La Gaceta De Mexico - In Odessa, Russia's war redistributes the roles

In Odessa, Russia's war redistributes the roles
In Odessa, Russia's war redistributes the roles

In Odessa, Russia's war redistributes the roles

Andriy Kharlamov, a baritone at Odessa's famed opera house, fills sandbags and is learning how to handle weapons, while Inga Kordynovska, a lawyer, supervises the distribution of aid to thousands of people in a converted food court.

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They are just two examples of how Russia's war in Ukraine is upending lives and forcing people and places to take on dramatically different tasks and roles.

One month into the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Moscow's forces are struggling to reach the strategic port city of Odessa, known as Ukraine's "Pearl of the Black Sea", where residents are busy preparing for a possible attack by naval forces.

Near the historical heart of the city, an old theatre recently transformed into a trendy food court has now been turned into a humanitarian relief centre.

But it rediscovers some of its original past when Kharlamov and another colleague from the opera house belt out traditional Ukrainian songs under the vaulted ceiling to entertain the volunteers -- mostly young women sporting orange high-visibility vests.

And when the two singers intone the Ukrainian national anthem, one with his fist on his chest, the eyes of one volunteer mist up.

She hurries to a corner to hide her tears, near a photo of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

- Bringing joy -

Next to it, one of his recent declarations is written on marker on bit of cardboard: "The nation is not for sale."

"We bring them as much joy as we can," says Kharlamov, 33.

"These people are working hard, with patriotism and self-sacrifice, but they are hurting, so we've come to cheer them up for a few minutes," the singer adds.

Kharlamov had a promising career and was gaining international recognition after winning first prize in the song category at the 2019 Antonin Dvorak international singing competition.

But for many Ukrainians behind the front lines, Kharlamov's life has been turned upside down since the Russian launched their invasion on February 24.

Most men have been conscripted, and many women have volunteered for the Territorial Defence Forces.

"I've taken an initial military training course, as well as one on first aid," says Kharlamov.

He said he is ready for battle, but hopes it will not come to that.

- 'Stop this war' -

Many others volunteer to help the effort in one way or another, like at the humanitarian relief centre.

All day, the sound of packing tape being ripped from rolls echoes through the hall as volunteers pack the boxes with food, personal hygiene products, medicine, and even underclothes for distribution to troops, in particular the Territorial Defence Forces, but also to refugees from other parts of the country and the elderly.

Kordynovska, the 30-year-old lawyer who launched the project, said "we prepare food, give it to the restaurants to cook, and together we feed nearly 5,000 people a day."

The centre also provides packages comprising items such as tinned food, bread, chocolate and cookies, for another 500 to 600 people every day.

About 300 volunteers keep the centre running.

"It's totally different people from everywhere, from different social classes, of different ages, with different mindsets," said Kordynovska.

"They just have only one goal: We want to stop this war, we want to save our houses and our lives, and protect all that we love here until we win."