Joint work of Slovak and Czech PIN in Ukrainian ZakarpattiaPublished: Feb 7, 2023 Reading time: 9 minutes
Imagine that you have left your home with only one suitcase of things, have fled for hundreds of kilometers and now you have no idea what has happened to your house, neighbors, street, school where your children used to study, etc.
Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have been forced to leave their homes after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Some escaped shelling on the first day of the war, some managed to do it only after weeks of hiding in basements. Many internally displaced people (IDPs) have found shelter in Zakarpattia living in both private sector and collective centers which are temporary housing solutions for those in need with specific focus on women, children and elderly people. People in Need have been helping with repairing and renovating shelters while providing them with non-food items such as furniture, kitchen equipment, household appliances and other necessary items with the aim to assist IDPs to find long-term housing solutions.
The People in Need team visited shelters in three communities of Khust district of Zakarpattia oblast to talk with the IDPs and monitor the interim and final results of the work done. In all three communities there was cooperation between two sister organizations - People in Need Slovakia (Človek v ohrození) and People in Need Czech Republic (Člověk v tísni). People in Need Czech Republic, for its part, ensured the repair and renovation of premises that currently serve as collective centers in these communities. This is the re-planning of premises, replacement of the floor, renewal of the ceiling, roof, walls, installation of new windows, doors, etc. People in Need Slovakia provides shelters with furniture, sanitary ware, kitchen equipment, household appliances and other items needed for a comfortable stay in the center.
There are two shelters like these in the urban village of Volovets. The first is a two-story building of the former publishing house, where renovations have now been completed, the kitchens are equipped, and the last works on the installation of furniture, household appliances and plumbing are underway. The second one is a part of the kindergarten premises, where the same works have been carried out so that the displaced people who currently live in the kindergarten could have their own residential corner.
This is what Serhii Hryha, deputy mayor of Volovets, told us: "The kindergarten in Volovets is occupied by IDPs, and the village desperately needs children to be able to attend preschool again. Most of those children who attended this kindergarten before the full-scale war are now unable to do so and stay at home with their parents. Local people are patient because they understand the scale of the problem. We are very much looking forward to the completion of the last works in the shelters and the IDPs settling here. These facilities can accommodate 58 IDPs, the rest will have to move to another kindergarten, which is located in a nearby village. At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, when people began to arrive here en masse, they did not have enough basic things for a full-fledged life, people literally slept on the floor in gyms, on some mattresses, sleeping bags. Local residents made beds with their own hands so that 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 with the showers. The community was provided with humanitarian aid, but this did not solve the housing issue. What we have now, thanks to the organizations People in Need Slovakia and People in Need Czech Republic - two renovated two-story premises with furniture, heating, necessary appliances and plumbing - allows the community to already think about less urgent needs for IDPs, such as the Internet, for example, and will solve the issue with children who will be able to attend preschool again."
As told by Serhii Hryha, there are currently 2,975 IDPs registered in Volovets community (which is Volovets and 3 other villages), and 66 displaced persons, a fourth of whom are children, will live in the two facilities cared for by People in Need.
In Mizhhiria the premises of the former school have been repaired and renovated. Now this shelter has a completely new look, with light walls, new furniture, plumbing and appliances. Hopefully, those forced inmigrants who will soon settle here will feel safe and comfortable here.
In Kolochava community, the team visited three ready-made, repaired and renovated IDP collective centers. 87 people already live in them, 34 of which are children.
60-year-old Nadiia Hliebova from Donetsk lives in one of the shelters with her daughter and two granddaughters - 5 and 8 years old. Nadiia shared her story and told how she ended up in Zakarpattia.
"The first granddaughter was born in 2014 in Donetsk, when the war began. This 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 somehow. Since 2014, I have changed 10 apartments. The last city we visited (a year ago) was Kyiv. I worked in a kindergarten, my daughter worked as a florist. We rented an apartment. One child went to first grade, the other went to the kindergarten where I worked. When the full-scale war began, we left for Kolochava on March 10. 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 corridor of the apartment in Kyiv and sat with candles. The daughter said: "Mom, it's time to go." I told her: "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 their mother's phone number on our children's arms, because we were afraid of 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".The fate of my house now is as follows. Since the beginning of the war in 2014, my 64-year-old husband has stayed there to preserve this 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 there, 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 a little destroyed: the roof, windows, and doors are broken. It happened because of the missile hit. 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..."When we arrived here, people hosted us in a private dacha. Here I rested my soul. 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 shelter. I am very grateful to have such a cozy place."
Three families live in another three-room shelter, which was renovated for IDPs. Maria Serdiukova from Kharkiv with her 11-year-old daughter Sofia, husband and mother-in-law have been living in Kolochava since April.
"We didn't know where to go. We arrived in Uzhhorod. There they 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 going, they told us "It's not far, and there‘s everything 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 come to their senses, as they went through a horror from February to April.
"Well, somehow... They started bombing there, nothing worked. There was no transport, everything was closed, the subway was not working. But we thought that everything might end quickly. And then I came under artillery fire, and after that I was very scared. I was out shopping for groceries. There was no air alarm. So, I left the house. The child stayed at home alone. Everything was very quiet, and when I was returning, such shelling began that the houses were shaking. It was very scary. I thought it would fall on my head. After that, I stayed at home for a few more days recovering. And then we saw that the child's nervous tics began to be severe..." [starts crying]
Currently, the girl is feeling better, on September 1 she went to the local school in the 5th grade. 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 that they are constantly on medication.
Their neighbor across the wall, Oksana Zmiieva, came here 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 in the shelter and all the necessary appliances: a refrigerator, a washing machine, an oven, a microwave oven, etc.
A big family lives in the village of Nehrovets near Kolochava. Currently, they are the only ones living in this shelter for IDPs that People in Need has set up. There are six of them and they are all from Donetsk oblast. 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. Olena and her two children went to Hungary, where they lived for half a year, then returned to Ukraine. The rest of the family lived in the sports gym of the gymnasium. When the whole family was reunited, they moved to Kolochava community, where they first lived in a private house of locals. The local people helped and continue to help them with everything they can: they invite them to come and warm themselves when there is no electricity in the shelter, to eat, they even just invite them to come and play with children. They bring fresh milk, potatoes from their own garden, etc.
The family's children started going to a local school in September, but returned to their previous schools for online education, as there is a problem with public transport in the village, so it is difficult for the family to get to the school and humanitarian aid distribution points.
During the team’s visit to the shelters in Kolochava community, there was no electricity all the time, i.e., there was no light, heating, internet, mobile communication. PIN workers found themselves in a complete blackout for one day, together with the entire village, with all the IDPs. Such are the realities in Ukraine now, yes, it is difficult for forced inmigrants to cope with them, but they are still grateful for the help provided by People in Need. The words of thanks were heard in every shelter entered.
Such work on shelters by People in Need takes place throughout Zakarpattia.