November 28, 2023

Borodianka, Ukraine (AFP) – Valentina Klimenko is trying to return home as late as possible to avoid the darkness of her war-ravaged home outside the Ukrainian capital. She visits friends, goes to the well to get water, or is looking for a place to charge her phone.

Then 70-year-old Klamenko returns alone to an apartment that was noisy and full of life. Now she is greeted by gloomy and damp rooms instead of the voices of her grandchildren.

Klymenko rarely cooks. She drinks fruit compote and eats canned tomatoes, which she prepared last year, so as not to waste gas on her portable stove. She goes to bed quickly, but cannot sleep for long.

Her thoughts revolve around one question: “What will happen to my house?”

Russian forces withdrew from the area around Kiv in late March. But they left behind 16,000 damaged apartment buildings in the Bucha region, where Borodinka is located, according to the head of the Kyiv regional administration, Oleksiy Kuleba.

The most damaged street was Tsentralna Street in Borodyanka, a town of over 12,000 inhabitants that was still called Lenin Street less than a decade ago. One of the houses on this street belongs to Klimenko.

Shock from a Russian air strike that witnesses said hit the building across the street with two bombs that caused a fire in a five-storey apartment building in Klimenko.

Apartments on the upper floors of the Klymenko building were burnt. Four months later, there is no electricity, no water, no gas. Some residents lost everything and ended up on the street with no way to find a new home.

“I had a sofa here and armchairs here. But now there are only the springs,” said Titiana Solohope, pointing to the blackened walls of her house. There were only two small enamel mugs left and the suffocating smell of ash.

The burned-down Solohub apartment is located a few floors above Klymenko’s. They moved into the building at the same time 36 years ago, when it had just been built.

“And now, at 64, I find myself forced to be homeless,” Solhop said. Unlike Klymenko, she does not even have a ruined apartment to live in. It has completely disappeared.

Solohub now lives in a camp for displaced people made of shipping containers. It was founded in Borodyanka with the support of the Polish and Ukrainian governments. There are other such camps in the Kyiv and Lviv regions. It has become a popular way to offer a home to people who cannot return to their homes.

257 people – 35% of them elderly – live in the Borodinka camp. Kostiantyn Morozko, representative of the Bucha district military department and coordinator of the shipping container camp, said he expects to add two containers for 160 people this month. But even this is not enough. He has 700 families waiting.

Morozko expects the temporary camp to continue into the fall, winter and spring. He believes there is a 90% chance that people will survive until then. The first cold weather is expected in early September.

The camp residents are adapting to the idea of ​​a long stay. They bring a bouquet of fresh flowers to the communal kitchen every two days, shelves are filled with belongings, and tables in their “private” rooms are covered with colorful tablecloths.

But the living conditions of the elderly are difficult. Solohub shares a small, narrow room with plastic walls with two other people. There are not many things on her shelf. She had no chance of saving her belongings.

Because of the summer heat, it is difficult for her to stay in her temporary home all day. So she often goes to rest in a small garage with metal walls and without windows near her house.

“I have a private space in this garage, and nobody bothers me. I can’t breathe in this plastic house,” Solohub said. “We want our homes back so we have a place to invite our children and grandchildren.”

Klymenko is glad that her apartment has not completely burned down. But she does not know when her granddaughter and grandchildren will return again. They left for Lithuania in the early days of the Russian invasion. There, Klimenko’s granddaughter managed to find housing and work.

“It is complicated for children in Lithuania. They do not know the language. It is difficult for them in school. It is difficult for them in kindergarten. It is difficult not to be in your country. But where can they go back?” asked Klimenko with tears in her eyes.

She was also in Lithuania for several months after being evacuated from her basement the day after the fire in her building. Among the few things she took with her was her grandson’s blanket, which she used to protect herself from the cold.

But Klymenko felt uncomfortable outside Ukraine, so she returned to the only place where she could at least partially recover her past life.

She and her neighbor now live on the same floor in the five-story building. It is bearable in summer, but the cold of autumn will be difficult. Her grandson’s blanket lay near her bed.

“I’m staying. I will stay. I don’t know what will happen next,” Klimenko said.


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