In a small town on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, the strumming of a guitar can be heard from the street.
This town on the riverbank,
Like a flash of magical torches,
Warms the soul like the flame of a candle,
It’s called simply… simply Makariv
On the other side of the garden gate, 65-year-old retired teacher, Volodymyr, hits the song’s chorus with the zeal and ease of a seasoned professional. He wrote this song as part of a local competition to find the ‘anthem’ of his hometown, Makariv. He won first prize.
Volodymyr’s sense of pride in his hometown is hard to miss. He grew up here, attended the local school, and later became a history teacher at the very same school. He now volunteers as a music instructor, sharing his love for writing and for music with the young people of Makariv.
His retirement, however, isn’t quite how he had imagined it would be. When the full-scale invasion of Ukraine started in late February 2022, his first reaction was to stay and protect his home. But as neighbours started to leave, his family persuaded him to do likewise, and so, they fled temporarily to a safer part of the country.
When they came back some months later, Volodymyr was met with a sight that remains etched on his mind. ‘My soul was crying when I saw my house. Our neighbour’s house was hit by a missile, and the blast blew in our windows and doors. The roof was also badly damaged. It was surreal, like a Hollywood film. The place needed urgent repairs if we were to be able to live here again’.
Local volunteers and the people of Makariv have provided incredible support to one another over the past months. Over 2,500 homes were badly damaged or destroyed when rockets and missiles rained down on this community. Civilian infrastructure was also badly impacted.
In the face of these many challenges, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, local authorities and volunteers are working around the clock to help families stay in their homes this winter.
UNHCR provided Volodymyr with made-to-order windows and new slates for his roof so that he and his family could stay warm in their home as the temperatures plummet to below zero. Volodymyr, his brother-in-law and local volunteers were able to undertake the works themselves. ‘I have lived in this community all my life; we have learnt how to do most housing repairs and other odd jobs between us.’
‘We had no heating. My former students fundraised online to purchase a new heater’ he says, pointing to an electric heater alongside crates of onions and potatoes from his vegetable patch.
The home repairs have brought a sense of relief to Volodymyr who describes his home as ‘his paradise’. Back in the heart of the community he has known all his life, he is doing his best to carry on, focusing on songwriting and completing minor works.
In a bedroom at the back of the house, he proudly holds up a blue CD case ‘This is my latest album. My wife thinks I am mad to spend my money on these things, but I don’t mind’ he grins.
This is the bedroom of Volodymyr’s late mother, who passed away on 21 December 2020. Pointing to a black line through this date on a calendar hanging on the wall, he sighs ‘A woman is a planet for a man, but his mother, well, she is his galaxy’.
This house represents far more than four brick walls and a roof for this family. It represents a lifetime of memories with loved ones. And it represents hope for the period ahead.
That’s why UNHCR, as part of its winterization response, has prioritized the repair and insultation of some 8,200 houses in Kyivska, Chernihivska and Sumska Oblasts when the security situation improved after the oblasts were retaken by the Government. UNHCR also provides cash and other in-kind assistance. And as intensive missile attacks and shelling continues in eastern and southern regions of the country, and attacks against critical infrastructure are affecting the whole of Ukraine, being able to stay warm in your own house and in dignified conditions, surrounded by your local community, also strengthens one’s psychological resilience and provides hope for the future.
Despite loss and hardship, Volodymyr’s energy and spirit are remarkable. And playing his guitar in his newly repaired home is helping with this healing, one note at a time.
‘Everything here is painfully familiar to me. I found happiness and destiny here.’
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