In Lviv, Ukrainians pause near memorial wall of flowers

Passersby contemplate a wall of artificial flowers set up by the US-based Wall of Flowers Foundation in memory of the victims of Russia’s invasion, in Ukraine’s western city of Lviv on April 24, 2022. Leo Soto, who set up the foundation, says he saw how comforting a similar memorial was after a building collapse in the US state of Florida in June, and traveled to Ukraine to try to offer Ukrainians a similar level of comfort. Yuriy Dyachyshyn/ AFP

LVIV, Ukraine — In western Ukraine, Tetiana Kasian stopped on the pavement to take in a wall of flowers that had gone up overnight in memory of those killed since Russia’s invasion.advertisement

Scanning the bright burst of artificial petals, the 32-year-old activist found the smiling faces of men, women and children, including some people she knew.

“It’s devastating,” she said.

“I never thought that it would happen in Ukraine in the 21st century.”

The volunteer explained that she was originally from the southern port city of Mariupol, now almost entirely under Russian control.

“I don’t know if I will see my parents” again, she said quietly.

The war has killed thousands of people since Russia invaded two months ago, including at least 2,224 civilians, according to the United Nations.

The laminated photographs displayed in central Lviv represent just a tiny fraction of them.

Among them is 11-year-old gymnast Kateryna Diachenko grinning in a leotard, before she was killed at home in Mariupol by a Russian missile.

There is army paramedic Valentina Pushich who lost her life trying to help evacuate civilians near the capital, and Indian student Naveen Gyanagoudar who died in the eastern city of Kharkiv on his way to buy food.

‘Wall of hope’

After mass on Orthodox Easter Sunday, dozens paused in front of the memorial.

A pink scarf tied around her hair, an elderly lady carefully examined several pictures and each name below.

Leo Soto, an American born in Venezuela, traveled all the way from the US state of Florida to put up the floral tribute.

“It’s a wall of hope,” said the 27-year-old hospitality school student.

He said he had made his first memorial in Miami after a building collapsed there last summer, killing 98 people including a high-school classmate.

People responded well, and he now wanted to provide what little comfort he could to Ukrainians.

In his latest wall of flowers in Lviv, he chose artificial flowers—all donated in Poland—so people would not have to replace them and it would be more permanent.

The response has been overwhelming, he said.

As he and bystanders attached the stems with plastic ties on Saturday, a soldier in uniform approached him to ask if he could add a picture of his late brother.

Soto saw a funeral procession pass by, a mother in floods of tears behind the coffin draped in the national flag.

“It’s every day, it’s reality,” he said.

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