Over nine months after the long-awaited liberation in September 2022, Izium, a city to the south-east of Kharkiv, is on its way to reconstruction and improving the lives of its citizens.
Around three weeks after the de-occupation of Izium in September 2022 and its return to Ukrainian control, quite a few districts of the town got power and heating back. More and more streets and households followed in the next few months.
The winter was rather mild, so even those who were experiencing problems with keeping their homes warm and lit in the most severely damaged districts managed to find solutions.
When commenting on confronting hardships, President Volodymyr Zelenskyi said in one of his supportive addresses to the people of Ukraine: “There light in our hearts will never go out.”
This definitely has been giving the locals hope and strength to move further, especially now that they are liberated and free again.
People can breathe, as almost everyone in Izium explains. It is like getting a second wind in going through the turmoil of these bleak times for Ukraine.
With spring and sunnier warmer weather swinging in, many of the citizens of Izium have returned to their homes to rebuild or make repairs and improvements.
Surely, quite a few of the inhabitants were back to check on their relatives and the conditions of their houses or apartments after the shelling - especially immediately after the liberation of Izium in September and October 2022.
But the return of warmth in 2023 has marked a new wave of people coming back to their homes and families.
A big number of locals of Izium are currently refugees abroad or in other regions of Ukraine. Many of those abroad comment that they dream of returning to Ukraine and doing something to help the city and their country rebuild.
Despite inspiring all the world with Ukrainian bravery and the success of the Armed Force of Ukraine, some Izium citizens doubt it’s safe enough to come back home since the actions of the aggressor are way too unpredictable, manipulative, and immeasurably wicked.
Installed at the end of January, the new air raid siren goes off countless times a day to notify the locals about the possible danger of the shelling. And sadly, it became a part of Izium’s soundscape – just like for the rest of Ukraine.
As the inhabitants of the town explain, it’s impossible to fully get used to that disturbing noise slashing through the air and through minds. Rather, it’s all about accepting the fact – it’s a part of the reality the people of Ukraine are confronting.
Though some of the bomb shelters have been cleaned up and arranged by the citizens and the utility services, there are still more of them needed to keep everyone safe. In wintertime, there were several Centers of Invincibility in the town for people to charge their phones, have hot coffee or tea, and keep warm in case of a blackout.
Now there are more and more Ukrainian and international volunteer centers or organizations and services supported by local authorities which provide a wide range of assistance with fixing homes, getting humanitarian support, and educational or legal advice.
Since the de-occupation, more and more grocery stores and pharmacies have re-opened in different districts of Izium, including the downtown area, which was almost completely destroyed and needed rebuilding the most.
Now they can order necessary items online and pick them up at delivery service centers. Ukrposhta [government postal service] and Nova Poshta [privately-owned delivery facility] fulfill many orders daily.
As for the banks, there are only a few, due to the level of destruction and the lack of buildings with safe and usable conditions. Another reason may be the relative proximity to the front line. Those are also explanations for why it’s taking so long for many businesses to return to the town.
It’s possible to travel to different cities in the Kharkivska and Donetska regions. Kyiv is accessible from Izium by bus, and even more destinations can be reached by train.
There will soon be a new bus route to get to Poland available, too. Locals can get around town thanks to a number of city buses running regularly every day.
Iziuman residents keep their spirits up by commemorating national holidays and important events like Unity Day on January 22, celebrated on the border of the Donetsk and Kharkiv regions where the representatives of many villages and towns of the region were present.
[The official holiday commemorates a century-old reunification of Eastern and Western Ukrainian regions, with its most symbolic tradition being creating human chains across bridges and between towns to show Ukraine is one nation standing together – Ed.]
It’s hard to be in a festive mood in the context of the events, but still, the unity of Ukraine and celebrating it in numerous ways is a guarantee to keep people’s hopes alive and strong.
Though group gatherings are avoided for safety measures, the radio on the main square always plays patriotic songs, and countless buildings, even those almost completely destroyed, are decorated with the National flag as a token of Protection and Dignity.
The local community gets a lot of support from volunteers in Ukraine and from all over the world. With time a system of district representatives – kvartani – was formed, so now the citizens get help in a more organized way and submit their requests if there are special needs for medications or other supplies.
Certain institutions which require immediate reconstruction are in the spotlight. For example, Izium’s local city hospital drew a lot of attention due to its key role in treating patients and the hard work of the local doctors during and after the occupation, amid serious destruction.
This caused an outpouring of support which resulted in several fundraisers – particularly, from the Foundation of Olena Zelenska. The Central Library won a “Working for Victory” grant from “Ukrainian Library Association” to get facilities for providing internet services to the locals.
The Izium Music School and Local History Museum have been working hard to preserve cultural heritage – taking care of musical instruments, museum exhibits and relics – with utmost care and dedication. Both buildings are located on the main street and require more reconstruction to welcome future Leontovyches and art admirers once conditions allow.
[Mykola Leontovych was a Ukrainian composer and ethnomusicologist allegedly murdered by a Soviet agent in 1921. He is most well-known for his composition “Shchedryk,” now a holiday classic called “Carol of the Bells” in the English-speaking world. – Ed.]
The local art school in the other district of Izium is in a better condition but still will need more support and improvement before the students are back.
The support of Izium has taken a creative form too. In autumn 2022, a few buildings in the city center got a new colorful air and were adorned with graffiti.
A big group of artists among which Direct, LBWS_168, Hamlet, and Cultural Forces, an organization uniting creative people from different art fields, and many other graffiti masters presented their creations on the walls of the burned buildings of the town hall, Jubilee restaurant, a kiosk in the Central Park, Kremianets Hill, the WWII Memorial, City Foot Bridge, and many other locations.
There was also graffiti resembling Banksy (UK) spotted on the wall of the WWII monument on Kremianets Hill, though the artist himself didn’t confirm it was his creation.
The story of the Cossack embracing blue and yellow Izium sign graffiti on the burnt town hall building on the main square illustrates how the Ukrainian spirit fights back against aggression in all imaginable forms. The graffiti that brought color and hope to the destroyed-by-fire building was vandalized in November 2022: the tiles it was created on were demolished.
As a response, the artists made a new, even bigger artwork at the top of the building. This is symbolic since once again it portrays the way Ukrainian people confront difficulties - they add more art, they raise their creative work and themselves above all the negative vibes, and they soar in their freedom of expression.
This art flashmob for Ukraine is international.
World-renowned artists like Bansky (UK), TV Boy (IT), Cristian Gemi (FR), and many others have visited Ukraine to support the country and its communities, particularly in the regions and cities that have experienced the most outrageous devastation and aggression.
Art and hope are always Ukraine’s answers on the way to healing and revival. This doesn’t mean we won’t remember the horrors of what sadly is going on.
It emphasizes how we will never forget them and heal the pain through commemorating, creating, and believing in the Victory of Light over the Dark, the Victory in Blue-and-Yellow colors.
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