Broken Houses, Unbroken Spirits: Supporting displaced people with documentation
Maria, 66, is from the city of Kharkiv in north-eastern Ukraine. It was one of the first big cities, which came under heavy bombardment in the first days of the Russian full-scale invasion due to its proximity to the Russian border. Eighteen months after, Kharkiv remains exposed to regular shelling with many residential buildings and civilian infrastructure damaged and destroyed.
Maria’s home is among thousands of others in Ukraine that were razed to the ground.
“As we ran to the basement, my husband grabbed a folder with documents, but later, when we opened it, we found only useless pieces of paper”, Maria recalls. “I really miss my home. Everything was burned down; I have nothing left. We had just completed renovations, bought new furniture, a refrigerator, and a washing machine. And now everything is gone. Even my daughter’s wheelchair was burned – only the frame remained.”
With her husband and her two daughters, Maria moved to a collective centre in Kharkiv, where the family could receive assistance.
Svitlana, 55, has already been displaced twice; first from Donetsk in 2014, and then from Kupiansk in Kharkiv oblast in 2022, where she had bought a small house with the money she had saved. Hoping that the war would end quickly, Svitlana waited until the last minute, when it became too dangerous, and her elderly mother asked to be taken to a safe place where there was no fighting.
Their house was heavily damaged by shelling: windows and doors were shattered; the roof and ceiling were broken. They finally left Kupiansk, a town located less than 10 kilometres from the frontline in eastern Ukraine, on 29 October 2022. Together with her mother, they found temporary accommodation in a sanatorium near Kharkiv. There, after just two months, her mother passed away. Svitlana then moved again and now lives in a collective centre for other displaced people in Kharkiv.
Both Svitlana and Maria lost their houses and legal documents due to heavy shelling, which has become a major challenge for many people. Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, millions of people have been displaced and hundreds of thousands of homes have been destroyed. To help people apply for the compensation of destroyed or damaged properties, the Ukrainian authorities introduced a platform called eVidnovlennia.
UNHCR’s local partner Right to Protection stepped in and provided legal support to Maria and Sviltlana.
Legal specialists helped Maria to restore a property certificate for her destroyed apartment. She is now in the process of collecting the necessary documents to apply for compensation while she continues living in a collective centre in Kharkiv with her family.
Svitlana received legal assistance to file an application for compensation for her damaged property and she received payment. Now she dreams of a moment when it will be safe for her to return home. “Although I don’t feel at home anywhere,” she adds sadly.
Since the beginning of 2023, around 450,000 people received legal consultations from UNHCR partners.