Ukraine

Ukrainian village torn apart by war begins long process of rebuilding

After deadly attacks left much of rural Nalyvaikivka in ruins, UNHCR is helping local families with temporary housing and construction materials as they look to rebuild.

By Victoria Andrievska and Saorlaith Ni Bhroin in Kyiv | 11 August 2022

In the quiet rural village of Nalyvaikivka on the outskirts of Kyiv, locals are sifting through the debris of their destroyed homes, hoping to salvage whatever they can. Others gather at garden gates, offering words of support and condolence, trying to come to terms with the loss and destruction of recent weeks. This is the new reality for the close-knit community of Nalyvaikivka. Its main street used to be a hive of activity, a place where locals shared what little they had, and neighbours chatted over garden fences.

But on 4 March, the village was awoken by the shrill sound of air raid sirens and shelling overhead. Frantically grabbing a few essentials such as winter coats and gloves, residents ran for their lives to shelter in nearby bunkers.

One local family, Yurii, Oksana and daughter Svitlana, fled to their cellar – a cold room used to store homemade jams and marinated vegetables. “As the door of the cellar was closing above our heads, I heard the sound of glass shattering,” says Oksana. When the family emerged from the cellar, they found that their home had been hit.

Fearful for their safety, the family fled to a nearby town to stay with friends, only returning some weeks later. “We came back when the troops withdrew from the area and the shelling ended. The whole street was grey from the ashes of burnt buildings. Our yard was full of rubble, slate, window frames, glass. We spent many days trying to clean up, moving very carefully as we didn’t know if there were any unexploded ammunition or other dangerous things in our yard.”

Seeking safety further afield, their 24-year-old daughter Svitlana joined a friend in Slovakia, but returned a month later. “I just couldn’t stay there knowing that my mum and dad had to go through this hell.” Her brother, 31-year-old Oleksandr who lives in Kyiv, is also playing his part, helping the family clear the rubble. The family’s small dog, Bonita, sits and stares at the place where their home once stood.

“All my life is invested in this house.”

Oksana, a 51-year-old nurse, spent years building her now destroyed house from scratch, with help from her brother, so her children Svitlana and Oleksandr, would have a safe and warm place to call home. “We never had much money to start and to finish the build in one go,” she says.

When Yurii, a 60-year-old construction worker, came into her life four years ago, the pace of the build picked up considerably and together they completed their dream home.

“It was built with love and attention to every little detail,” Oksana explains. “This house was like another child for us, we invested so much care and love into it. All my life is invested in this house.”

Many of the villagers have lost everything. Weeks of deadly shelling and missile attacks resulted in the damage and destruction of more than 220 houses, 30 of which were completely destroyed, including seven on Oksana’s street alone. “This was a friendly neighbourhood and now it is a street of horrors,” she says as she surveys the destruction around her.

In July, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, met with the family to extend his solidarity to them and their community, and to commend them for their resilience and strength.

With millions of Ukrainians reeling from the impact of war and facing the approach of a bitterly cold winter, UNHCR, with the generous support from its donors, is working to ensure people affected by the conflict have a dignified and safe place to stay. Displaced people will receive cash and legal assistance. Housing – including residential centres and homes – will be repaired, and items like blankets, mattresses and lamps will be provided to those in need. But the humanitarian situation continues to worsen, with an estimated 15.7 million Ukrainians in need of assistance, including 6.6 million internally displaced people (IDPs).

Aside from the trauma of losing their homes, the villagers of Nalyvaikivka are also coming to terms with the loss of people they had known all their lives. Oksana looks over the garden fence at a destroyed house. “Our two neighbours didn’t survive. The son died during the shelling, and his mother died afterwards in hospital.”

Behind the rubble of their former home, next to a field of burnt orange poppies, stands a temporary housing unit where the family currently lives. “In May, we received a temporary house from UNHCR,” explains Oksana standing in the small kitchen. To make the unit feel more like a home, UNHCR also provided mattresses, bed linen, solar lamps and items like soap and towels.

Despite all that has happened, the family has not given up. Yurii has already started to rebuild their beloved home, brick-by-brick. A neat pile of construction materials he salvaged from the rubble stands as a symbol of his determination, and UNHCR will provide additional materials to help.

Oksana, an avid gardener, stands between a charred cherry tree and her flowers. Using the damaged bricks of her home, she has created new flower beds. “At least I can give new life to the bits and pieces of my ruined house.”

But while the villagers are already busy rebuilding, the terrible loss inflicted on this small rural community has left its mark and residents continue to grieve for those who did not survive. For Oksana, night time is particularly difficult. She struggles with nightmares and her mind and heart race when she thinks back to what has happened.

“At my workplace, everybody tells me that I am lucky to have survived. And I say ‘yes, I am alive, but my soul is dead’. My home was like my child. I really want to rebuild it, but I’m not sure if I have enough strength.”