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As part of the “Restoration” project, Ukraїner tells how settlements that have been driven out of the enemy’s hands are recovering and being restored. Our first story was dedicated to Kharkiv, Slobozhanshchyna region and this one will be about Chernihiv, Sivershchyna region.

In February-March 2022, Chernihiv was under siege and resisted the Russian invaders. The enemy left behind a lot of destruction both in the city centre and on the outskirts. Among the destroyed and damaged buildings are municipal offices and private homes. However, Chernihiv residents are uniting and gradually rebuilding their city, and local and national initiatives are joining them.

Sivershchyna is one of the ten regions whose infrastructure has been the most affected by Russian aggression. Many residential buildings, hospitals, schools, roads, industrial and energy facilities have been badly damaged or destroyed. The Department of Ecology and Natural Resources of the Chernihiv Regional State Administration has already reported billions of dollars in damage by large-scale Russian attacks.

Chernihiv is the largest city among the affected settlements in the region. From late February to early March 2022, Russians shelled it and attempted to occupy it. They deliberately targeted the local powerplant to deprive Chernihiv residents of heat and electricity, destroyed the bridge that could have allowed people to evacuate and bring in food, and struck the water supply system. In March, the city authorities reported an impending humanitarian catastrophe, as there was no water, electricity, and heat. Nevertheless, the defenders drove the enemy out of the region. Chernihiv survived and is recovering, even though the war is ongoing and the danger has not passed. As a result, we would like to inform you about local and all-Ukrainian reconstruction initiatives that are working in Sivershchyna.

The destruction of Chernihiv and historical parallels

Volodymyr Pylypenko is a historian, teacher and tour guide who lives in Chernihiv and studies its past. He notes that the city has become quieter since the full-scale invasion:

— There is a certain degree of nervousness because the city is close to the Russian border, in a potentially dangerous area.

Given the current damage to the city, Volodymyr draws a parallel between the events of 2022 and 1633, when the Moscow Tsardom was at war with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. At the time, Chernihiv was small and had suffered significant damage. Moscow’s troops then entered the city using the same routes as during the modern full-scale war.

— We depend on geography. The city’s location hasn’t changed: it was between two rivers and still is, and the road to Kyiv still runs through the city.

During the recent siege of Chernihiv, its outskirts, in particular the Bobrovytsia district, suffered the most, with almost no buildings intact and many destroyed completely. There is also some destruction in the city centre, where not all of the affected buildings have the status of architectural landmarks, but they are symbolic and significant for Chernihiv. Among them is one of the city’s largest hotels “Ukraine”, built in 1961. Fortunately, all its visitors were relocated on the first day of the full-scale invasion and no one was injured when the occupiers hit the building on 11 March 2022:

— When Russian propaganda talks about high-precision weapons, this must have been it, as they hit the roof exactly.

The building of the former Vasyl Tarnovskyi Museum of Ukrainian Antiquities, built in the early twentieth century, which had housed a youth library since 1978, was badly damaged. The invaders also destroyed the regional youth centre, which once used to be a cinema:

— It is symbolic that it suffered almost the same destruction during the Second World War. Back then, it was the Germans who carried out the shelling, and now it’s the Muscovites.

According to Volodymyr, locals have different views on what should be done regarding the destruction in the city centre. Some are inclined to rebuild what has been destroyed, while others want to preserve it in order to maintain the memory of the Russians’ war crimes. The historian believes that it is necessary to remember the horrors of the war, but leaving the ruins and walking past them every day is a bad idea:

— If you see destruction all the time and go through it all again and again, you stop in your tracks and get stuck in it instead of moving forward.

Building conservation
a set of works designed to preserve the building for a long time. During conservation, protective or constructive measures are taken to prevent further destruction of the object.

Volodymyr says that Chernihiv is a city that has its own face: with its low-rise green centre, wide streets, and architectural monuments. There are wooden houses decorated with carvings on the doorposts, porches, and facades. This wooden lace is the hallmark of Chernihiv. According to the historian, it is important to preserve these features during the reconstruction and further development of the city.

— I think rebuilding is not only about engineering and construction, it’s also about restoring the atmosphere of the city, which was really beautiful before the full-scale invasion. Both residents and visitors agree on this.

Volunteering and mutual assistance

Oksana Dehtiariova is a resident of the outskirts of Chernihiv who became a volunteer during the siege of the city. We talked about her as part of the De-occupation documentary project in order to show the resistance of Ukrainians in the first months of the full-scale war.

— I am a regular person, a caring person who, having seen all the destruction that the war has brought to us, started helping.

Today, Oksana is part of a ten-member group of people who help people and animals (pets or strays), hospitals, and anyone who asks for help. She says that she is approached by people not only from Chernihiv but also from neighbouring villages. Eventually, her house became a volunteer centre.

— A day off is never a day off. It happens that at seven in the morning, at eleven in the evening, people who need help come knocking on the gate of my house.

However, it is still in need of repair after a Russian shell landed in a nearby vegetable garden during the fighting for the city. The occupiers’ gift” destroyed Oksana’s precious greenhouse, and the blast wave and debris damaged her house, including the roof and windows. Due to excessive humidity (rain had already made its way inside), cracks appeared in the building and the ceiling was damaged. The charity fund “Rokada” and the NGO “Bo Mozhemo” helped Oksana to install a new door and repair the roof. The volunteer planned to restore the windows on her own, but her own good works were given in return: they were installed by a man who had previously asked her to help him start a fundraiser for his daughter’s treatment.

When our team and Oksana were driving around the outskirts of Chernihiv (on the outskirts between Bobrivka and Novoselivka villages), she commented on the appearance of the streets:

— This house is gone, as it was completely destroyed. This one, you see, is also destroyed. The next house was also razed to the ground. And this house was substantially destroyed. And the next house, too.

The volunteer notes that people are upset when they see public funds being spent on paving, but they have nowhere to live. And she is sad that the victims have to rely either on themselves or on volunteers. The woman communicates with many people whose homes have been destroyed or damaged, sympathises with them and tries to help them:

— I know from personal experience: if I don’t have enough money to rebuild my house while working, it’s unrealistic for people with a pension or small income. They can’t afford it. At the humanitarian foundation, we distribute household goods, food, and clothing, and people try to save money on this to save up for repairs.

She adds that there are also many people in the city from the communities still suffering from Russian shelling. Those who evacuate from there need not just a place to live, but literally everything: clothes, shoes, blankets, dishes, and household appliances.

— If in Chernihiv there are 300 destroyed houses, those people have nothing at all.

However, not everyone was evacuated: people often do not want to leave their homes. For example, volunteers were unable to persuade an elderly woman, Natalia, to move somewhere else, so a temporary modular house was installed in her yard at the end of June 2022. The Esperanza Charitable Foundation helped to make this happen.

— When invited to move, she said, “I was born here, my children were born here, and I want to die here.” Locals say they don’t want to leave, even if they have to live in garages, tents, pavilions or anywhere else. They want to be on their land, to restore what they have lost. We need to understand people, because it is important to them.

Some of the ruins are still left standing because the families have left and have nowhere to return to. Oksana is convinced that it is important to have materials during the reconstruction, and that workers will be found.

— We, just like ants, are trying to recover, to rebuild, like the phoenix , to rise from the ashes. People have united a little bit, their consciousness has changed for the better. It made us realise that people are the most valuable resource.

savED: restoring access to education

The savED Charitable Foundation was established in July 2022 as a response to the impact of the full-scale war on Ukrainian education. Its volunteers are helping to resume access to education in the territories liberated from the Russian invaders: they are repairing buildings, arranging school shelters, and helping to organise online classes. The foundation was co-founded by former Minister of Education Anna Novosad and the NGO GoGlobal.

Iryna Dasiuk is a project and partnership manager at savED. She joined the team when the foundation was founded, as it started in her native Sivershchyna. Iryna was born in Chernihiv, but had been living in Kyiv for a long time. After 24 February 2022, she returned to her hometown.

— Because of what we went through at the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Chernihiv has become a city of heroes for me, of people who have proved their resilience and managed to unite. This probably motivated me to come back and do something for the city where I come from.

Today, in addition to the Sivershchyna region, the foundation helps the affected communities in Polissia, Slobozhanshchyna, and the Prychornomoria region, and in cooperation with UNICEF, implements projects in Dnipro. Iryna notes that wherever the occupiers have reached, educational institutions have suffered greatly. The Russians stole equipment, destroyed books, and smashed up the premises. That is why the Foundation has several target areas, covering both quick temporary solutions and comprehensive long-term work.

— When we enter a particular region, we analyse what has happened there, what the problems and priorities are, and what we can help with. First of all, we assess losses of infrastructure.

In communities where educational facilities have been completely destroyed, conditions are being created for online schooling, as well as multifunctional educational centres where children can come to seek advice from teachers or just socialise. Damaged but not completely destroyed premises are being restored. They also equip the shelters so that they can not only wait out an air raid, but also study there.

Sometimes the assistance is non-standard. For example, near Mykolaiv in the Prychornomoria region, there is a serious problem with drinking water, so schools are building wells. The foundation has also established the UActive educational programme, where teenagers from the de-occupied territories work on ideas for improving their communities, learn to develop projects, receive grants, and implement their plans. For example, a team of high school students from Chernihiv School No.1 combined charity and environmental care in their project by installing a plastic bottle vending machine in one of the city’s shopping malls. The collected raw materials are recycled, and the proceeds are donated to the Armed Forces of Ukraine and local animal shelters.

One of savED’s functions is mediation: the team helps to establish links between donors and communities in need of support.

— Some communities were in the “grey zone” and were affected a lot. But they are less widely known, they are not as well known as Bucha and Irpin, which were prominent across global media. Therefore, we try to highlight that they also need support, in particular in the context of education.

“Grey Zone”
Territories along the frontline. The concept emerged in 2014 after the signing of the Minsk Protocol, which established a temporary ceasefire in the war in eastern Ukraine that was started by Russia. Although the territories of the “grey zone” are conventionally defined as neutral, the situation there is tense due to shelling, the work of sabotage and reconnaissance groups and the difficult humanitarian situation.

Even before the foundation was established, when the initiative group was assessing infrastructure losses, they were assisted by the Embassy of Finland. Today savED cooperates with the Finnish organisation Finn Church Aid, German partners Ava International, as well as Plan International, Spirit of America, UNICEF and more. Such an extensive network of partners was achieved, in particular, due to another area of the Foundation’s activities which is the study of the impact of the war on Ukrainian education. Iryna says that having concrete data makes it easier to advocate for the needs of Ukrainian schoolchildren and educators in the international arena.

In addition to institutions, the foundation cooperates with Ukrainian businesses, which help with equipment, furniture, and materials for the construction of shelters. IT companies, jewellery and clothing brands that are not directly related to education are joining in. To raise funds, they organise charity events, lotteries, and spread information about the foundation.

— We are grateful for their engagement. At a time when we are all in a crisis situation, people continue to do their business and find resources to strengthen education. It’s cool, because education is about our future.

Iryna notes that finding funding for projects is an important part of the business, but not the only one. It is difficult to find a contractor now, because there is a lot of reconstruction work to be done, and some men in each construction company have been mobilised.

One of the projects of the savED Foundation was the restoration of Chernihiv School No. 20, which was shelled by Russians during the siege of the city in early March 2022. Unlike schools No. 18 and No. 21 it was not completely destroyed by the occupiers. School No. 20 sustained significant damage due to hits to both the courtyard and the roof over the gym. After the enemy retreated, the city authorities restored the windows and doors. The savED Foundation contributed to the renovation of several of the most damaged classrooms, and the restoration of the gym was started thanks to the support of Ukrainian basketball player Stanislav Medvedenko. Now, Iryna concludes, they are looking for funds to complete the work.

— The gym and the facade are the final pieces that are missing to say that the school has returned to its normal state, in some ways even better.

Natalia Malets is the principal of Chernihiv School No. 20. On the evening of 6 March 2022, she received a call from her colleagues saying that their school was under shelling. She could not believe it, because it was an educational institution, not a military facility. The day before, her family even went to school to spend the night because she felt safer there than at home.

— I replied optimistically, “It can’t be that they are targeting a school. Maybe it was just nearby?”

Natalia saw the aftermath of the shelling the next morning when she arrived at the scene immediately after the curfew had ended: a hole in the school yard, broken windows. A wing of the school was damaged, where the classrooms were newly renovated, as well as Natalia’s office.

— When I came into the office, I just cleared out what was there, because everything had been scattered. Although the laptop on the table was still working, it had been damaged. There were no windows, the frames lay like crumpled papers on the desks. It was terrible. By the way, the office clock had stopped, showing 19:17, the time when the fragment hit it.

Life returned to the school in April when a humanitarian headquarters was set up there. Nataliia recalls that working from morning to evening helped to keep her going. Among those who came for humanitarian aid were schoolchildren.

— The children who did not leave came to the school for humanitarian aid. It was scary. I wanted to hug everyone. We all had the same complexion and looked, let’s just say, not very good. But we were happy to see each other.

In May 2022, the 9th and 11th grade students who stayed in the city decided to dance a traditional graduation waltz.

— The celebration was not about the waltz, but about the preparation, because the children were returning to normal life. And people who walked by saw the school without windows and children dancing.

During the summer, students came to school, not to study, but to have fun, as supportive NGOs helped organise various activities. Natalia says that this communication has become a kind of therapy for children and teachers.

According to preliminary estimates, about UAH 10 million has already been spent on restoration work, and another UAH 4 million is needed to rebuild the gym. Natalia is grateful to everyone who contributed to the renovation, because it is more than just a municipal building.

— School represents the future, and children represent the future. If we are rebuilding the school, it means we believe that everything will be fine. And it will be.

“Bo Mozhemo”, “Phoenix-Ukraine”: Local Initiatives

Andrii Geliuha is an energy engineer and head of the NGO “Association of Volunteers “‘Bo Mozhemo”, which helps rebuild homes in Chernihiv and its surroundings that were destroyed by Russian shelling.

He admits that from 2014 to 2022, he was immersed in his work and was not very interested in the war in Ukraine. And on the first day of the full-scale invasion, he realised that there was a threat of losing the country and it was important to act to prevent this from happening. He believes that restoration is not about the future after the victory, but about what needs to be done today.

— We have to unite not against someone, but for something. That’s the trick. After all, we will win, and then what?

Andrii’s involvement in the reconstruction began when he posted on social media that he could help clear the rubble and make basic repairs, such as installing windows. Back then, at the end of spring 2022, he had 15 friends on Facebook, and now he has about three thousand. The first to join were two photographers who had a large audience on social media and helped attract people. They gathered every Saturday, divided into groups and went to different locations where help was needed. At the same time, Andrii was working at his full-time job, repairing the power supply system.

Today, “Bo Mozhemo” consists of several hundred people of various professions (accountants, artists, IT specialists, photographers, electricians, and others), most of whom have never been involved in the construction business. But after work, they go to locations where help is needed and build walls, repair roofs, and install windows.

— “Bo Mozhemo” is a community of caring people who have the desire, straight hands and warm hearts to help others overcome the consequences of the Russian invasion.

Another area of the organisation’s activity is helping the army. Volunteers weave camouflage nets, make trench candles, raise money for drones, buy them and send them to the defenders.

—— The areas [of volunteering at Bo Mozhemo] are different, but generally speaking, they can be described as: rebuilding and working for victory. Because one is impossible without the other. You can rebuild, but if we don’t expel the Russians from our territory, the occupiers will live in these houses that we rebuild.

Restoration is being carried out with the support of local authorities and businesses, as well as international partners. Chernihiv businessmen give the NGO team discounts on construction materials. Thanks to the help of people from Canada and the Hike for Ukraine initiative, the team bought a car to make it easier to move around and transport tools. Oxfam GB helped install windows and doors in 300 households. Thanks to the international organisation Voice, we managed to repair the roofs of 20 houses.

Andrii’s team works not only in Chernihiv, but also in the nearest settlements affected by the occupiers: They include Trisviatska Sloboda, Staryi Bilous, Kyinka and others. The man notes that he always works together with the homeowners. He recalls a recent example:

— We gave a boost to a family whose house was damaged: we built walls, made a roof, provided electricity, and gave them materials for this and that. By now, they should probably be putting up wallpaper. They just walked around, didn’t know where to start, because there was a crater and a pile of bricks, that’s all, nothing else. God only knows how they survived all this.

In Andrii’s opinion, in order for people to get involved, they need to understand that sitting around and waiting for investments to come to Ukraine after the victory and for someone to do everything for us is the wrong way to go.

— We lack media messaging, where people are told that it is their responsibility to rebuild and bring the city to a state where their children want to live.

The man is confident that the war will last for a long time, so he is helping to rebuild until he joins the army. He emphasises that it is important for everyone to be involved in the restoration:

— You can imagine a boat for 20 people. Two of them are rowing. If the boat has a hole in it and none of the 18 starts drawing water from it, all 20 will drown. Either do something or give up and drown. But we probably all realised what would happen when we drowned: Yahidne, Bucha, Izium.

All the money that the organisation manages to raise is used for reconstruction, and the people who join it work on a volunteer basis. Each volunteer has a full-time job and works on the construction project in their spare time.

— People work for free, without any benefits or bonuses. We have no branded products, and I don’t allow us to spend a single penny on advertising. If you want to donate, you should know that 100 per cent of those 100 hryvnias will buy a bag of cement or a box of nails.

In Chernihiv, a lot of effort is being put into restoring the streets on the side of Novhorod-Siverskyi. It’s just over 170 km to the northeast. It was from there that the Russians tried to enter the city, using artillery, planes and missiles. Part of this building has not yet been restored,

— On the streets of Volkov, Molchanov, towards the cemetery, the houses there are still in ruins. You can see what happened last year.

Andrii understands that not everyone is ready to invest in housing during the war, when the enemy can destroy the results of their work at any time. But he is motivated by the fact that people need somewhere to live.

— My grandmother used to say, “Even if you want to die, you still have to sow wheat for the next year. If you’re afraid, that’s fine, but if you want to live on your own land and not seek happiness in the world, you have to build your own one.”

He adds that in February 2022, he watched with admiration as people in need united, made Molotov cocktails, brought potatoes from basements, and cooked soup to feed others.

— We are all fond of the word “invincibility” nowadays. So, invincibility is not about not breaking, but about not letting yourself be broken. To do this, the unity that existed in 2022 must remain and be the “leitmotif” of the city.

Andrii Oleksiienko is a co-founder of the NGO “Bo Mozhemo” and the founder of the charity fund “Dakh Chernihiv”, which raises funds for reconstruction.

Before the full-scale invasion, Andrii used to be a wedding and family photographer. When Russian troops withdrew from Chernihiv, he made a series of photo reports about people (mostly elderly) who had lost their homes. This topic touched him, and he decided to join the restoration, and in May 2022, he founded the Dakh Chernihiv charity foundation for this purpose.

The man was one of the first to respond to Andrii Heliuha’s post about the need for people to clear the rubble and rebuild houses. He joined such clean-ups, took pictures of them and shared them on social media. As a result, many people joined the initiative, and in late summer 2022, it became necessary to register a non-governmental organisation. That’s how Andrii Heliuha and Andrii Oleksiienko became co-founders of “Bo Mozhemo”.

It is important for Andrii to rebuild Chernihiv not only because he feels uncomfortable seeing the bombed-out streets, but also because he considers it not only a home, but a part of his life. He says he knows an elderly couple (man is 82, woman is 74) whose house burned to the ground. But they don’t move to their relatives’ houses, they live in the cellar because it is important for them to stay on their land, at home.

During his volunteering, he noticed that it is especially important to help people whose homes have been destroyed to take the first steps to rebuild them.

— When we brought materials, people somehow came to life a little bit. They were beginning to believe that restoration was possible. Why is it important to restore? Because that’s about life.

Valerii Zubko is the founder of the Phoenix-Ukraine charitable foundation, which is engaged in reconstruction. The speciality of the organisation is that its volunteers take on complex damage where repairs cannot be done and houses have to be built from scratch.

When the full-scale war broke out, Valerii was working abroad. When he returned in the spring of 2022, he volunteered with a reconstruction organisation. Later, he decided it was time to start his own, and that’s how the Phoenix-Ukraine Foundation came about. He sold his car to start it and create a website.

Valerii is from Poltava. Since the occupiers did not reach it, he decided to come to rebuild Chernihiv and its surroundings.

— The Chernihiv region is exactly the kind of region that has defended itself. People here have defended themselves and proved that they are courageous. And therefore I came to rebuild the Chernihiv region.

Philanthropists who see the posts about our work and support us financially help us to continue our volunteer work.

— Honestly, my friends and my brother are all the funders. My savings have already been exhausted. If someone says that we are making money on it, then that is simply their own dishonesty.

In addition to the six houses being built from scratch, Phoenix-Ukraine volunteers are involved in smaller tasks such as installing windows. They help families who cannot rebuild their destroyed homes on their own. One of them is Iryna’s large family, whose house has been under construction since spring 2023. It is planned to be completed by the beginning of winter.

Until February 2022, nine people lived in Iryna’s house, and each had their own room. When the shelling started and the Russian military was advancing, the woman and her children left for western Ukraine, and when she returned, she found her house destroyed. At first, the family set about restoring it on their own, but later they found out about Phoenix-Ukraine and asked for help. Iryna is grateful to the volunteers who come to help every Saturday,

— The people are great, I don’t know what we would have done without them. We would not have achieved such a result on our own as we did with them. That is why I am very grateful to them for supporting us and giving us the impetus to do something.

Volunteers from both Ukraine (Kyiv, Zhytomyr, Cherkasy) and other countries (the USA, Australia, Romania, France) are involved in the reconstruction work carried out by Phoenix-Ukraine. Some even come with their own tools. People learn about the foundation through social media and the website. That’s how Mike and Rebecca joined in to help rebuild Iryna’s home.

Volunteer Mike and his dog came to Chernihiv from France. He is a photographer, and this is his first such experience. He found an announcement about the need for help during the reconstruction on the Internet.

— I think the fact that I have friends in Ukraine has influenced me to feel connected to what is happening here. I volunteer because people need help and I want to help. It’s easy to watch the news and see that there is a war going on. For my generation, this is mostly something that happens far away. But because it’s closer to my home and I have friends in Ukraine, I suddenly realised I could help, so I’m doing it.

Volunteer Rebecca came from Texas, the USA. She is a combat medic, and after arriving in Ukraine, she helped stabilise the wounded at the front for more than a month and a half. Later, she joined the reconstruction process, first as part of the volunteer initiative “Dare to Rebuild” and later Phoenix-Ukraine. It was important for her to help rebuild private houses, because their owners lost everything in one moment and cannot cope with this tragedy on their own.

— I felt that I needed to help in a different way than just donating or sending medicine. On the news, I saw adults, children and babies being killed by bombing in Mariupol. It broke my heart, and I had to come and help in person. And I feel that the best way to do this is to rebuild housing. Although it is hard work, it makes me happy because it is important. I help people who really need it.

Repair Together: Volunteer Construction Clean-Ups and Camps

Repair Together was founded in April 2022 and started with cleaning, debris removal and minor repairs. Now the focus is on reconstruction. The peculiarity of Repair Together is that it combines work with a cultural programme: concerts, stand-up shows and workshops. In 2022, we already wrote about their activities and decided to find out how they continued and how they changed during more than a year of full-scale war.

Dmytro Kyrpa, co-founder and head of partnerships at Repair Together, says that they have managed to do a lot.

— Currently (as of the end of September 2023 – ed.), we have 25 buildings at various stages of completion. During this time, we have repaired more than 75 houses and cleaned more than 180 houses in 19 different settlements, and engaged more than 4,500 people in various activities.

In the village of Lukashivka, the team’s work takes place in two formats: weekend clean-ups, which bring together from 150 to 300 volunteers, and “Inbut”, a construction camp that operates on a daily basis. Both Ukrainian and foreign volunteers are involved in it. As of autumn 2023, people from 25 countries have joined these camps at various times. They are building from scratch for people whose homes were destroyed by the enemy and who are unable to rebuild them on their own.

In addition to private homes, the Repair Together volunteers plan to restore the local community centre, as they believe that reconstruction is a complex task. It’s not enough to rebuild houses; people want to stay in the village and not leave, and for this it is important to create comfortable conditions for them, including access to culture.

Dmytro notes that so far there has been no systematic reconstruction by the state, so people whose homes are not being restored by volunteers are depressed. But, in his opinion, the government will be able to fully address this issue when it has coped with the main current task of defeating the enemy and de-occupying Ukrainian lands. Until that happens, volunteers lend a shoulder and help. Obviously, they cannot help everyone at once.

I don’t understand what complaints can be made against us. Volunteers put their lives on hold to come here and build.

Dmytro feared that by 2023, the shock of a full-scale war would have passed and people would be less likely to volunteer. But the fears turned out to be unfounded, as the number of volunteers is not decreasing: both those who have already had such experience and new people come.

— The demand for useful activities is huge, much more than we can do, so we plan to continue to develop our organisation.

In his opinion, the reconstruction gives hope not only to those whose houses are being repaired, but also to volunteers who can feel useful and part of the community.

— This (volunteering at Repair Together – ed.) gives thousands of people the opportunity to feel unity, solidarity and to be distracted a little bit from the state we are all in.

There are both boys and girls among the volunteers. Unfortunately, there were some stereotypes. Dmytro says that he heard phrases from the local boys like: “What are the girls doing here? Let them go and bring coffee.” Daria Kosiakova, co-founder of Repair Together, took a creative approach to dispelling the myth that construction is only a man’s job. She founded the Velyke Divnytstvo (Great Girlhood) sub-project, the essence of which is that one of the houses is built only by women.

Dmytro notes that about 40 per cent of the volunteers who came to the camp in Lukashivka are foreigners.

— They have travelled an extremely long way to come here and help granny Nadia, granny Valia, granny Nina build their houses. On the one hand, this is encouraging, but on the other hand, we see that many people in Ukraine for some reason do not consider it their business and do not get involved as much as they could. Therefore, we encourage everyone to step out of their comfort zone a little bit, join various communities (not only ours) and take an active part in solving issues of general relevance. By the way, this is not only about the war. There are many other issues that can only be overcome through unity and activity. So, please join us.

In addition to 10-15 volunteers, there are one or two craftsmen at each site.

— We pay our craftsmen, but these are still not market wages, but rather symbolic ones. And the people who join us rather have values and ideological views and consider it necessary to join such camps, communicate with people, become part of the community and help people who cannot help themselves.

The organisation raises money for the operational activities of the Repair Together team, which currently consists of 24 people, only from abroad, as Ukrainian society is focused on supporting the army.
Dmytro is convinced that it is about more than just restoring property. It is important that people whose homes have been destroyed feel that they are not alone with this grief, that they have not been abandoned, that those from whom they might not have expected it are ready to help them.
— This allows our nation and our entire generation to feel that we can win primarily through unity.

The village of Kruty: delaying the enemy’s offensive twice

On 29 January 1918, a battle between Ukrainians and the Bolsheviks took place near the village of Kruty in the Sivershchyna region. Several hundred people, most of whom were young cadets, blocked the enemy’s advance on Kyiv. The Russians shot those who were captured. Ukrainian poet Pavlo Tychyna, by the way, dedicated his poem “ Memory of the Thirty” to them.

Oleh Buzun is the head of the Krutivska сommunity. He has a degree in history and believes that the parallels between the battle that took place more than 100 years ago and the events of the first days of Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022 are obvious: again, the enemies are Russians, again they were heading for Kyiv, and again there were ten times more of them than Ukrainians defending themselves. And the main parallel is that, just as in 1918, the occupiers’ advance was delayed near Kruty.

In the first days of the full-scale invasion, 30 local men stopped the movement of Russian convoys for two days by cutting down trees in their path. The Russian military had to look for ways to get around, as the debris stretched for about 200 metres.

By stopping the convoy for a few days, we allowed Kyiv to deal with the Russian assault on Hostomel and the Zhytomyr direction and not to receive a fierce onslaught from here, from the north of Ukraine. Having prevented the Russians from capturing the Nizhyn garrison, they had time to organise a proper defence. At the checkpoint in Nizhyn on 26-27 February 2022, there was not only a territorial defence unit, but also APCs and tanks. On the first night, the Territorial Defence soldiers had only machine guns. Kruty is a historical sacred Ukrainian location, a place of strength and a place of unbearable enmity with our eternal enemy, and also a confident struggle against encroachments on Ukraine’s independence.

Oleh says that the danger motivated the Kruty village community to mobilise its forces rather than panic: they set up a territorial defence unit in the village and organised food supplies. At first they delivered bread, then a local farmer delivered milk for free, and later they started delivering meat and other products. The fuel allocated by the Nizhyn military administration was distributed according to priorities: first to hospitals, then to food deliveries, and lastly to other needs.

— We were constantly monitoring the movements of the Russians. We had mostly women filming, even on a mobile phone taped to plants.

Oleh and the heads of the village community joined the territorial defence. Their responsibilities were distributed among the executives who remained in the community. One of the villages in the community called Khoroshe Ozero was under occupation for about a week.

All our shops and the village council were looted, the occupiers took all the tools and chainsaws. It’s kind of peculiar: there was a safe in Khoroshe Ozero, and they must have been sawing it off for a long time. We still kept a five-litre bottle of vodka left since the village day. I think it was a kind of bonus for them. But also the understanding that Ukrainians do not drink alcohol to the last drop on celebration.

When the Ukrainian defenders drove the invaders out of the Kyiv Oblast, they had to return the same way through Kruty. But the bridge in Kruty was blown up, and they bypassed the village. Oleh says that the attitude of the Russians towards the local population in the first days of the invasion and after the defeat near Kyiv was different. At first it was about theft, but later it was about killing civilians and deliberate destruction of houses.

— When they left, after being kicked in the face by the Ukrainian Armed Forces near Kyiv, they were in a different mood. And we know that many villages and towns in Ukraine have been affected. Therefore, we can confidently say that the destroyed bridge saved Kruty and our local community from destruction during the Russian withdrawal.

The bridge is important for the movement of people, the supply of food and the logistics of local agribusiness, so the community began rebuilding it immediately after the occupiers left. We sent appeals and reports to the relevant authorities, but understood that this process could be delayed, as there was a lot of critical damage where the enemy had reached. So we decided to restore the bridge on our own. It took UAH 500,000 to do this. Part of the funds were allocated from the local budget, and another part was donated by local farmers and other entrepreneurs.

— There’s a word called ‘toloka’, which is used when building a village house. That’s how we organised a toloka day in the village of Kruty and restored the bridge on our own.

Oleh compares Sivershchyna to the northern castle from the popular American TV series Game of Thrones, in which the kingdoms are threatened from the north.

— Sivershchyna is our Ukrainian Winterfell, and at the same time, it is a picturesque region that deserves only positive things, development and success.

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