Ukraine is approaching the New Year with mixed feelings. Zero temperatures and fresh snow that would have been perfect for outdoor games, sledding, and making snow sculptures are turning houses into cold prisons in the first winter since the start of the war. Traditional festivities have been cancelled or modified across the country. And the high spirits vanish fast with the sounds of the air raid sirens, a constant reminder that the war will soon enter its second year. People prepare shelters and insulate houses for planned and emergency power, water and heating cut-offs.
74-year-old Yulia still finds reasons for small joys and gratitude although the recent hardships of the war carved deep into her memory. All her life she has lived in the tiny village of Fedorivka in Kyiv Region. Life has not been easy, but after years of hard work Yulia has established a warm house, a garden and livestock – cows, chickens and a horse – enough to provide for her and have a serene retirement looking after her grandchildren.
Instead, in February 2022, Yulia was forced to hide in a pipe near the pond with her daughter, son, and granddaughter, who just turned one year old. The village was taken by the Russian forces. During a long month under their control, Fedorivka was cut off from the most vital supplies of medicine and food. People were unaware what was going on in Ukraine and could rely only on their stocks.
For the first month of the war the local fish factory gave their stocks away for free, so that people could survive. When a shell hit Fedorivka, the smell of burning and smoke filled the air for many days. A lot of houses – including Yulia’s – were damaged. Buildings that were closer to the place where the missile hit were completely destroyed.
Liudmyla lives within a ten-minute walk from Yulia. The main door of her brick house was knocked together by hand from thin boards; shards of glass lay in the yard.
“It was so painful – columns of military vehicles were constantly moving near my house. I could only pray that my relatives would survive, that nothing would be destroyed. I don’t understand why they cause us so much pain... We are peaceful Ukrainian people, we are on our own land, we have not caused grief and trouble to anyone,” Liudmyla echoes a feeling, shared by many in Ukraine.
After all the sorrows, the re-taking of the village by the Ukrainian Government gave the villagers sense of new hope. They started putting the pieces back together. But elderly people relying on the modest state pension, like families with many children and people with disabilities, couldn't cope on their own. Yulia and Liudmyla replaced their broken windows and door with plywood, but this was a temporary solution. With the onset of the cold weather, Liudmyla started preparing for the worst – even if unbearably cold, she would not leave her land.
Help came in November when IOM’s mobile teams supported 109 families in the Kyiv Region with renovation works. In Yulia’s house, workers installed seven new windows and a metal door and in Liudmyla’s they replaced the broken windows, door and helped to repair the damaged roof. The works were finished just as the first snow began to fall.
Now it’s New Years eve and it’s warm and snug in Yulia and Liudmyla’s houses. Wood – a scarce but precious resource – is burning in the stoves. Yulia shows the stock of firewood and food and says, “come what may, Ukrainians will survive.” At midnight, during the countdown for the start of 2023, there will be only one wish cherished by people in Ukraine in their hearts – to restore peace and leave behind the bitter memories of the brutal war that came to – sometimes over – their doorstep.
IOM data shows that homes of almost half (45%) of all displaced people in Ukraine have been damaged. The lack of financial resources remains the primary barrier (94%) to repairing them. At the same time, despite attacks on power supply and heating systems, only seven per cent of Ukrainians are actively considering leaving their location. Thanks to the funding from the European Union and other donors, IOM can conduct repair works in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv and Dnipro regions severely affected by shelling.