LVIV, Ukraine — As thousands of young men and women are deployed to the front lines in Ukraine, each leaves behind family members and friends who hold their collective breath.
With many of these fighters having no previous military experience, families across Ukraine country are learning to navigate the new and unexpected reality of sons and daughters, spouses and parents, heading to war.
Liubov and Victor Polishchuk’s son Oleksii, 39, volunteered for the territorial defense early in the war. In recent weeks, he was sent east toward the front line and now they only rarely speak to him by phone.
“This situation is very scary for us,” Ms. Polishchuk said, but added that it was time for everyone in Ukraine to defend it with “everything we have: even with our lives.”
Still, she said, it is still a challenge for anyone to see their child sent to war. And she knows her son tells them only part of what he is seeing, trying to shield them from the worst of the fighting.
“We seldom speak with him, because his phone is off most of the times,” Ms. Polishchuk said. “So when they move from one position, that’s when he calls us, and just for a few moments to say everything is OK.”
Before the war, her son had worked repairing windows and doors to support his wife and 3-year-old son. When the war came, the company closed down. So did the place where his wife was working.
He decided to join the territorial defense forces in Lviv, a regional reserve force that was mostly responsible for low-risk duties in the relatively safe region. But these forces have increasingly been sent to the east of the country, where fighting is fiercest, and Oleksii was deployed there in the spring.
His parents worry that he has not had enough training and lacks equipment, but they also say his role is necessary. They remain hopeful that the Ukrainian military will prevail and that their son will return home safely.
“Someone has to go there,” Mr. Polischuk said. “Obviously, we would want him to be here, but it doesn’t depend on us. We can only hope that everything will be good.”
Most of the soldiers in combat roles in the east are young men, many who leave behind wives, partners and parents who assume a heavy psychological burden.
Mariia Stetsiuk, 35, who has a degree in counseling, lost a close friend in fighting against pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2015. She remembers the painful wait for news from him while he was at the front line. When the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February, she knew that others would likely need the support that she had found it so hard to obtain.
Last month, she started an online support group for women whose loved ones are sent to war. Groups that include women from across Ukraine meet weekly by video to talk and provide mutual support.
“Unfortunately, these numbers are only going to grow,” Ms. Stetsiuk said, “so we want to help people now.”