Over 1,000 people displaced by the war will be able to find comfortable accommodation in Zakarpattia Oblast in Western UkrainePublished: Apr 14, 2023 Reading time: 9 minutes
Millions of Ukrainians have been forced from their homes after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Some escaped shelling on the first days of the war, and some managed to do it only after weeks of hiding in basements. Most left home quickly with few belongings; they often traveled hundreds of kilometers with no idea what had happened to their homes, neighbors, streets, or the schools where children used to study.
Tens of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) have found shelter in Zakarpattia Oblast in western Ukraine. They are living in both private accommodations and shared collective centers.
The latter are temporary housing solutions for those in need, specifically focusing on women, children, people with mobility impairments and the elderly. People in Need (PIN), together with Czech NGO PŘES HRANICE EU z.s. and People in Need Slovakia, have been assisting the displaced population with repairs and renovations of structures to serve as collective centers while at the same time, providing them with non-food items such as furniture, kitchen equipment, household appliances and other necessary items to assist people in finding medium-term housing solution.
Comfortable accommodation in 25 renovated buildings
"To date, we finished repairs of 13 unused residential buildings, dormitories, clinicss, lyceums and kindergartens and are currently refurbishing one facility that already hosts people. In this first phase of the programme, all but completed in 2022, we aimed to provide accommodation for 528 displaced people from other parts of Ukraine. All buildings have been fully furnished and prepared for people to move in. The second phase of the refurbishment programme is currently underway. By summer 2023 we plan to repair another 11 buildings with the total capacity of around 510 people, mostly seniors or mothers with children, so they can stay in comfort," says Soňa Huberová, PIN Czech Republic Emergency Programme Coordinator.
PIN and PŘES HRANICE EU z.s. have been carrying out construction works on the premises, including replacing the floors, roofs, walls and building services,and installing new windows, doorsetc., while People in Need Slovakia provided furniture, sanitary ware, kitchen cabinets and appliances, and other items needed for a comfortable stay.
A monitoring team visited centers in three communities of the Khust district of Zakarpattia Oblast to talk with people living in renovated buildings. In the village of Volovets, there are now two such medium-term accommodation facilities - a former publishing house and a part of a kindergarten building, each with a capacity of 29 people.
Local people built beds with their own hands in the beginning
"Before the completion of the refurbishment works by our Czech and Slovak partners, people who came here as a result of the war occupied a kindergarten in Volovets, which prevented the regular use of the facility.The village desperately needed children to be able to attend the preschool again. Local people were patient and understanding of the scale of the problem, but they were relieved when they could start sending their children to the kindergarten again,” says Serhii Hryha, Deputy Mayor of Volovets.
"At the beginning of the invasion, when people began to arrive here en masse, they did not have enough basic belongings to live; people literally slept on the floor in gyms, on some mattresses, sleeping bags. Local residents built beds with their own hands so people would have a place to sleep. One of the biggest problems was the lack of washing machines. It was difficult with the bathroom issue; we had to tinker and improvise showers. The community was provided with humanitarian aid, but this did not solve the housing issue. What we have now—thanks to People in Need Slovakia, People in Need Czech Republic and Pres Hranice—is two renovated two-story premises with furniture, heating, necessary appliances and plumbing. Providing these allows the community to think about less urgent needs for IDPs, such as internet access, for example," says Serhii Hryha.
As noted by Mr. Hryha, there are currently 2,975 IDPs registered in the Volovets administrative area (Volovets and 3 other villages), and 58 of them, a quarter of whom are children, now live in the two facilities provided for by People in Need.
In Mizhhiria, the premises of the former school have been repaired and renovated. Now this center has an entirely new look, with light walls, new furniture, plumbing and appliances. Seventeen people displaced by the war have found safety and comfort here.
Mom, it is time to go
In Kolochava, the team visited three repaired and renovated collective centers. 87 people already live in these centers, 34 of which are children. 60-year-old Nadiia Hliebova from Donetsk lives with her daughter and two granddaughters—5 and 8 years old. Nadiia shared her story and told us how she ended up in Zakarpattia.
"My first granddaughter was born in Donetsk in 2014 when the war began. She is a child of war. My granddaughters have felt it from an early age. We moved from one city to another; we had to work somehow—I had to raise my girls. Since 2014, I have lived in 10 apartments. The last city we visited (a year ago) was Kyiv. I worked in a kindergarten, and my daughter worked as a florist. We rented an apartment. One child went to first grade, and the other went to the kindergarten where I worked," says Nadiia Hliebova.
"When the war began, we left for Kolochava on March 10th. Our residential district in Kyiv was close to the front line. It was like a "second take" for us. My children and I went to the apartment's corridor in Kyiv and sat with candles. The daughter said: "Mom, it's time to go." I replied: "Let's wait; maybe everything will pass. Explosions can be heard far away." When they could be heard close by, we were already being taken out by the Territorial Defence forces. There were roadblocks everywhere. Kyiv almost died out. There were many people at the station. We wrote their names and mother's phone number on the children's arms because we feared losing them in the chaos. What could we take with us? A few suitcases and documents. We arrived in Ivano-Frankivsk, from where a volunteer brought us here to Zakarpattia," Nadiia Hliebova recalls.
"The fate of my house so far has been like this: since the beginning of the war in 2014, my 64-year-old husband has stayed there to preserve our house for all of us. Because we have to return there someday when that part of Ukraine is liberated. If he hadn't stayed there, everything would have been looted, and no one would have repaired the roof after the missile hit. I think we can get back there. I haven't seen my husband for two years. Our house in Donetsk is damaged: the roof, windows, and doors are broken. But this is roulette. You never know when it will hit you. No one is safe. My granddaughters tell me sometimes: "Grandma, we want to go home." But I don't know where our home is now...," says Nadiia Hliebova.
"When we arrived here, some people hosted us in a private dacha (summer house). Here, my sould could have rested; there was no anxiety. These people gave us a sense of peace. My girls feel very comfortable here. When the cold weather started, it became difficult to live in the dacha because the building was not adapted for winter. We moved here to the collective center. I am very grateful to have such a cosy place," Nadiia concludes.
I came under artillery fire, and after that, I was terrified
In another facility in Kolochava, three families now live in a renovated family house that used to serve as a small preschool some time ago. Maria Serdiukova from Kharkiv, with her 11-year-old daughter Sofia, husband and mother-in-law. Maria and her family have been staying in Kolochava since April.
"We didn't know where to go. We arrived in Uzhhorod. We were asked: "Are you staying or going further abroad?". We said: "We are staying." Then the school bus arrived. We didn't know where we were being taken. They told us "It's not far, and there's everything you need there." We got on the bus and came here to Kolochava. We only realized where we were in the morning. We came here on Easter," says Maria.
It took a lot of effort for the family to regain a sense of calm; they had endured horrors from February to April. "Well, somehow... They started bombing, nothing worked. There was no transport, everything was closed, and the subway was not working. We thought that everything might end quickly. And then I came under artillery fire, and I was terrified after that. There was no air raid alarm. So, I left the house to go shopping for groceries. Sofia stayed at home alone. Everything was very quiet, and when I was returning, the shelling began and it was so heavy that the houses shook. It was very scary. I thought a shell would fall on my head. After that, I stayed at home for several days, recovering. And then we saw that Sofia's nervous tics began to be severe..." [starts crying]
Currently, Sofia is feeling better. On September 1st, she started the 5th grade at the local school. She says that she likes the school. The bus picks her up. Sometimes she goes on foot. When asked how the family coped with their emotions, Maria says they are constantly on medication.
Now families have a shower and all necessary appliances
Maria's neighbor across the hall, Oksana Zmiieva, came from Sloviansk and lives in one of the rooms with her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter Anastasiia. At first, they lived in a kindergarten, where the conditions were not bad, according to her, but there was no shower. Now families have a shower and all the necessary appliances: a refrigerator, a washing machine, an oven, a microwave.
Olena Panchenko with her two daughters, 16-year-old Sofia and 1-year-old Mariana, her sister-in-law Alla Korostyliova with her 15-year-old son Timofii, and the children's grandmother Olha Panchenko left Donetsk Oblast for Uzhhorod by evacuation train back in March. They are now living in a PIN-supported housing center. Olena and her two children went to Hungary, where they lived for half a year, and then returned to Ukraine. The rest of the family lived in the sports hall of a gymnasium. When the family reunited, they moved to Kolochava, where they first lived in a local private house. Local people helped and continue to help them with everything they can: they invited them to meals, children to play and during the winter, when there was no electricity due to the missile damage to the infrastructure, to make themselves warm at the traditional wooden stoves. The locals bring their new neighbours fresh milk and potatoes from their own garden.