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Rebuilding Ukraine: ‘It is a victory for humanity that we can be destroyed but rise from nothing’

Updated: Mar 2, 2023


Picture: A boy waves a flag as he collects money for the Ukrainian army outside his family home here in Borodyanka, some 60kms north west of Kyiv city. Photo: Jeff Farrell


Even as Russian troops move into the east of Ukraine, citizens in and around the capital Kyiv are working to rebuild their communities from the ruins


Jeff Farrell

May 21, 2022

Business Post


Natalia Alekseenko held a dustpan and brush as she surveyed the damage to her house. Gutted by a shell from a Russian tank, the walls and floors were blackened and the staircase burned down to a metal frame. The roof had caved in too, leaving a hole you could drive a car through.


“When it rains the water falls down inside,” she said with a sigh. “We lost everything here, even the furniture. Everything is burned out. We have nothing.”


After the shelling, Natalia and her husband fled their home on the outskirts of Bucha, just over 30km north-west of the capital Kyiv, as Russian tanks inched towards the housing estate where they once lived.


“We are lucky because we left the house when the Russians were all around,” she said. “Maybe just a few hours after we left, the missiles flew down.”


Natalia’s house is one of a row of destroyed homes in a once leafy housing estate. Russian tanks drove into the area a couple of weeks after Moscow’s troops invaded Ukraine on February 24. The Kremlin’s army occupied Bucha and other areas around Kyiv including Borodyanka and Irpin, in a bid to encircle and seize the capital, the prized target in Vladimir Putin’s war.

Picture: Natalia Alekseenko: ‘I lived here with my husband. Our children are adults, and they visited us with their sons’. Photo: Phil Wilson


Ukraine’s forces fought back, however, and thwarted the plan. The Kremlin withdrew its troops in early April to focus on the current push in the east.


In Moscow’s failed drive for the capital, its tanks shelled hundreds of buildings including residential tower blocks, turning them into rubble. Millions who managed to flee are now slowly trickling back to assess the damage.


Natalia and her husband are among them. At the moment her home is uninhabitable. “Right now we are living in our friend’s house. It’s not permanent, it’s temporary,” she said.


She brought me outside to what had been her back garden where there are views of the surrounding pine forest. On the main road, cars whizzed by. On the corner a billboard advertised property for sale in this modern estate. The once shiny new homes are now shelled and blackened. Windows shattered. A burned out Skoda was visible in one driveway.


She pointed to a pile of rubble behind her home to show me what was left of her possessions. Among the debris was a red clay flower pot. She pulled up a shell of a bike, just the frame. Elsewhere, a toy tractor, blue and yellow, lay on the ground among shards of glass.


“I lived here with my husband. Our children are adults, and they visited us with their sons,” she said, her eyes welling with tears. “We have nothing now. We hope the government will help us to rebuild the house. We believe that.”


It’s hard to be confident that they will move back into their home any time soon. Ukraine’s scarce resources are being pumped into fighting off Russia in the east. In April, the country’s president Volodymyr Zelensky told many of the world’s finance ministers that Ukraine needed aid of €6.7 billion every month until the summer just to keep ticking over.


In Moscow’s failed drive for the capital, its tanks shelled hundreds of buildings including residential tower blocks, turning them into rubble. Millions who managed to flee are now slowly trickling back to assess the damage.k to assess the damage.


Longer term, about €60 billion of physical damage has so far been inflicted on Ukraine, according to the World Bank. The country for now is in survival mode, but Zelensky has his eye on rebuilding. He told the same world finance ministers last month, in a video link address to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, that Ukraine “will need hundreds of billions of euro to rebuild all this later“.


Marks from tanks on the road


After saying our goodbyes, my driver Sasha and I headed for the town of Borodyanka, which has been heavily shelled by Russian forces. Along the way, we passed bombed out petrol stations as Sasha skirted around craters on the road at speed.


The potholes from shelling were mostly marked with tape to warn motorists. Sasha later navigated a battered bridge, almost V-shaped. He slowed down, nudged the nose of the car over and we inched slowly down one side before coming up the other half which was like a ramp.


After the bridge, the whine of the tyres on the flat road changed to a high pitched sound. “That’s from the marks the Russian tanks left on the road,” he said, shaking his head.


Further on, we passed an area scattered with Russian tanks and burned out armoured vehicles. On one tank we saw a handwritten note in black marker on white paper. “Russian creatures, we hate you,” it read.


Locals were standing on the charred, metal ruins snapping selfies. Lima Komar’s husband was taking photos of her.

Picture: Clean-up volunteer Iurii, here in Borodyanka, says that Ukraine can rise from the ashes. Photo: Jeff Farrell


“We left this area at the start of the invasion,” Lima said. "We are back to check what happens with everything, and right now we are on our way back to see our children.”


“Our house is relatively okay. We just changed the windows and we are happy that it hasn’t burned. And, of course, we are happy that our area is liberated from the Russians, but we know that the war is not finished yet.”


A 20-minute drive further north, we arrived in Borodyanka, 60km north-west of Kyiv. The monumental task to rebuild Ukraine is already beginning in small steps in towns like this one.


Russian tanks shelled the town to rubble. The few residential tower blocks that still stand are hollowed out. A workman on the fourth floor of one building shovelled out broken bricks, the debris crashing to the ground in a cloud of dust. Elsewhere, a lone army boot, scuffed with dirt, stood beside a pile of rocks.


More than 1,000 civilians were killed in the outskirts of Kyiv during the Russian occupation, according to Ukrainian officials. After the Russian forces withdrew from areas around the capital including Borodyanka and Bucha, images emerged showing bodies strewn on the streets. Corpses with hands tied and bullet holes in their heads. A mass grave held over 380 slain civilians.


In Borodyanka, the extent of the civilian death toll is not clear. Locals say scores of bodies remain trapped under rubble. The clean up in the area could take years, so for now there are no hard figures on the deaths of innocent people caught up in Putin’s invasion.


“We left this area at the start of the invasion,” Lima said. “We are back to check what happens with everything, and right now we are on our way back to see our children.”erated from the Russians, but we know that the war is not finished yet.”

Picture: Homes in Borodyanka gutted by Russian shelling following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Photo: Jeff Farrell


Iurii stood in a manhole shovelling dirt into a bucket, clearing debris from the water system in the town, which had a population of 13,000 before the invasion. Iurii was working with a colleague, Adel. He shovelled rubble into a black bucket, handed it up to Adel who then hauled it away. The two are among the many volunteer workers helping to rebuild their country little by little.


Iurii wiped his brow, and pointed at the pipes below. “In Borodyanka there is electricity and even some water flowing through the tubes so we need to clean it,” he said.


Iurii, who, like so many others, didn’t want to give his surname for “security purposes”, hopped up out of the manhole and Adel climbed down, taking her turn at the shovel.


Iurii said he had been the captain of a Boeing 737, a pilot with a Ukrainian airline, until Russia invaded his country and he lost his job. He looked around at the devastation in the centre of Borodyanka and scratched his thick beard.


“It is probably one of the most awful situations because we have a number of multi-storey buildings destroyed, not only small buildings like in Bucha,” he said. “But also multi-storeys which collapsed inside. I guess the majority [of the buildings] will be destroyed. But there is some thought that a couple of the buildings will be kept, the Ukrainians will build a memorial of war. So definitely something will not be removed to remember about all the crimes of this war.”

Picture: The bust of national literary treasure Taras Shevchenko, which stands in the main square in Borodyanka, was shot up during Russian occupation of the area. Photo: Jeff Farrell


Earlier, I wandered around the main square. At the centre there is a bust of Ukraine’s national poet, Taras Shevchenko, who died in 1861. The tribute to the national literary treasure is now shot up. Shevchenko’s concrete head is dotted with bullet holes and chunks of concrete hang loose from the pedestal. At its base, however, locals have left tributes to the broken bard – yellow and blue flowers in the colours of the Ukrainian flag.


It’s hard to be confident that they will move back into their home any time soon. Ukraine’s scarce resources are being pumped into fighting off Russia in the east. In April, the country’s president Volodymyr Zelensky told many of the world’s finance ministers that Ukraine needed aid of €6.7 billion every month until the summer just to keep ticking over.


Iurii explained why the Russian forces decided to shoot up a bust. “I was in Russia a lot of times, as a civilian pilot,” he said, kicking a stone. “I know they just do not take Ukrainians seriously. For them, we are not a nation, we are not a country. For them, it is not possible to have a democratic free country, so they just destroy everything that distinguishes us from them. So if we have a great Ukrainian poet, we should forget him.”


He believes the bust will not be repaired. “I know that Shevchenko’s monument will stay with a shot head, something to remember about all the crimes of this war.”


Collecting for the army


As we travelled to the outskirts of Borodyanka, the hollowed out buildings in the centre gave way to bungalows behind gates, the homes from the street looked untouched by the shelling. Outside one home, the walls painted a pale blue, there was a boy who looked about seven or eight. He was waving a giant Ukrainian flag, collecting money for the Ukrainian army with a cardboard box at his feet.


We slowed down and I hopped out to the boy, money in my hand. The boy’s mother peeped out from behind a gate, smiling. I dropped a few hryvnia, the Ukrainian national currency, into his box.


“Spasibo [thanks in Russian],” the boy said. The language is not forbidden despite the Russian invasion and is as commonplace as Ukrainian.


We drove back to where Iurii was working at the manhole to find Adel pulling up a creature from the ground where she was working, carrying it carefully to a box.


“We rescued a hedgehog,” Iurii said. “He almost didn’t move when we found him. He was not alive, not dead. He’s in good hands now. We will feed him up and then let him go free to his home in the nature.”

Picture: Clean-up volunteer Iurii, here in Borodyanka, clears rubble out of a manhole. Photo: Jeff Farrell


Adel, a shop worker, picked up the hedgehog and cuddled it. “I am very happy that I found it,” she said, also refusing to give her surname. “Something good comes from this war.”


Iurii hopped back down the manhole for his turn with the spade. He said everyone in the country was playing their part to rebuild the country.


Picture: Clean-up volunteer Adel, here in Borodyanka, rescues a hedgehog from a manhole. Photo: Jeff Farrell


“Now we are all so united to do one goal: from military, to ordinary civilians, to people like me, to everybody else from different backgrounds, different ages, different sexes, all Ukrainians are united and they do their job to rebuild Ukraine.”


“We left this area at the start of the invasion,” Lima suuaid. “We are back to check what happens with everything, and right now we are on our way back to see our children.”dren.”ren.”en.” that we can be destroyed but rise from nothing. Ukraine will do the same: the rebuild will let it lift from the ashes.”AdelA

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