Ukraine - After the deluge

News and Press Release
Originally published
By Joe Lowry in Kiev
"Six weeks after the floods in Western Ukraine, life is slowly returning to normal". It would be nice to write that introduction, but life, for the thousands of flood-affected in remote Zakarpathia, is anything but they way it should be.

Early in March, floodwaters caused by a combination of early snow-melt, increased precipitation and deforestation, ripped through lowland areas as the Tisa and its tributaries burst their banks. Some 100,000 acres of agricultural land were submerged, and the straw-and-clay brick houses dissolved like melting chocolate.

The Zakarpathians say "build a house, plant a tree, have your children, then you can die." Even that simple code has been complicated by the floods.

Life couldn't be further from normal for 61-year-old Albina Kovchi, who watched her husband die "of a broken heart" last week, "He built this house with his own hands 30 years ago", says Albina. Bela, a retired carpenter, had been complaining about pains in his chest ever since the floods struck, and left his wife of 37 years, together with their son, daughter-in-law and grandchild, contemplating the ruins of their life.

The family will now survive on Albina's pension of Hr57 per month (USD10) and a child allowance of Hr22.

Further along the main street of Dyakovo, which, with all the houses knocked down has the appearance of a row of rotten teeth, Sandor Bosov, a retired worker on the Siberian railroads, lives in a makeshift wooden shack, two metres long and a metre high, barely better than a kennel. Like other pensioners in the region, Sandor survives on USD10 per month, and has no idea how he will ever rebuild his house.

Everywhere there are tragedies - the biggest of all being that this region never knew floods until two years ago: now everyone lives in fear of repeat disasters.

"At least it'll be summer soon and we can start to clean up", says 63-year-old Ekaterina Fegir, who has moved the horses out of her barn, and moved two beds in. What was her house is now a collection of rubble - even the wooden floorboards were washed away.

"Our well is meant to be contaminated and we aren't supposed to take water from it," she says. "But what can we do - no one has brought clean water for us."

In the early days of the flood the local Red Cross branch mobilized rapidly, opening feeding stations, and distributing clothes and blankets left in stock from flood operations two years ago.

Now - thanks to donations from the British, Norwegian, Austrian, Swedish, Swiss and Danish Red Cross Societies, as well as the Federation's DREF, Ukrainian Red Cross is procuring food parcels, hygiene materials, blankets, tents and other relief supplies to help, in some way, to get life back to normal in one of Europe's poorest corners.