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EXCLUSIVE in-depth War in Ukraine Chernihiv Recovery

Rebuilding Bombed Out Homes and Cities: Chernihiv (Video)

Despite ongoing military operations, two and a half years of war, and inevitable red tape, more than 50 percent of the region’s buildings have already been restored.

Jul. 2

Rebuilding devastated infrastructure and homes is one of Ukraine’s key problems. Many cities are still in ruins. However, from the very first days of the full-scale war, volunteers from many countries have been helping Ukraine’s recovery effort. And a program of state funding for restoration has been working for a year now.Yet many people don’t bother to wait for compensation to be allocated to them; they repair and renovate their houses on their own.

Kyiv Post is heading to Chernihiv, a city in northern Ukraine that held off and pushed back Russian forces moving toward Kyiv in March 2022.

The city was thoroughly bombed and many private houses and apartment buildings were destroyed. Active military operations took the lives of several hundred residents.

Some of the destroyed buildings have already been repaired, like this house – which was done at the city’s expense.

Collage from "Khamarochos"

The neighboring building, where a Russian aerial bomb killed 47 people, has not yet been clear away. It’s the site of a war crime; so before it’s cleared, an investigation must be completed.

On the border with Russia, the Chernihiv region and city are constantly being shelled.

Photo by

The last major strike on the city was in May. We speak to one of the leaders of the rescue teams. He says the first stage is the analysis of the targeted site. That’s what they did with the Hotel Ukraina in the center of the city.

“Our job is to remove some dangerous parts of the roof, walls that may fall; there may be windows that may pose a danger to people. We’re approached by people who suffered from artillery attacks. The population applies for assistance, and we help in the analysis of buildings. No two buildings are the same. I came here and removed this slab. Each case is individual. In this building we found people who were in the basement. They were crushed by a stairwell in this building. And when we tried to clear it, pieces of the building fell on our heads, which complicated the process,” Oleksandr Pryhara, Deputy head of emergency service unit in Chernihiv, said.

According to the head of the Regional Administration, Vyacheslav Chaus, there are more than 10,000 affected sites in the region. But the pace of recovery over the past two years is also impressive – more than half of the damaged or destroyed sites have been restored.

“We have sad statistics on destroyed and damaged housing. Today there are more than 14,100 sites. Unfortunately, the number is growing. The enemy is firing at the border strip, and there are missile attacks on Chernihiv. Eighty percent of all buildings, approximately 12,500 properties are housing. Today, a solid 52-53 percent of them have already been restored, both housing and infrastructure, and another 22-23 percent are in the recovery stage,” Chaus said.

One example of how this happens is the village of Novoselivka, a suburb of Chernihiv. In the spring of 2022, there were powerful battles here – Russian troops tried to break into the city from the east. Then the village looked like this, and now the same area looks like.

Photo by Natalia Makiyenko

Local resident Natalia Makiyenko breeds Scottish Fold cats. Two years ago, a Russian aerial bomb blew out one of the walls of her house and broke the windows. Some of the cats died. But she rebuilt the house, which now looks like this.

She says that the village council helped repair the roof, but the lion’s share of assistance came from the state program “e-Restoration.” She received $5,000 for repairs.

“I applied through Diia [online government service], and everything was very fast. Elementary, the photos were uploaded, and two weeks later the commission came, evaluated what was more important to do. We have a roof covered with village council’s sheet metal, the wood we picked up, the drywall was given to people who needed plywood. e-Restoration is a state program, and municipalities give separately,” Natalia said.

The house’s exterior has been rebuilt, but she’ll carry out interior work with her own money. She also had to do some work with her own money because the state program covers only what the contractor issues an official receipt for, and many construction teams work off the books.

“You receive an amount in you e-Restoration account, and you spend it on materials and labor, but only in retail networks that work with this program, plus labor – you have to pay people. Organizations are expensive, so we hired guys who were cheaper, but they don’t write receipts, and this is a problem, so we took more materials, but we paid the workers ourselves,” Natalia said.

The process looks like this: you fill out an application on the site, add a photo of the house, and a special commission evaluates how much your house or apartment has been damaged. Then it allocates funds. In Chernihiv alone, according to Chaus, this mechanism was used for a billion hryvnias ($25 million). Natalia and her neighbors approve of the state program. They say it’s effective. But there are also difficulties, such as those faced by Oleksandr, resident of a high-rise building on the outskirts of Chernihiv, which was hit by an aerial bomb.

Now this building is uninhabitable. Olexandr will never forget those days of March 2022.

“On March 12 in the evening, I went to my parents, and in the morning, I already heard at 5 a.m. a plane that dropped 5-6 bombs on the city. In the morning, when I went to the Regional Hospital for procedures, I saw smoke here, and when the hospital had internet, I saw that there was a direct hit on my house. And it’s good that I went to my parent’s house, because if I had stayed, I would have died right in the apartment. Unfortunately, this is what happened to my family and my neighbors. There was a direct strike on them, and the concrete slabs fell all over the place,” Oleksandr said.

What creates problems for Oleksandr and many of his neighbors is the fact that none of them is the sole owner of their block of apartments. And the state assistance program provides for the allocation of compensation to one specific owner.

“I did not receive compensation. It was joint property, and applications from all co-owners are required. I don’t know where to look for other owners. One of them is abroad, one family died, I don’t know where the heirs are. In another apartment, there was a man who rented from the owners, and where the owners are is unknown for me,” Oleksandr said.

The problem of joint ownership is a common one, the head of the administration admits. Moreover, not all commissions know what to do about it.

“Today, the main problem is chaos in property documents. And without them, the commission doesn’t work. It slows the work of commissions in some communities and in Chernihiv itself, because there’s a flood of applications, and several hundred are overdue,” Chaus said.

Some don’t expect compensation, so they take up the task themselves. Like Oleksandr from the suburbs of Chernihiv. A Russian bomb hit his house and left nothing of it.

“It got to the very center of the house; there was smoke here. The next morning I came – there were ashes where the house was,” the man said.

Photo by Oleksandr Yaschenko

But he didn’t give up. He started to make the rounds and in two years built a new farmstead with his own hands.

“Village administration and volunteers gave us blocks, we paid for unloading, for a crane, then I poured a new foundation with my money, I laid the rebar – also out of my own pocket. Some of the cement, they gave us. Last year I put up the walls of the house. Just today, I finished one roof gable. Today I’m starting the next one,” Oleksandr said.

Overall, thanks to consolidated efforts, many people have received housing. Some have rebuilt, some have received ready-made houses, and some live in temporary modular housing – but the process is underway.

This is most clearly seen in the village of Yahidne, which became infamous for its concentration camp, set up here by the Russian invaders. They drove almost all 400 villagers into the basement of the school and kept them there for a month. Ten of them died, recalls Ivan, one of those who were locked up here.

“In that corner, a one-and-a-half-month-old baby screamed and cried constantly; the mother must have lost her milk. We asked them to go outside so that the baby could get some fresh air, the baby was dying, and they answered – ‘It’s war! What did you expect? If she dies, let her die, there will be fewer of you here.’ Ten people died here; people got to the point where they just couldn’t stand it,” the man recalls.

The head of the community, Olena Shvydka, says that there was not a single intact house in the village. Now we can see new roofs everywhere; many new houses have been handed over by the Latvian government, and much is still being done right before our eyes.

But she says it’s still a long way off.

“According to the presidential program, houses should have insulation. No house is finished 100 percent. Some are plastered, but not painted. But they’re stuck. I’m very concerned about the problem of destroyed housing. Because people should live in their homes. Latvia provided us with materials for six houses, we handed them over to people, and volunteers rebuilt them. But these are just boxes,” she said.

The head of the community says that they are deepening cooperation with both Latvia and the United States to not only complete the restoration but also help people with the interior decoration of apartments.

The head of the region also notes the importance of international assistance – he says that the role of volunteers from different countries was huge.

“International support is extremely high right now. And this applies to both housing and social institutions. If I’m not mistaken, about 20 international organizations help restore housing and social infrastructure. But they really help, it’s not just talk,” Chaus said.

Everyone perseveres and continues their work. Natalia keeps breeding cats in the restored house.

Oleksandr says that he hopes for additional assistance from his neighbors.

“I’m a builder myself. I understand a little bit. If I don’t understand something, it’s better to ask for help from my neighbors,” the man says.

And in Yahidne, the school that Russian soldiers turned into a concentration camp will be turned into a museum. They will leave everything here as it was – two years ago.

“There will be no educational institution here; there should be a place of memory. So that the whole world that comes, and the Ukrainians who did not survive the occupation, can see what our neighbors have done. The basement is the history of our village, the history of Yahidne. It should remain as it is,” Shvydka said.