Volunteers in bright blue vests stand patiently on platform 3 at Lviv’s train station. As they wait on this wet and gloomy Friday, a few family members join them as a train slowly rolls in. It finally comes to a halt, the doors open and all step forward to start helping passengers off, some searching for familiar faces of loved ones.
Many on this designated evacuation train from Zaporizhzhia look around wearily as they lug their belongings onto the platform. It’s been a long and dangerous journey. They departed the southeastern city on Thursday, traveling overnight before arriving in Lviv on Friday afternoon.
Among the travelers are a handful of refugees who in recent weeks have managed to escape from their homes in the besieged port city of Mariupol. They are the lucky ones.
Located in the country’s southeast, Mariupol has been the target of a relentless assault from Russian forces for weeks, with Ukrainian officials estimating as many as 20,000 people have died as a result of the constant bombardment.
Attempts to evacuate civilians have been beset by delays and failed attempts in recent days — just 79 people were successfully pulled out on Thursday, according to the region’s governor. It’s a drop in the bucket given officials are estimating the number of residents still trapped in the city is around 100,000.
Polina Kazantseva and her daughter Iryna Chelakhova were two of the handful arriving in Lviv on Friday.
“I feel emptiness. It will be difficult to rebuild the city. They continue bombing it,” Kazantseva told CNN. “Ninety buses were meant to evacuate people from Mariupol. On the first day, only seven were allowed to leave. On the second day, shelling continued; how to evacuate people? It’s very frightening.”
She began to cry as she thinks of home, continuing: “I want to believe that I will return there. But I think we’ll need many years to restore the city after what they’ve done. I am not going to live that long.”
Iryna interjects, saying: “They (Russians) will burn in hell — everyone who was involved” before her mother asks, “what have we done wrong to them?”
“They are not human beings,” she added.
Nearby, Katya Yatsun carefully cradles her sleeping child in her arms while her partner retrieves their luggage. Her young family had lived in Mariupol for two years before they fled.
“It’s a pity this happened to the city. My kid was born there. We were forced to leave; it’s impossible to live there,” she said. “My mother stayed there. Their house survived … They can’t leave because men are not allowed to. And mom doesn’t want to leave without her husband. They are there now.”
She continued, “We were thinking about our survival. I don’t know how to tell my kid about such terrifying events.”
A short time later, a second train arrives from Zaporizhzhia – this one a regular passenger train – filled with significantly more people, but none seem to be from Mariupol.
As it glides into the station, some of its windows are broken, jagged shards of glass protruding out after it was damaged in shelling as it departed the city yesterday, according to Ukrainian officials.
The train captain, Serhii Antokhov, told CNN that operations are becoming increasingly difficult and denounced the needlessly violent tactics being deployed by Russia’s military.
“They are wicked fascists; what can I say? They are afraid of us, so they act like that,” he said.
CNN’s Jonny Hallam contributed reporting to this post.
Live updates: Russia’s war in Ukraine