goretsky say parcels are still arriving from the frontline cities of Kyiv and Kharkiv.

But despite their upbeat mood, parts of the nation are now cut off.

The last shipment from Mariupol arrived one week ago. The strategic port city has been hammered by Russian artillery with reports of horrific casualties.

And nationwide, just 25% of the Nova Poshta offices are still open for business.

But a second shed behind the private post facility is where the main focus of their work now lies.

Around 90% of freight passing through the facility is now humanitarian aid – gathered and sorted at the Lviv way station for incoming refugees or eastbound distribution.

There are towering pallets of noodles from the Lithuanian Red Cross, blood-clotting trauma bandages from the French Protection Civile and cans of drinking water stamped with a heart symbol.

Men perched on freight-pushing buggies scoot across the sheened floor, shunting aid crates into piles.

Standing among boxed donations, Andriy Kovalyov, 38, is itemising assorted medication.

After fleeing his home in Kyiv, Kovalyov now volunteers for the health ministry using his pharmaceutical expertise.

“I had the choice between going to the army, which I’m not trained to do… or this,” he said, gesturing at his makeshift workplace.

“I hope this helps.”

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