LVIV, Ukraine — At each of the four corners of this city's historic Rynok Square, which dates back to the 13th century, corrugated metal and sandbags now protect the famous marble fountains depicting gods of Greek and Roman mythology.
A central marketplace and tourist attraction, the square has remained a flurry of activity since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. But like the statues, the area has changed. Now, air alarms ring out at random times and city society has pivoted to address practical needs. There is a tension to the air and people: a mix of lingering fear, immense anger and deep patriotism.
A popular coffee shop offers free food and drinks to members of the military, a plush doll bearing a Russian flag hangs by its neck from a balcony and an alleyway becomes an impromptu shelter during a potential air raid. Metal barriers and armed soldiers bar people from the town hall.
Near the corner of the square, inside an ornate building that now houses a youth library, volunteers convene to create camouflage nets for soldiers on the front lines. Built in the 17th century with walls carrying ornamental painted trim and vaulted ceilings, this library has made room for one of the many beating hearts of volunteer work and Ukrainian patriotism within a city that's served as a relative safe haven from the horrors of Kyiv, Bucha and the eastern front.
"I was searching for something I could do to help. While I have a job, I work, I pay taxes, that's not enough in wartime," said Nataliia Tymovska, 27, an IT professional who fled from Kyiv to Lviv with her mother and boyfriend in February. "I'm not ready to take a weapon — at least not now, and no one knows what will happen next — but I am healthy, I have two legs, two hands, and I must do something for a Ukrainian victory. It's my country, and who else should do it instead of me?"
In this library, where locals still borrow books and which once housed royalty and then a seminary, volunteers have made more than 500 nets that collectively stretch over 32,000 square feet.
Beer boxes and other containers on the floor are filled to the brim with strips of green, black, gray, beige and brown cloth. Locals donate curtains, blankets and bed sheets for the effort. The library sends any white or blue cloth they receive to another location, where it is dyed to an earth-toned color before it is cut into small pieces.
Across two rooms, a mix of chairs surround empty bookcases nailed together by thin pieces of wood forming multiple aisles. Volleyball nets and other types of netting are thrown over the top, and locals from Lviv, as well as those displaced from cities and towns destroyed or threatened by the Russian military, quickly tie the strips of cloth to the nets to create a camouflaged tapestry that borders on artwork.
Between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., from Monday to Saturday, Ukrainian volunteers of various ages, backgrounds and professions tie hundreds of individual cloth strips in an effort to keep their soldiers safe. On Sundays, they work from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
"It really functions as a community that brings together both residents of Lviv and those who had to relocate here because they were fleeing violence," said Tetiana Tkachuk, 73, a volunteer who has a long career in Lviv as a chemist in the petrochemical industry. "It's very rewarding to have these two different groups of people work together on a common purpose."
That feeling transcends age.
Mykola Kalko, 18, who volunteered here during his tenure at the Ukrainian Leadership Academy — a social engagement program for young Ukrainians — said those who work here have created a family atmosphere as they engage in "noble" work to protect service members.
"There are those who feel like supporting the army may instigate or create more violence, but doing something like making nets is actually the opposite," Kalko said. "It saves lives. It protects people. It does not use or facilitate more violence."
Rather than sending this ruffled drapery directly to the Ukrainian military, however, the library and its volunteers find out what soldiers might be in need of camouflage and send it to them as directly as possible. They partner with humanitarian groups, locals willing to make the drive and others to ship the nets in cars, in trucks and by rail.
Each one comes with a hand-sewn Ukrainian flag as "a good omen" that a few volunteers stitch in a backroom.
Viktoria Havrilenko, who fled to Lviv with her son, and Viktoria Mashtalir, a school librarian, both of them 48, led that effort with pins and a sewing machine here Tuesday.
Havrilenko echoed the sentiment of many: This work serves as a refuge from the grisly news of the war that locals see constantly on television and on their smartphones. It has created a community for longtime residents and those new to Lviv.
"Here I can keep my mind occupied to good work and not the horrific news of what's happening in my country," said Havrilenko, who came to Lviv about a month ago from Zaporizhzhia, a central Ukrainian city struck early in the war by Russian attack.
The library also provides food and drinks to people who come through. Art hanging on the wall of the front room displays images of Ukrainian patriotism or Russian treachery. One poignant picture shows the bloody silhouette of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a hammer cleaving his head and a sickle plunged into his eye.
Meanwhile, the glass panes of the library's front door are plastered with crinkled sheets of paper offering free vegan food, options on traveling to Poland, free lodging in Lviv and the surrounding area, entrepreneur classes for refugees, more info on other volunteer centers and dates for a local English club.
But the nets remain the priority at Lviv's youth library. For many, it is their defining contribution to the war effort.
Tymovska, who has become a coordinator of volunteers here, said she is considering returning to Kyiv; her mother is a doctor who hopes to return to the hospital there to help. It's the work here in the library, however, that she will aim to replicate when she eventually returns home.
"When I come back to Kyiv, I will definitely search for something similar," she said. "I want to do some humanitarian aid that serves [the war effort] or really provide any kind of help that I can."