After a series of meetings with local military and civilian authorities this month, Andriy Sadovyi, the mayor of Lviv, the western Ukrainian city that’s remained largely untouched by the Russian invasion, warned of a possible escalation.
“The danger of invasion from Belarus is actual -- there are no guarantees that there will be no chemical attack or local nuclear strike,” Sadovyi told ABC News a few days ago, following one of his short talks with a local representative of the State Emergency Service.
Ukrainian military intelligence officials said there's no immediate danger, despite constant military activity and intensifying reconnaissance by Belarus near the border. There have been rumors of an impending attack, perhaps spread deliberately by pro-Russian forces to divert attention from other frontlines, Sadovyi said. Rumors or not, his city is still preparing for the worst, he said.
“We have to prepare all our shelters -- fill it with water and medical supplies,” he said.
“We are definitely in a better situation than we were at the end of February 2022,” says Andriy Hodyk, first deputy head of the Lviv Regional Military Administration.
It's not just longtime residents of Lviv region who have to be protected from the possible assault from the north. There are between 250,000 to 300,000 internally displaced people living in the Lviv region, according to Hodyk. Some of them have already joined the army.
“As for April, in different districts of the region up to 20% of mobilized conscripts were internally displaced people,” he said.
In a series of interviews, residents and refugees in Lviv described living with a sense of unease, of feeling as though an attack could come at any day, even if there's been no indication one will come anytime soon.
Valeriy, a 41-year-old sculptor from Kharkiv, who arrived in Lviv over a month ago with his disabled brother, said he is ready to defend Lviv, although his original plan was to take his brother to the European Union for treatment.
“War is war. Of course -- we need to help," he said while standing in his temporary shelter in the middle of a local park. "There would be a lot of people ready to defend Lviv from the possible offensive from Belarus."
Two other men at the same location have big families and different concerns. Serhiy, 42, a driver and hydrotechnical specialist from the Kherson region, managed to get to the west by driving through a mined road with his wife and four children. He and his family are now planning to head to Germany, as he was told the German government would provide decent social support for families with children.
Another man, who was also named Serhiy, 37, a constructor from Cherkasy region and a father of six, said he too planned to go West: “If I were not concerned by the possibility of the offensive from Belarus, I would definitely stay here.”
Meanwhile, Stanislav, 38, a father of four boys who arrived in Lviv from Slovyansk three months ago, said he was hoping his family won’t have to flee from Lviv as well
“Perhaps our army will stop them or it will be the same as in my home city,” he said.
Nevertheless, he said he would consider returning home but on only one condition: it being under Ukrainian control.
There are still constant reminders of the closeness of the war. Around 5 million people have gone through Lviv since Feb. 24, when the invasion began, and about 150,000 have taken refuge inside the city limits, Sadovyi, the mayor, said.
“We expect 50,000 to stay,” he said.
He expressed deep sadness about the funerals that are being held in Lviv. Fallen soldiers -- including some men who brought their families from the east and then left to join the Ukrainian army -- have been brought back to the city for farewell ceremonies, he said.
“We are burying them here as they cannot be buried in their home cities -- for instance currently occupied Mariupol or Melitopol,” he said.