"You see, we have all the windows fixed" said Tonya Vasilivna. "We weren't here when shrapnells were flying everywhere and damaged our roof, windows, rooms. Now we have roof fixed and windows thanks to Helvetas and DESPRO Helvetas’ partner organization". | © Iva Zímová/Panos Pictures

Safe Shelters in Times of War

© Iva Zímová/Panos Pictures

The war in Ukraine is increasing poverty and damaging houses, leaving many people exposed to a harsh winter and inadequate shelters. Helvetas is helping to restore destroyed infrastructure, make emergency shelters habitable for longer periods, and rebuild homes. 

  • Project Name
    REFAUK: Repair Facilitation Ukraine
  • Project Phase
    2023 to 2024
  • Funding
    Swiss Solidarity
  • Thematic focus
    Humanitarian Response
    WASH & Water Governance

A roof destroyed by rockets. Windows shattered and house walls shredded by cluster bombs. In one place the electricity has been cut. In another, it’s the water supply. Russia's war of aggression is depriving people in many areas in Ukraine of their homes, leaving behind distress, poverty and despair. Reconstruction is taking place, but people need safe shelter until they can move back into their homes.  

With the support of Swiss Solidarity, and in cooperation with the Ukrainian NGO DESPRO, Helvetas is converting buildings into collective emergency shelters so that they can be inhabited over the longer term. In the Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil regions in the west of the country, the infrastructure for cooking, washing and heating, water supply and sanitation is now available in 34 collective shelters – benefiting around 1950 internally displaced people.  

Eighty-year-old Halina welcomes Lilia from Repair Facilitation Ukraine. Halina Vasilevna and her family spent 20 days in the cellar before escaping from the village to other part of Ukraine. When she returned, the house was uninhabitable, all windows were smashed. Thanks to the Repair Facilitation Ukraine and the financial support of Helvetas, Halina's house will be soon repaired. | © Iva Zímová
80-year-old Halina Vasilevna and her family spent 20 days in the basement before escaping. When they returned, the house was uninhabitable, with all the windows smashed. Thanks to Repair Facilitation Ukraine and financial support from Helvetas, her house will be repaired soon - May 2023. © Iva Zímová
A drawing of how one room will look in the future children's center and a photo of how the room looked before the reconstruction. Helvetas helped financially to replace ten broken windows and installed electricity in the rooms. | © Iva Zímová
A daycare center as it looked before and as it will soon look like, when the broken windows are replaced and electricity is installed - May 2023. © Iva Zímová
© Iva Zímová
Lyuba's family did not flee because her father is ill. Cluster bombs and rockets destroyed the roof and windows of their house. "My husband was killed. He had just arrived in the car, I was already hiding in the basement. I ran out, but it was already too late” – May 2023. © Iva Zímová
Repair of the roof that was damaged by two rockets at 33 Otakara Yarosha Street | © Iva Zímová
Local workers are repairing a roof damaged by rockets in Kharkiv - May 2023. © Iva Zímová
"You see, we have all the windows fixed" said Tonya Vasilivna. "We weren't here when shrapnells were flying everywhere and damaged our roof, windows, rooms. Now we have roof fixed and windows thanks to Helvetas and DESPRO Helvetas’ partner organization". | © Iva Zímová/Panos Pictures
Tonya Vasilivna is delighted with her new windows. "We weren't here when the shrapnel was flying everywhere, destroying our roof, windows and rooms." Now the roof and windows are repaired thanks to the joint efforts of our partner organization DESPRO and Helvetas - May 2023. © Iva Zímová/Panos Pictures
Helvetas setzt auf zirkuläres Bauen: Nichts wird weggeworfen. Aus gebrauchten Paletten werden Bänke und Tische hergestellt. | © Iva Zímová/Panos Pictures
Helvetas relies on circular construction: nothing is thrown away. Benches and tables are made from used pallets – May 2023. © Iva Zímová/Panos Pictures
Maria Koval  aus Kopyliv | © Helvetas/Lesha Berezovskiy
Maria Koval from Kopyliv says she is grateful that she was able to have the masonry of her house repaired – November 2022 © Helvetas/Lesha Berezovskiy
Lyubov Olhovets (Makariw) | © Helvetas/Lesha Berezovskiy
Lyubov Olhovets from Makariw has received new windows thanks to the financial support of Helvetas – November 2022 © Helvetas/Lesha Berezovskiy
© Helvetas/Lesha Berezovskiy
Valentyna Goretska from Makariw in front of her new windows – November 2022.  © Helvetas/Lesha Berezovskiy
© Helvetas / Patrick Rohr
A Moldovan host family in Căuşeni that has taken in a refugee family in their home and is financially supported by Helvetas – März 2022. © Helvetas / Patrick Rohr

Building up and promoting reconstruction 

The war has also affected public infrastructure. Helvetas is working to ensure that interrupted water supply systems are repaired. Sewage systems are also being improved where necessary. DESPRO is implementing these activities with the technical support of the Swiss organization SKAT Consulting. More than 64 000 people have benefited from rehabilitated water, sanitation and energy systems. 

To enable people to repair their homes in the war zone and return home, DESPRO has supported almost 3200 vulneable people through cash ("Cash for Repair"), and in-kind support, as well as technical assistance. This program contains both individual houses and multistorey appartment buildings. It consists in repairing light and medium damage shelters and improving insulation infrastructure (including roof and walls). In the regions around Kiev and Kharkiv, 316 damaged houses and 19 apartment blocks with 765 households were repaired and made ready for winter, thanks to new windows, doors, roofs and radiators.

127 collective heating points and consolidating bomb shelter in educational institutions (schools, kindergarten) will be equipped with materials and generators. Hence, 19'000 people suffering from consequences of power and gas shortages will have access to collective heating points. In educational facilities, the points will serve both as educational spaces and as community heating centers for the local population. 

Repair hubs offer know-how, tools and grants

Communities in areas with major damage also lack tools, equipment and guidance on infrastructure repair. Helvetas works with communities through two repair hubs in the Kyiv and Kharkiv regions (center and east of Ukraine). These centers provide advice, lend tools, promote the circular economy and help to use limited materials carefully. At the same time, these repair hubs provide grants to locally run organizations for projects in the areas of shelter and social safety nets projects. A total of over 50 such grants have already been awarded. Over 30,000 people have already benefited from the Repair Hubs and their grants.

Additionally, a pilot has been initiated in Ruska Luzova and Kharkiv city to promote social and market based circular construction initiatives. Until now value chains around reused bricks and windows are being promoted.

"Repair Ambulance"

Helvetas equipped Kharkiv with a mobile “repair ambulance”– an initiative in cooperation with volunteers, CSOs, and local authorities. If any destructive consequences are detected after Russia's attacks, the repair ambulance teams highly respond and go to the damaged area and provide quick assistance, such as installing temporary covers on destroyed structures such as windows, doors, and roofs. These emergency measures enable the protection of damaged objects from further destruction. 

The "repair ambulance" provisionally covers doors and windows to protect damaged shelters as quickly and as well as possible until proper repairs can be made.
© Helvetas
Where windows were destroyed by the bombs, the "repair ambulance" provisionally covers the open holes until new windows can be installed. © Helvetas
© Helvetas
© Helvetas
© Helvetas
© Helvetas

Voice, Inclusion & Cohesion

In many countries where we work, men and women are unable to claim their rights and participate actively in decision-making processes.

Wie wir Menschen in Albanien unterstützen

Helvetas unterstützt in Albanien Jugendliche bei ihrer Arbeitssuche. Zudem steht Helvetas Gemeinden bei der Umsetzung der Abfallentsorgung beiseite.
© Helvetas / Patrick Rohr

Making Markets and Jobs