Ukraine’s Herculean task: helping millions whose homes are in ruins or in Russian hands

LONDON. After leaving her home in eastern Ukraine, Anna Obuzhevanna, 71, gave the keys to a neighbor to water the blooming cyclamen on her balcony, thinking she would be back in just a few weeks.

Three months later, she is still sleeping with her two sons in a room in an old church building in the city of Pavlograd in central Ukraine. Returning home, the rocket destroyed her bedroom, the soldiers destroyed her piano, and the city is in the hands of the Russians.

“I’m sitting in someone else’s damp room. I’m wearing someone else’s sweater, the dishes are not mine, I’m sleeping on someone else’s bed. Outside the window, too, everything is alien. I miss my home so much,” she said. “But I will never go back there if there are Russian occupiers.”

RS. Obuzhevanna and her family are among more than 10 million Ukrainians driven from their homes—about a third of the population whose cities are now cratered ruins, in occupied territory or at gunpoint.

Some five million Ukrainian refugees fled west across borders into the European Union, a migration across the continent not seen since World War II, but another humanitarian crisis has changed lives inside Ukraine: the lives of millions of people who, like Ms. asylums in other parts of the country.

Ukraine faces the most difficult task of helping them.

The country is struggling to fight off a formidable aggressor who has just captured one province and is moving to capture another without fear of heavy losses on both sides. He is trying to cope with a devastating economic crisis, with the cost of reconstruction alone estimated at $750 billion. And all this time, when the outcome of the war is unknown, Ukraine needs to somehow help the millions of displaced people either return to their homes or find completely new ones.

Most internally displaced people now come from the country’s east, especially from the Donbas region, where the Russian offensive has already stripped the land of about half of the pre-war population. On Wednesday, Russia continued shelling the cities of the Donetsk region, including Slavyansk and Bakhmut, in pursuit of its own goals. campaign to capture the rest of the Donbass.

Thanks to this progress, more people are forced to leave their homes every day, just to survive. Ukraine’s regional military government said at least five civilians had been killed in Russian bombing raids in the province in the past 24 hours.

With no diplomatic solution to the war in sight, despair is growing among the displaced. With each passing day, as more and more cities turn into the conditions of Mariupol, a southern city torn apart by weeks of Russian siege, many are becoming more worried that there may be nowhere to return to at all.

Part of the territory in which the war in the east is being played out has been fought for many years. In 2014, pro-Kremlin separatists proclaimed two self-proclaimed republics there.

Now, many people displaced by the invasion fear that their lands will never return to Ukrainian control and disagree about what they would do if they did. Some say they will still find a way to return. Others insist they would rather lose everything than live under Russian control.

Most understand that even if Ukraine regains their hometowns, the scorched-earth tactics of the Russian military will be little more than dust and debris.

Boarding trains and buses, civilians poured from cities and towns across eastern Ukraine, fleeing to relative safety in the west and in the capital, Kyiv. Some left in humanitarian aid convoys, moving along treacherous roads under the threat of shelling and shelling. Others left on foot, literally fleeing.

“Now there are no schools, hospitals, enterprises,” says Vladislav Obuzhevanny, madam. The son of Obuzhennaya, who lived in Rubizhne, a city that, together with the Lugansk province, was captured by Russia. “Now it’s a dead city.”

His office was destroyed by Russian artillery and he expressed the hope that his apartment was also destroyed so that it would not fall into the hands of the enemy.

mr. The shoed one is haunted by memories of breakfasts in a bright, warm apartment.

“I want to forget better so that the memories do not hurt me,” he said. “It hurts to remember how much love I put into this.”

With a meager government subsidy, Mr. Shotgun and his mother could not afford to rent a house. They call the old church building they stayed in “the chicken coop,” but the building provided to them by the local priest was the only free option available to them.

Shelters appeared in public buildings. Gyms and university dormitories have been refurbished, and some modular homes have been built. The majority of internally displaced persons, as well as refugees abroad, are women and children, and many of them face shortages of food, water and basic necessities. according to the UN. According to UN experts, the lack of international assistance has further drained local resources.

“The state was not prepared for such a scale of displaced persons in many areas,” Vitaliy Muzychenko, Deputy Minister of Social Policy of Ukraine, told a press conference this week.

Many Ukrainians were also unprepared and were only able to take what they needed when they fled.

When the war began, some packed only their papers and a handful of belongings, hoping to return soon. Parents who were at the front and could not leave because of work in the army or in essential enterprises sent their unaccompanied children west, in the care of their teachers. Others simply ran as the bombs fell around them, with their clothes on their backs.

In eastern Ukraine, the uncertainty of war was already painfully familiar in communities where conflict has raged for eight years between pro-Russian forces and Ukrainian forces.

Ukrainians could never be sure when the violence would break out, how long it would last, and when they could return if they had to flee. Some gave instructions to relatives or friends to feed the pets they left behind. Some have forgotten the tools to start repairs as soon as they get back.

But this time, many fear that this will never happen and have begun to try to adjust to this new reality.

Oksana Zelinskaya, 40, director of a kindergarten in Kherson, a southern city now occupied by Russian troops, ran away from home in April with her children, a colleague, and her colleague’s children. Her husband stayed and she would like to return, but at least now she is staying in the west for her children.

RS. Zelinska began volunteering in the community kitchen she used when she first arrived, peeling potatoes and preparing meals for the dozens of people who come daily. “When we got here, I needed to do something,” she said. “It was difficult and I didn’t want to sit and get depressed.”

In Pavlograd, the city of Obuzhevanna misses riding a bike home out of town and tending his tidy garden surrounded by fruit trees. But recently, near her “chicken coop” at home in the church, she found a square of uncleaned land.

Now she has managed to plant tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, onions and zucchini. Being reminded of her old routine “relieves me a bit of sadness,” she said. But she said, “I’m gradually getting used to it.”