We want to go home, and we need to restore what the russians destroyed

Inna, 64, lives in the “building” behind her after russian army destroyed her house in Kalynivka, photo by NEST team

Restored Ukrainian cities and villages began with the return of Ukrainians to them. While battles are raging and russian missiles are flying in some regions, others are already restoring infrastructure, creating temporary living conditions, and filling up with residents.

We return to our homes. Let the walls, windows and roofs burn at the hands of the russians. Let burnt houses and destroyed schools. May we sow less field this year and pick fewer cherries in our orchards, but we are returning home. The russians are bombing, and we are rebuilding. Because you want so much to go to your yard, under your walnut, to have dinner with your family before sunset. And we do it. No, we are not stupid and we are not fearless, we do not have endless resources. We’re home. We are alive.

The current situation surrounding the problem of housing lost by Ukrainians as a result of russia’s war against Ukraine is extremely complex. It requires both long-term and operational-tactical solutions. In addition to providing Ukrainians with a roof, it is essential to return them to normal living conditions, to their yards, to their neighbours, to their villages and towns, and to their communities. Furthermore, it is vital to reunite families. Scattered now in the regions of Ukraine and worldwide, they are waiting to return and rebuild their lives, emotional state, families and communities. I will tell you about Ukrainians that we are tied to our environment, relatives and land like no other. Ukrainians deeply value established social ties, stability and permanence. In order, at least, to start talking about the stabilization of the Ukrainian’s mental state, he needs to return a roof over his head and his community.

Oksana shows Uliana Dzhurliak what two russian shells did to her beloved house in Makariv, photo by NEST team

What is happening to Ukrainians now? Someone evacuated the whole family abroad or to the western regions of Ukraine. Someone’s family has been separated – women and children have been evacuated, men are trying to restore their lost housing or one of the family members has joined the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Someone has already given his life on the battlefield or died during the occupation or from the shelling of the civilian population by the russians. Someone is in his small town and lives on the burning of his house, hiding from the cold in a hut made of four poles and a tarpaulin. And there are those who, in 2014 escaped from the russian-Ukrainian war somewhere in Luhansk by moving to other regions of Ukraine, spent eight years building their lives from scratch, and this spring lost everything again, because a russian “hail” flew into their new house.

There are families who, with the help of their friends and relatives, have rebuilt entire houses over the summer and welcome winter with dignity. However, many do not have the opportunity to take care of themselves. The life and future of such families depend on the help they receive or do not receive from outside.

Ukrainians already have unlimited support from the world community. Emotional and material help is invaluable and it is palpable. Unfortunately, the scale of the destroyed housing still remains unfathomable. As of September 5, 2022, the number of destroyed private houses was 115.9 thousand, and high-rise buildings – was 15.3 thousand. (according to KSE data). We are sure that only together, shoulder to shoulder and systematically, will we be able to achieve visible changes in these issues. Unfortunately, time is not in our favour. Already today, at this moment, while I am writing this text and you are reading it, thousands of Ukrainians are languishing in the cold somewhere without decent living conditions. Because this story is not about numbers. Every story of an individual family or person is unique. Each number in the destruction statistics is a whole world, a whole life and a huge tragedy on the scale of a single family. I don’t want any of you even to try to imagine or try on this horror. The horror of Mrs. Oksana and her three sons, who lost their father during the occupation of Kyiv region.

The father of the family managed to get the family out, but he stayed in the village, and a rocket hit the house a few days later. The pain of Inna from the Luhansk region, at the moment when her son was abducted by the occupier and tortured because he had the surname Shevchenko (a characteristic Ukrainian surname that is shared by such outstanding Ukrainians as the great Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko or a world-class football player, the owner of the “Ballon d’Or” Andriy Shevchenko). Or perhaps Mrs. Iryna, standing in the middle of an empty yard where her house once stood, now just a black hole in the cellar. Or about Mr. Victor, who lost the house he had just built for his sons but worked all summer near his garden and grew grapes.

I am an architect and researcher of forms and social and cooperative housing types. From the first days of the full-scale invasion, my colleagues and I began working on the issue of resettlement of temporarily displaced persons and developing possible forms of operational resettlement in comfortable conditions for Ukrainians. It was important for us to respond to current challenges as quickly as possible. Therefore, in the spring and summer, many appropriate short-term solutions appeared from my colleagues in the workshop. But everyone was concerned about the medium-term resettlement of people whose homes were completely destroyed. After the Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy region’s de-occupation, we all saw the state of the settlements there. Freed Bucha, Borodyanka, Makariv, Chernihiv, Trostyanets were horrified by the scale of reconstruction. Next to this, local residents immediately began to return there. Some were luckier and their homes remained intact; some did not.

In August, on the initiative of the Serhiy Prytula Charitable Foundation, we launched the NEST project https://nestprytulafoundation.org/ . NEST is an initiative aimed at creating conditions for Ukrainians returning home. Among a very wide range of housing needs, we focus on people whose housing is wholly destroyed but who have their own plot in villages and small towns and are ready to rebuild their home on it. The number of Ukrainians living in villages and small towns, that is, the rural population as of 2019, is 31.1% (as reported by https://www.ukrinform.ua/). This is a large share of the country’s population. These people live and work on their land and most of them can feed their families largely through agriculture.

Kovtun family from Makariv received their modular house thanks to donations on NEST, photo by NEST team

This population is inseparably connected with its family nest, and its yard. The situation also dictates the niche we have occupied with humanitarian resources in the country as a whole. Most of the state’s resources are now directed to conduct military operations. During the restoration of the de-occupied territories, efforts are primarily directed at critical infrastructure, transport infrastructure, communications, public facilities, schools and hospitals, and sometimes multi-apartment residential buildings. Unfortunately, these resources are not enough to help everyone. That is why we concentrated on helping Ukrainians in villages and small towns, for whom their destroyed private house is all they have. It is very important for us to help the rural population, thus preventing a crisis in traditional farming. Because the Ukrainian peasantry is a huge part of Ukrainian society, which works daily on its land, providing for itself and the country. If we do not take measures, we foresee big problems with the loss of an entire class of society.

Returning to the thesis about medium-term solutions to the issue of housing for Ukrainians – this is precisely what we consider the NEST project to be, which allows getting a temporary mobile house and installing it on its own plot next to the destroyed house. This is an opportunity to be at home and live in decent, comfortable conditions with your relatives while the destroyed private house is being rebuilt. The idea of ​​temporarily replacing a destroyed house with a new one on the same plot gives needy Ukrainian families a clear perspective for the near future. But the main thing is that it gives time. These houses are designed for a service life of 10+ years. During this time, the family can stabilize its current emotional and financial state; to accumulate funds or receive compensation from the state or reparations for the destroyed property; globally, this stock saves time from an unstable situation in the construction industry – we are currently observing problems with logistics and production of materials, a shortage of hands among the construction profession, problems with electricity and fuel.

NEST houses are factory-made modular mobile homes that are delivered to the site in large parts and only require assembly and connection to existing communications. We held a tender and selected Ukrainian manufacturers who met our main requirements: the houses are installed without a capital foundation, resistant to the climatic conditions of our region in both winter and summer, equipped with heat and air conditioning sources, mobile, modular and flexible in planning to be able to expand for even very large families. The house is fully equipped with everything necessary for living: furniture, essential household appliances, plumbing and lighting, and textiles. Our goal is to create decent conditions for families who have lost all their possessions along with the house, so they can immediately move in and live in the comfort of a new NEST house. Ukrainian families who receive such a house get the opportunity to return to their usual life in their village or city, where they can immediately return to work, to schools and kindergartens, and participate in the reconstruction of our country. The involvement of Ukrainian production and the return of Ukrainian families to their settlements will definitely positively affect the support of the Ukrainian economy.

The NEST project’s pilot stage covers the Makariv community’s territory. These are 49 settlements in the de-occupied Kyiv region. Unfortunately, this is the region with the highest intensity of housing destruction in the private housing sector. Therefore, we need to work systemically with local communities, not point by point with families, to approach the problem’s solution as globally and thoroughly as possible. The close cooperation of the NEST project team and local self-government bodies contributes to this in every way. The pilot stage provides for 585 families whose homes have been completely destroyed. Upon completion of the pilot, the NEST project will be expanded to the rest of the communities of Kyiv region, as well as to Chernihiv region, Sumy region, the north of Zhytomyr region and the rest of the de-occupied regions in the East and South of Ukraine due to the progress of the work of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Our team meets and gets to know each family. These meetings are incredibly emotional because each individual story is tragic. Still, at the same time, each family radiates hope and strength to rebuild their lives, work to win this war and plans for the future: new houses, farms, restored gardens and gardens, new ideas for entrepreneurship, and especially painfully – the expansion and creation of new families. “We will rebuild and live here,” says one grandfather from Makariv.

The scale of the project is huge, but the time is concise. Particular priority is now given to families with children, families who lost family members due to russian aggression, or the wounded or families of those currently in the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Such people do not have the financial or physical ability to quickly restore their housing or even find shelter on their own. The family owns the NEST house for an indefinite period. If a family is rebuilding their own housing, then with the agreement of the local community, they can either sell it or give it to other families who need it. Families can go about their recovery without worrying about at least keeping a roof over their heads for themselves and their loved ones. Therefore, the more funds the NEST project can quickly attract, the more families will get new housing as soon as possible.

During the project, we repeatedly had the opportunity to observe the transformation of the family from the moment of acquaintance to the day when the family received and lived in their house. I would like to introduce you to seven-year-old Davyd from Makariv. When we met, he talked about his pets – a cat and a dog. Unfortunately, the boy told us that his dog did not survive and died – the animal’s heart could not withstand during the artillery shelling of the russians. Davyd said that he would be happy if a beagle named Rocky appeared in their family. The grandmother assured Davyd that the dog would be available only when the family had a home again. Recently, his family of six received a NEST home, and Davyd received a new friend¾a puppy named Rocky. Parents returned to work – they are teachers at a local school, and grandparents work near their garden.

Any of us who were born somewhere in the Kyiv or Donetsk region of Ukraine could be in the place of these families. It just happened that way. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians will be waiting for support and a festive miracle this winter. And I’m sure it will happen. It will happen thanks to the solidarity of caring people, thanks to humanity. We all help and support each other, especially now, during the winter holidays, in a period when even in our darkest times, there is room for a great human miracle.

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