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Ukrainians race to fix shelled homes ahead of winter

AFP . Ukraine
26 Sep 2022 00:00:00 | Update: 26 Sep 2022 00:48:12
Ukrainians race to fix shelled homes ahead of winter
The race is on to repair housing damaged by shelling before the onset of winter – AFP Photo

On the half-ruined top floor of an apartment block in war-scarred Irpin near Kyiv, Mykhailo Kyrylenko looks proudly at the new roof taking shape.

Over a hundred residential blocks in Irpin -- dubbed a “hero city” by President Volodymyr Zelensky for holding back Russian invaders headed towards the capital -- were badly damaged by shelling. Now the advance of winter presents a different threat, as they urgently need to complete the repairs before the temperatures drop.

With state and local funds in short supply, the 16,000 Irpin residents left homeless by the shelling find themselves in a race against time to get their homes ready.

“We did not wait for any help,” said Kyrylenko, the head of his building’s residents’ association. “I understand that there is a war in the country, many people understand this.”

His brightly coloured block with yellow-painted gable walls was hit by four shells during the first days of the invasion, which began on February 24. Those strikes destroyed the roof and burned down the top floor.

After weeks of fighting however, Ukrainian forces recaptured the town, prompting the 65-year-old Kyrylenko to mobilise the building’s residents. When government experts assessed that the top floor could be saved, he organised a vote, with most in favour of rebuilding.

“People don’t have much money, but they agreed” to donate funds to gradually restore the shattered apartments, Kyrylenko, wearing dark-blue work overalls, told AFP. “If we were waiting for the state to help us, then ... we would definitely have to dismantle the fifth floor, it would collapse,” he said.

Roof is key

His efforts quickly saw results.

Out of 40 apartments in the building, about a dozen remained continuously occupied. They were reconnected to the water supply, sewerage and electricity -- although there is still no gas.

“The most important thing is to get the roof on so that rainwater and snow do not get inside,” Kyrylenko said, looking up at new wooden beams almost all of which were now in place.

But bare brick walls on the sides and piles of construction debris underfoot indicated the work still to do.

The residents themselves and charitable foundations have already contributed significant sums, but Kyrylenko said at least two million gryvnia ($53,000) more was needed to winter-proof the building.

“Eight families now live here and will continue to do so,” Kyrylenko said.

On the fourth floor, Viktor Murygin’s appartment suffered minimal damage, with only faint streaks on light-coloured walls visible after rain.

Despite being less affected however, 63-year-old Murygin contributed both money and his labour to the reconstruction drive. It was a constant fight against the elements, said Murygin.

“It was necessary to protect not only my apartment, but also the apartments below.” And thanks to the damp-resistant materials bought by charities, three apartments had so far been saved.

Plea for help

While residents of many other Ukrainian cities hit by Russian shells desperately seek reconstruction funds, government and local officials are beginning to respond.

Prime Minister Denys Shmygal announced last week a government allocation of around 3.4 billion gryvnia ($91 million) for “operational restoration work”.

But much more was needed, said Irpin mayor Oleksandr Markushyn.

“We appeal to the entire world community to help us with building materials, with funding for reconstruction,” Markushyn wrote on social media earlier this month on Irpin’s annual “City Day”.

“This is the most difficult City Day in the history of Irpin. We cannot celebrate because the occupiers left behind ruins.”