Maria Koval stands outside her home. She is a participant in Helvetas' Cash for Repairs program. | © Helvetas/Lesha Berezovskiy

Surviving Winter: Repairing War-Damaged Homes in Ukraine

BY: Oleg Baklazhov - 14. February 2023
© Helvetas/Lesha Berezovskiy

Although the war is unbearable, many Ukrainians are bravely enduring Russia’s attacks. Helvetas supports the repair of damaged houses in Makariv, near Kyiv, to make them winter-proof. The residents draw hope by believing in peace.

Oleg Baklazhov, who is responsible for communications at DESPRO, Helvetas’ partner organization in Ukraine, recorded the following interviews with residents of Makariv.

"Even strangers gave us money"

“It was bombs or missiles, or who knows what,” said 73-year-old Maria Koval. “But everything was shattered: the windows, the roof, the walls. A tree fell on the house. Four bombs were dropped in the kitchen garden.

It was really scary in the damaged house. We found shelter in an old house nearby, but it was in bad condition. One of my sons is in a wheelchair, and it was too difficult there, so we returned home. We placed my disabled son on our sofa by the wrecked wall, and I asked everyone not to slam the door so the ceiling would not fall down on him.

Then people helped us. Absolute strangers gave us money for small repairs so I could arrange a safe living space for my son. Then, when we received the money from Switzerland, we built a wall, fixed doors and windows, and reinforced the wrecked wall. This will allow us to stay here through winter. It is warm and we have running water so that we can have a good wash. Every human wants to be clean. Not all the rooms are livable yet – the walls and the ceiling still need repairing – but we can survive the winter. The main thing is that we are in our own house.

Maria Koval  aus Kopyliv | © Helvetas/Lesha Berezovskiy
Maria Koval © Helvetas/Lesha Berezovskiy

We are four generations in this house. We all live peacefully; we have never quarreled. I’ve lived here since I was 19, when I got married. My husband was an excellent man – so hard-working that he never had days off. He was at work on weekdays and doing odd jobs on Saturdays and Sundays.

This is our family nest that we built ourselves from scratch, and it was very hard. My husband and I built it with our own hands. We had a small house first. But I asked him to build a large house. I wouldn’t want a big house like that now, honestly. But in those days I wanted a big one. Everything was good. We had children and grandchildren … and what do we have now?

The war is terrible. I keep crying day and night. I can’t go to sleep. Sometimes I don’t sleep a wink. I get up very early because I can’t stay in bed. My thoughts are dark.

I am so thankful for the help from Switzerland. Our roots are in this house; everything here is so dear to us.

What gives me hope? My family that supports me. My greatest wish is to restore our house and live as we lived before the war.”

“I will put on beautiful clothes”

“The day after the war broke out, my daughter arrived here. She had planned to leave her children with me and go back to work,” said Valentyna Horetska. “But then the Russians occupied Makariv. When they started bombing and shelling we hid in the cellar for 11 days. We could only make short runs to the house. But then the house was damaged with a bomb. We had a car, and we were advised to leave as soon as possible. We left, not knowing where to go. We headed west. We were exhausted and hadn’t bathed for ten days. Then a complete stranger saw us and took us in, the six of us, because she felt sorry for us. We stayed at her place for two months. That woman just picked us up and kept us warm. She gave us food and other people gave us clothes. 

We returned home in May, but our house was uninhabitable. I was able to stay with neighbors. I still sleep there because it is so cold at my house. I am glad that with the support we were able to replace the windows. We can now live in one room. The ceiling is missing in the other three.

I was born here. I grew up here. All my memories are with this place. People of my age start dying, but young boys and girls are dying, too – all because of Russia. I’m looking forward to peace. I want everybody to be safe and sound, I want my children to be fit, and my grandchildren, too, and also my little great-grandson. I aspire to live to see the end of the war. Until then I will work to finish rebuilding my house, to tidy up everything properly. Then I will put on beautiful clothes – just as it was before the war. And everything will be alright.”

Valentyna Horetska participates in Helvetas' Cash for Repairs Program | © Helvetas/Lesha Berezovskiy
Valentyna Horetska © Helvetas/Lesha Berezovskiy

“Hope dies last”

Yulia Holovchenkov’s husband was drafted into Ukraine’s military on February 25, the day after the war started. “My father left Makariv on March 8. I think the house was bombed on the 10th or 11th. The windows were smashed and one side of the house was ruined. But we stayed. Where were we to go?

Thanks to the money, we were able to repair the front of the house, the windows, and the doors. We arranged it with a local repair person. We hope to manage to add heat insulation soon. As for the inside of the house – we’ll see. If we make the house warm, we’ll be doing some repair work inside. 

My husband was killed on March 12. Still, hope is always with us; it dies last. We have those we must live for and take care of – our children. We must keep up hope for them. We must rebuild Ukraine. It’ll take years and years, but we will get there.” 

Yulia Holovchenkov participates in Helvetas' Cash for Repairs program. | © Helvetas/Lesha Berezovskiy
Yulia Holovchenkov © Helvetas/Lesha Berezovskiy

Cash for Repairs Project

Helvetas is supporting the reconstruction of war-damaged houses in Makariv with funds from Swiss Solidarity and together with our local partner organization DESPRO and Skat Consulting, a Swiss organization. Through the “Cash for Repairs” project, people selected by the municipality receive money to commission repairs locally. Makariv was attacked by the Russians on February 27, 2022, and was occupied until early April. Residents tell about arbitrary shootings and kidnappings. These claims cannot yet be verified. Missing persons and conscripted soldiers are sorely missed. Nevertheless, people we talked to all say that there are many who are worse off than they are.  

Humanitarian Response

In recent years there has been a global rise in disasters. Earthquakes, droughts, floods and cyclones turn years of development progress to dust overnight.
Schools turn into Shelters, Western Ukraine | © Helvetas/PIN/Alberto Lores