Regions all over Ukraine including the capital, have suffered significant damage throughout the conflict. At the time of the withdrawal of the troops, left behind them devastated zones and distressed populations deprived of essential services – like the need for proper shelter. Ukraine often faces very fierce winters and extreme weather conditions. The affected populations struggle immensely in the presence of winter storms bringing very cold weather fronts, amidst heavy snowfalls and sub-zero temperatures. The need for Improving living spaces in preparation for winter – from small to medium repairs. e.g windows, doors, roofs, and solid fuel for Households is lifesaving.
“I was praying for my home and praying that someone would come to our aid. Without any support, I would have not survived, says Olha.
17/11/2022 – officially the first day of winter in Ukraine. The country woke up to find, today was the start of a new season. There is a general dislike among the population when it comes to winters. Ukraine is known for having some of the fiercest winters, coupled with extreme weather conditions, such as high winds and devastating sub-zero temperatures. Temperatures can potentially reach minus negative twenty Celsius – which is extreme. For those living in the capital Kyiv, with proper heating systems at home(which even for them is unlikely now, since the country’s energy resources are depleting due to the intensifying conflicts), others on the outskirts of the city in remote locations such as Krasne in Chernihiv Region, are struggling in the presence of a fierce winter.
It was a very grey day in the Chernihiv oblast. The scenery changed drastically driving out of the centre in Kyiv to the area of Krasne. The further away you drive from the capital, the more intimidating the landscape gets and the more secluded the area becomes. It was a grey, drizzling morning when the team arrived on site. Destruction was everywhere to be found as we arrived at Krasne, a community comprised mostly of farmers, that inhabits about 1,300 people. There were scenes of the devastation caused by strikes posed by the opposing military forces trying to take administrative control of the area. The scenery is softened by the snow painting the village white, as the night before welcomed a heavy snowfall. Krasne was one of the main hotspots of fighting before the opposition pulled back. While taking it all in, there was a strong sense of sadness in the atmosphere. It was unsettling, having heard of the events that took place here. The quiet and the narrow streets were eerie and lonely. Occasionally, a car would pass by at low speed, but aside from that, there was not a soul to be found walking in the village outside. The Medair team had made the three-hour journey to finalize some paperwork with the community members, after just finalizing rehabilitation work in coordination with a local humanitarian partner, Nukraine. After a couple of household visits with our shelter team and meeting with some of the community members, who were awfully grateful for the support, I arrived at Olha’s house. At first glance, from the outside, it was a small yellow house with blue painted beams, mirroring the exact colors of the Ukrainian flag. I could see the snow was resting on a well-established roof, as the new glass of the windows was sweating from warmth on the inside.
One of the Medair shelter team engineers, Danylo, stood at the front door and called out a few times with no response. He kept calling until eventually, a voice in the distance responded back welcoming us into the yard. A narrow pathway, passing by a hen house with some chickens, roosters, and ducks, lead us to the back of the house where Olha, 92 years old, an elderly woman with frail and white hair, and her son Mikhael, 69 years old, watched the team walk up, while they were picking potatoes and cabbage from their barn. They didn’t say a word until Danylo introduced himself. We were welcomed very warmly by Olga and her son Mikhael. It was freezing out, so Olha offered to take us inside, where it was warm. After some chatter, we waited for Danylo to finalize his paperwork, and then we sat down with Olha in her room for a brief chat. The bedroom was covered with patterned curtains, with different kinds of flowers and complex breathtaking motifs. Photos of people’s faces in frames covered the top area near the ceiling. The chairs had small sewn cushions with similar patterns on them. Judging by the surprised look on the team’s face, Olha, moving around some pillows says, “Oh yes, it’s an old hobby of mine. I took the first step when I was 12 years old and immediately found joy in sewing. It’s been 10 years since I last sewed. Unfortunately, getting old has its disadvantages too – I cannot sew anymore, because of my reduced vision. But winters were my favorite, we used to call it sewing season” she says reliving happy moments.
After taking a breath, Olha continues, “I am 92 years old – I am as old as this house,” she says proudly in Ukrainian as she giggles. “I was born here in Krasne and I’ve lived here all my life. There was never a need to travel anywhere else. We’re farmers and we live off the land. What more could I need? I was married at a very young age. My husband, God rest his soul, brought me here to this home. He passed away 39 years ago, and every day, I miss him much more than the day before. When you grow older, you always hold onto what is pure – our love was pure. A good nobleman he was. Since my husband’s passing, I’ve been living here with my only son, Mikhael” she says looking at him proudly, the only living memory of her husband. My son and I are very fortunate to be sitting here with you today” she says with a humbling smile.
After a brief pause, Olha continued “One night, Mikhael and I were at home. It had been a very long day of working in the field. I was making dinner as we were having our neighbors over for the evening. Outside was dark and quiet. We didn’t have electricity, so we were using candles to light our home. I remember feeling quite unsettled as I was cooking. My mind was filled with a flood of thoughts about everything I had heard earlier about the conflict and the missile and artillery strikes. It was all everyone was talking about. The fear of it happening made my stomach churn. I had gone into my bedroom to grab my coat as I was feeling chilly” she says as she paused for a bit as if she was trying to recall that night correctly. As she gathered her strength, she repeated and continued, “I grabbed my coat and put it on. I was walking back to the kitchen, and what I had feared was coming, was here. The explosion happened in an instant. I felt only a heavy push from the side and then all went black. The sound was indescribable – as if you could hear the large blocks of flying concrete shrapnel, upward and outward, crushing whatever was on the other side. The impact was so significant, I was thrown to the floor, and I was covered in glass. My son, fearing for my life was yelling out to me. Dust particles filled the house, though I cannot see, I could hear him” she says as her eyes teared recalling the experience. She continued, “I still hear the sounds in my head sometimes – it is frightening. I will wake up in the middle of the night in a panic if I hear loud sounds. After that evening, we went and stayed over at our neighbor’s house for some time, before returning to our home. We couldn’t be alone, and they couldn’t either. We had covered the windows with plastic sheets temporarily. We knew it wasn’t a long-term solution, but the nights here are cold, and winter was coming. It was better than nothing. I was afraid of the coming winter. It would be freezing inside our home, and I would think to myself, how was I going to keep warm? I am old and my body is weary, so I was afraid for my life. Also, I am very attached to my home because my husband loved it – it is our home, and I didn’t want to leave it. I was praying day and night for my home and praying that someone would come to our aid. Without any support, I would have not survived. The most important feeling now is that I feel safe again” she says with a grateful smile on her face.
Medair, in coordination with a local humanitarian partner, Nukraine, conducted shelter rehabilitation for seventeen families affected by conflict in Kranse. Repairs of household shelters, including weatherproofing and repairs, and improvements to apartment buildings in the area. Winterization activities included fixing windows, doors, and roofs to provide safety, security, and warmth in preparation for winter. Medair provided Olha and Mikhael with new glass for all their windows and fully replaced their roof in preparation for the winter. Olha and Mikhael can now safely spend the winter season, keeping warm inside their home.
Medair services in Ukraine are funded by Mission East, PMU, Swiss Solidarity (CdB), Cedar and The New Humanitarian.
This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organization.