Ukrainians try to rebuild what Russia destroyed
Kyiv, Nov 06: As temperatures have dropped this autumn, Ukrainians are scrambling to rebuild homes destroyed during Russia's invasion. Serhiy Medvedev, the mayor of Shestovyzya, near the northern city of Chernihiv, told DW that 11 houses were destroyed in the village, with more than 100 damaged.
"The regional administration helped some villagers by giving them new windows and construction materials," Medvedev said. "But there are not enough funds to rebuild everything. Most people are rebuilding on their own as best as they can; the cost of materials and petrol has doubled." Medvedev said some residents had little choice but to take out expensive bank loans. "Others stay with neighbors, acquaintances, relatives," he said, "but some don't know where do go."
Most destruction occurred in places where Russia had stored military equipment, tankers, trucks and munitions. Nearby residential buildings suffered severe damage. When Ukraine attacked a Russian convoy in Shestovyzya on March 7, exploding munitions and subsequent fires laid waste to almost all houses along the road.
"The Russians arrived on February 28, but we stayed in our house," Tetyana Letyaha said. Then, the Russian military threw her family out and took over the house. "We wanted to flee, but the occupiers would not allow us to leave the village, so we went to stay with our friends here in Shestovyzya, so, when our road went up in flames, we were no longer in our house."
On March 31, Russian forces withdrew. Letyaha, her husband and their 4-year-old son returned to their house, which had become uninhabitable. Its roof had been destroyed, all windows damaged. Explosions had also damaged the walls and the oven they used to heat their home. Their garage, car and barn had burned to the ground.
"An acquaintance left us use his house for a year," said Letyaha, whose family has made use of the reprieve to rebuild their own home. "We live there now, though we come back to work in the garden and carry out repairs. In the summer, the village council helped us with new windows. Representatives of the French ACTED relief organization were there, as well; we had contacted them and received 26,000 hryvnia (€700/$690). We added our own money and were able to fix the roof."
Letyaha said the Dutch relief organization ZOA also supported reconstruction efforts. "We had already bought a solid fuel boiler, and then handed in the receipts to ZOA, who reimbursed us," Letyaha said. "But now we have more time to do anything. I work as nurse in Chernihiv and my husband labors away for an agricultural company, meaning he has no time to install the boiler. But we need to get it done before the winter. Besides, we signed [a document] promising to install it within three months; that was the condition."
About 50 meters (165 feet) up the road, Yulia Brytan is repairing her house. She works as a teacher at Chernihiv's Pedagogical Institute. When flames engulfed her road, she was inside the house with her sick mother. "The pressure wave was so strong it ripped our cast iron heaters to bits " Brytan said. "The high temperatures totally destroyed the gas boiler and wood oven, floor and roof, with grenade and mine shrapnel puncturing the walls."
Her family received help from the municipal authority, the International Medical Corps, World Central Kitchen, International Relief and Development, the International Committee of the Red Cross and ZOA. "The money came in installments, depending on what work had been done — so we fixed the windows, for example, photographed the receipts and sent them in," Brytan said. "They could see that we used the money as agreed. We later received more money for the heating and roof."
Homes 'totally destroyed'
Some houses have been damaged beyond repair. Nina Radchenko and her husband lost their home. Their house stood opposite Letyaha's. Radchenko said she and her husband had built the house specifically for their retirement and it took 15 years to complete. On March 7, their house, workshop and garage were completely destroyed.
"Everything has been totally destroyed, property worth 3.5 million hryvnia," Radchenko said. "The village council promised us a container home until winter, but now they say there is no money. Me and my husband worked all our lives, and now we have become like beggars."
Even so, they are not despairing. Radchenko works as a saleswoman in Chernihiv; her husband makes a living as an electrician in Shestovyzya. They will move in with Letyaha and her family during the winter.
Alla Kyrychenko, from Zarichne, a village on Chernihiv's western outskirts, lost her home, as well. Zarichne went up in flames when Russian forces attacked. "My father-in-law burned to death in our house on March 4, when they dropped incendiary bombs," Kyrychenko said. "My children and I were not there that day." Crying, she added: "We had wanted to bring him to a nursing home. He was bedridden."
The Chernihiv building authority has declared the Kyrychenkos' property entirely destroyed. Regional administrators promised the family that they would receive a replacement home. "For now, we are staying with friends at their apartment, though we don't know how long we can stay," Kyrychenko said. "We want to cover the garage and spend the winter there." She has painted her phone number on a boulder by the roadside in the hopes of receiving help. Sometimes, people call up and support her, for which she is grateful.