The small calendar that Oksana Yemelianova keeps on the refrigerator in her one-room apartment in Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, is frozen in time.
Ms. Yemelianova used to mark off the days with a sliding square, but she hasn’t moved it since Feb. 24, the day Russia launched the invasion of Ukraine and its soldiers moved quickly into Irpin. Ms. Yemelianova was evacuated in March as the fighting intensified but she and her husband, Ivan, returned a month later after the Russians were pushed out of the city. They immediately faced a new ordeal.
Their five-storey apartment building was barely habitable. Much of the roof had been destroyed and many walls showed signs of damage from shrapnel. Tank tracks still lined the driveway. The ground floor flat Ms. Yemelianova shares with her husband had been lived in by soldiers and while nothing much had been stolen, there were still boot prints on the mattress.
Now she and the building’s other residents had a dilemma: who would pay for the repairs?
With minimal financial support available from the government, Ms. Yemelianova and the others have been left to fend for themselves. They each chipped in what they could and raised 2.2-million hryvnia, or $81,000, to replace the windows and fix some of the exterior. But they still need around 6-million hryvnia to rebuild the roof. With nowhere else to turn, they set up a website and asked for donations.
The building at 19 Kovalskyi Lane is just one of thousands across Ukraine that are in desperate need of repair, or in many cases outright reconstruction.
The current cost of rebuilding the country’s infrastructure is estimated to be nearly US$350-billion, according to the World Bank, and that figure will rise as the war continues. The Ukrainian government’s finances are dire and while Canada and other countries have offered to help, for now most of the burden has fallen on local residents, many of whom have already lived through unmentionable horror. And now they have to rebuild largely on their own.
At Kovalskyi Lane, Ms. Yemelianova and 133 other families in the building were asked to contribute US$1,000 each toward the building repairs. Less than half could afford to pay and only a handful of families have returned. The Yemelianovs only managed to kick in US$500. They also had to cover the cost of fixing their own apartment and buying a new bathroom sink, toilet and some furniture.
None of that was easy given that Ms. Yemelianova can’t find a job and her husband earns a small income as a mechanic. “We can’t afford all this repair,” Ms. Yemelianova, 41, said as she surveyed her studio apartment.
The couple had already been driven out of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine in 2015 after war broke out with Russian-backed rebels. Now they’d nearly lost everything again.
Across town, Viktoriia Deineka, 62, and her 72-year-old husband, Petro, have lived in their spacious four-bedroom home for decades. Mr. Deineka grew up here and he took over the property when his parents died. They built a small guest house in the backyard and added a sauna.
When Russians invaded, Ms. Deineka headed to central Ukraine but her husband refused to leave. He nearly died when a missile smashed into the guest house. The bomb flattened the building and shrapnel sprayed across the main house, leaving dozens of holes in the roof and cracks in the walls.
The couple, who rely on pensions for income, registered with the city for some kind of support. But they’ve heard nothing so far and, with winter approaching, Mr. Deineka took on the repairs himself. He’s installed new windows and fixed most of the roof, but the covering is only temporary and the couple are worried about whether the house will be warm enough. Ms. Deineka waved her hand when asked how much all this had cost. “I can’t even calculate it,” she said. “And the costs keep going up.”
Valentyn Bronetko has seen almost no change to the outside of his apartment building at 17 Yablunska St. in nearby Bucha despite promises from city officials that repairs would be carried out.
This was one of the most notorious streets during the Russian occupation. At least 20 people died here and the nine-storey building bears deep scars from the fierce battle to retake the suburb. Several apartments on the top three floors have been blown apart and many windows in the stairwells remain broken.
The city has replaced dozens of windows in apartments but aside from that, Mr. Bronetko said the building looks the same as it did when he and his wife and two children returned in May after the occupation ended. “It’s a constant reminder of what happened,” he said as he stared up at the giant holes on the top three floors where the apartments once stood. “There’s a feeling of death here.”
There’s no financial support to fix individual flats, and so Mr. Bronetko has forked out 100,000 hryvnia, to repair his walls and ceiling, which were lined with holes from shrapnel. He estimated that less than one-third of the 146 apartments are now occupied and it’s unlikely many more residents will return given the state of the structure.
Up on the fourth floor, Oleksandr Melnyk has lived here since the block opened in 1983. He knew the people who lived in the bombed-out flats. Most of them had been evacuated before the rocket hit, he added, but one boy died.
Mr. Melnyk stayed in Bucha throughout the occupation and spent most of his time hiding in the basement of the school across the parking lot, ducking the bombs and the Russians.
At first, he found living here after the occupation next to impossible. There was no heat, electricity or running water. The water is back and the electricity comes and goes. Remarkably his apartment was largely untouched and he’s settled back in despite the soot that still lines the stairway and the lingering smell of the burned debris from the units above. “You get used to it,” he said with a shrug.