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The first person who tried to persuade Yana Muravinets to leave her home near the Ukrainian front line was a young woman five months pregnant.

She didn’t want to abandon her cows, her calf or her dog. She told Ms. Muravinets that she was putting energy and money into building her house near the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv and was afraid of losing it.

“I said, ‘None of this will be necessary if you’re lying dead here,'” Ms Muravinets said.

Since the war began, Ms Muravinets, a 27-year-old local photographer and videographer, has taken on a new volunteer role with the Red Cross: encouraging people to evacuate. In phone calls, doorstep calls, public speaking in village squares, sometimes even under fire, she has tried to convince Ukrainians that the only safe way to survive is to leave it all behind.

Convincing people to give up everything they have built up in their lives is one of the many dreary jobs created by the war and another challenge facing the authorities. While the city of Mykolayiv managed to repel Russian attacks early in the war, strikes have ravaged it and its region, bringing widespread death and destruction. Many residents have left, but hundreds of thousands remain, and the mayor’s office has urged people to leave.

Ms Muravinets, who has spent thousands of hours pleading for an evacuation in recent months, said she was unprepared for the task. She started having panic attacks, she said, but felt she had to move on.

“The war doesn’t end and people keep putting themselves in danger,” she said in a Zoom call from Mykolaiv that had to be cut short because of shelling. “If I can convince a person to leave, that’s fine.”

Boris Shchabelkyi, a Disability Evacuation Coordinator who works with Ms Muravinets, described her as a tireless worker, gentle with the people she has to evacuate and “always in a good mood” with her colleagues.

With the Red Cross, she has helped evacuate more than 2,500 people, she said, but many have stayed or returned a few days after leaving. It took a month and a half to get the young pregnant woman to flee, and she only left after the windows of her home were smashed twice, Ms Muravinets said.

“Especially when it’s safe, people think it’s okay and live under an illusion,” she said. “They decide not to leave until missiles reach their house.”

Recognition…Laetitia Vancon for the New York Times
Recognition…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Before the war, Ms Muravinets worked for Lactalis, a French dairy company with a factory in the area, for two years, and she traveled to farming villages to check the quality of the milk.

Now that many country roads have become dangerous, she has reached remote villages and avoided fires using shortcuts she learned in her previous job. But now she has to convince dairy farmers to give up their livelihood.

“It’s life for her,” she said. “They say, ‘How can I leave my cows? How can I leave my cows?’”

Before the war, she said a cow could cost as much as $1,000. Now people take them to slaughterhouses to get meat for a fraction of it.

Ms Muravinets said some farmers who had agreed to an evacuation left the pens open to prevent the animals from starving, and cows, bulls and ducks now roamed the village streets in search of food and water.

“The people who had money, opportunities and cars have already left,” Ms Muravinets said. But others who lived in bunkers for months told her they were willing to die there because they refused to leave.

She said she would stay for the same reason.

“The people who are left are the ones willing to sacrifice their lives.”

Valeria Safronova contributed reporting from New York.


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