In the city of Lviv in western Ukraine, Alisa Kosheleva walks the cobbled streets, waiting, almost afraid to blink. She wears a zip-up hoodie, T-shirt, and cropped gray sweatpants emblazoned with an image of Mickey Mouse, despite the fact that it’s 40°F (4°C) outside. Light snow falls on her red hair.
Her casual look belies her turmoil: a fresh wound as old as time, a mother separated from her child during a war. The 32-year-old can’t decide what is worse—waiting for news when there is none, or trying to gather information from the photos and videos that make it out of her hometown of Mariupol, now besieged and slowly starving without supplies. “Being with my son is my one and only wish,” she says.
In mid-February, Alisa Kosheleva, a crypto project manager, left Mariupol to visit Barcelona. It was her first vacation in three years, and her first time traveling outside of Ukraine. It wasn’t an easy decision to leave behind Kirill, her 9-year-old son, but he was with his father and grandmother. She shows me photos of Kirill on her phone, a smile briefly flickering across her face. When she was in Barcelona, they chatted by video call almost every day. She showed him the waves and the setting sun. Her boy, in turn, proudly held up a medal from his first taekwondo competition.
But on Feb. 24, toward the end of her trip, Russia launched a full-scale assault on Ukraine, and Kosheleva scrambled to get home to Mariupol. Now, almost three weeks on, she has made it only as far as Lviv, a large city near the border with Poland that has become a safe haven for Ukrainians fleeing violence.
“Everyone has talked me out of going farther,” she says, days after I first met her on board a train from Poland to Ukraine.
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