In Ukraine, reconstruction begins with the help of neighbors

As battles raged around Kyiv, a Russian advance was halted outside Maria Metla’s house. Artillery emptied most of the house, while the rest was pulverized by tank fire.

Metla, 66, now relies on its neighbors for accommodation this winter.

Teams of volunteers show up almost every morning to pick up anything that can be repurposed – setting up neat piles of bricks, kitchen appliances destroyed for scrap and bits of insulation board.

Salvaged material is being repurposed to help rebuild destroyed homes along the perimeter of Russia’s failed attempt in the early stages of the war to encircle and capture the Ukrainian capital.

The village of Novoselivka, 140 kilometers (nearly 90 miles) north of Kyiv, was the scene of heavy fighting during the 36-day attack on the capital. Metal doors are warped by bullet holes from heavy machine gun fire, and homes like Metla’s have been destroyed by ground and air bombardment.

“We dragged what we could to the basement. Five bombs – one, two, three, four, five – went off in the field behind us,” Meta said as she stood in what was once the living room of her destroyed home. She keeps a burnt-out exercise bike and a religious icon of St. Nicholas as reminders of life before the war.

Ukrainian authorities said last month that the country had suffered more than $100 billion – equivalent to two-thirds of its 2020 gross domestic product – in infrastructure damage alone, but believe the effort to reconstruction could cost more than seven times that amount.

Officials are calling on Western countries to exploit frozen Russian assets in addition to what they are willing to give to help foot the bill.

Container homes from Poland are being set up near Novoselivka, a village filled with orchards, sunflower fields and gardens with chickens, outside the historic town of Chernihiv in the north of the country. But the extent of the damage has prompted dozens of local initiatives.

“In many other countries, if your house is destroyed, you can put up a ‘For Sale’ sign and move to another city. It’s not like that here,” said Andriy Galyuga, a local volunteer organizer. “People are very attached to their country of origin and they don’t want to leave.”

Galyuga’s organization, Bomozhemo, is in contact with similar initiatives that have sprung up all over the Ukrainian capital.

In a destroyed house, Galyuga leaps up a broken stairwell to lead a 25-member team of volunteers loading salvaged cinder blocks down a slide and determinedly ripping up building materials with pickaxes and crowbars.

Children and retired women are taking part in the effort watched over by concerned owner Zhanna Dynaeva, who is preparing food for the workers, many of whom have also lost their homes.

The emaciated-looking Dynaeva lives with a friend, but goes to her house every day to maintain an immaculate garden. She carries trays of drinks and sandwiches the day the volunteers came to visit.

“I am so grateful to them. The people around me helped me a lot,” she said. As she recounts her escape from the bombardment, Dynaeva bursts into tears and is hugged by her homeless neighbor, Metla.

“I hope to be able to stay on my property, maybe in a makeshift house to start,” says Dynaeva. “I don’t know what will happen to us. Winter will soon be here. I worry all the time.

Image: AP

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Christi C. Elwood