Published On: Thu, May 19th, 2022

Those returning to Kyiv’s suburbs face new hardship after Russian forces leave: Homelessness

IRPIN, Ukraine — Galina Kovalenko and her husband had spent the past 20 years fixing up an old house in the Kyiv suburb of Irpin, working room by room, designing each square inch together. They planned to grow old there, tending to their garden in the front yard and playing with their white Pekingese dog, named Gel.

Then the Russians came.

Russian forces burned the house to the ground and killed Gel, Kovalenko said.

Sitting outside a newly opened shelter that had been donated by the British government, Kovalenko, 68, was looking for a place to live. 

“The problem is the money. We put everything into that old house,” Kovalenko said. “I can’t imagine that the government will pay for us to be able to rebuild. Right now, we just need one room. I hope God gives us a room.”

Since pushing Russian forces out from the suburbs around Kyiv last month, Ukraine has worked remarkably quickly to fix damaged infrastructure. Roads that were torn up by tanks and mortar rounds have already been repaved, debris has been cleared from the streets, water and sewage lines have been restored and grocery stores are reopening. 

But rebuilding destroyed houses and apartment buildings as the country is still at war is proving to be a much thornier task, leaving thousands of people displaced and in desperate need of assistance.

The crisis is creating a divide among Ukrainians: Those with means are starting to pay for their own repairs, while those without money are left dependent on charity and aid groups for shelter.

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A Ukrainian man wheels a mattress retrieved from the wreckage of his house past apartments destroyed in Russian assaults in Irpin, Ukraine, on April 20.Scott Peterson / Getty Images

Violetta Dvornikova, a member of the Irpin City Council and adviser to the mayor, said the situation is getting worse as refugees who fled at the start of the war are returning to Ukraine only to find their homes flattened. With less space available at nearby shelters each day, people are growing increasingly exasperated, Dvornikova said. 

“Not all people understand the difficulty of the real situation. They accuse us. Sometimes it seems that we blew up their house, and now we have to give them money to rebuild,” she said, adding that the city’s tax revenue all but vanished when the war broke out Feb. 24.

She had a message for refugees thinking about returning home to Ukraine: “Please do not come back until we have a plan.”

Bodies are still being recovered from the rubble in Irpin. And the city is in the process of surveying damage to determine whether buildings can be repaired or if they have to be torn down entirely. At least 37 apartment buildings so far have been determined to be damaged beyond repair, and the city estimated its total rebuilding cost will be more than $1 billion.

Irpin, which had a population of about 70,000 before the war, represents just a small fraction of the destruction in the country. In more populous cities where the fighting is still going on, such as Mariupol, the damage is estimated to be far worse.

Ukrainian officials have said they need to win the war before they can fully address widespread rebuilding plans. But the enormous amount of damage — from roads and bridges to housing and schools — is raising questions about how the country can afford to put itself back together on any timeline.

Ukraine’s resources are drying up. The government only collected 60 percent of its planned tax revenue for April and has diverted $8.3 billion in spending so far to help finance the war, the finance minister told Reuters. That has pushed the country to be heavily reliant on foreign aid and charity to cover humanitarian needs. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has estimated that the losses to the country’s economy and infrastructure due to the war will total around $600 billion.

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