Rising to the challenge of war: uprooted Ukrainians make fresh start — Geneva Solutions
By Geneva Solutions
In this project we’ve called “Ukraine Stories”, Ukrainian journalists write about the harsh living conditions and realities that the Russian invasion has inflicted on them. We cannot always verify the events described in their articles, but their short reports and feature stories describe a country in the turmoil of war.
The following article describes how a group of people of various backgrounds, including the author, has already started to adapt to new conditions, morally and physically. They are now far from their homes, creating more comfortable living conditions for themselves and helping the community they live in. By Alla Pavliuchenko
A month ago, we were happy to just run away from where the shooting was, and it did not matter where or in what housing. From a comfortable 60 square metres for two in Kyiv to an abandoned one-bedroom apartment on the edge of the world for eight of us — five adults and three children.
A month ago, we just sat and waited for it to end, and nobody wanted to start all over again. Everyone had a job and a career for years and decades, and the war nullified everything. Most daily activities have been suspended.
At this stage of the war, people began to adapt, to arrange their lives and, if necessary, to move again, (I have moved three times). The main problem appeared to be finding resources for living and doing work they would not have undertaken in peacetime.
This story is about me, (a journalist), a web designer, a dentist, and a director. We wanted to help ourselves and our host country by at least paying taxes. So we decided to open a coffee shop from scratch.
Could people from Kyiv, the capital, also work with their hands? This question has been following me for a week. We have been painting walls and boards for a week now.
My future husband, (here, I run a little ahead), has been sanding boards for the last four days. Yesterday he was unloading crushed stone. This has all been taking place in the downtown area of what was, until recently, a small resort — Mykulychyn, in the west of the country. Today it is a kind of Mecca for immigrants — from Kharkiv, Sumy, Zaporizhzhia, and, of course, Kyiv, where we came from.
“Us” is a rather diverse company including dentist Ihor, Olena, the director of two Kyiv clinics and their three children, (their story is a perfect illustration of the tough choice many families have had to make between going or staying at home).
Let’s go back to our group. On the first day of the war, we all gathered together in Olena and Ihor’s apartment. On the same day, we decided to stick together under any circumstances. We did not break this promise.
Together we left our homes, our beloved capital, and roamed Ukraine seeking permanent shelter. First, we went to a small town in the Vinnytsia region, then we spent a month in Transcarpathia.
The adults among us currently paint walls, saw boards, and wash shop windows in a kind of aquarium — a room similar to a glass box. It sometimes gives us a feeling that we are little fish.
At least three times a day — a local visits us to see this “miracle”: Kyivans working with their bare hands.
However, we are more like the “homeless” than “city slickers” at such moments.
It is worth saying that you can barely call us Kyivans. We all went to the capital searching for a better life when we were younger, and everyone did their best to make this dream more accessible.
There was one moment when we first opened the door of our temporary residence in Rakhiv, Transcarpathia.
Olena burst into tears. They were tears of despair. Everything she did in her life was to escape this poorness — torn walls, fungus in the bathroom, a broken toilet. So that her children don’t grow up in this poverty.
Together with her husband they had built two clinics, hired the best personnel, and bought the best equipment. They had invested all their money in the development of the business. There was almost no money left, and they borrowed here and there to pay off debts. Again and again. But they were able to buy a car and found money for a babysitter for their little one.
In a week, we were able to create at least more or less suitable conditions in this flat: we painted the kitchen and the bathroom, neutralised the fungus in the rooms, and bought curtains, dishes, and tablecloths.
When we could finally go to the toilet without a gag reflex and take a bath without fear of catching an infection — it was time to think about what to do next.
What could we do? Simply surviving on savings is not the best option. First off, stuck within four walls, people who used to work 24/7 will go crazy. Second, those savings will drain away soon. We needed to find a way to make money.
And the option was found. After several stages of negotiations, our “family” council finally made a decision and set up a coffee shop.
The work began
Yes, we needed money to start from scratch. Investing and not making a profit was our biggest fear, given that we are all unemployed, (hopefully temporarily).
We had practically abandoned this idea, taking into account all the risks, if it hadn’t been for Olena. She said that someone should take overall responsibility, and it would be her. Since then, from time to time, we call her the director.
Olena found us commercial premises — the same “aquarium” where we spend 12 hours a day. We made decorations ourselves. We found the appropriate equipment — a coffee machine, refrigerators, and shop windows. The surveyor assembled a bar counter from boards; the dentist fixed the shelves. The web designer created a signboard. Our director — the owner of the clinic, mixed paint, looking for a perfect colour match. The journalist — that is me, got on her knees and painted boards.
Now entrepreneurs from the country’s east are planning to open a shop near our “aquarium.” On the other side of the street, Kharkiv people sell sweets from a car. Meanwhile, our favourite online stores send messages one by one: we are reopening.
We will win this war. By force — thank you to our defenders. And the spirit of our people. Putin’s plan to demoralise us did not work, and it turned out the other way around. Ukrainians have accepted the fact that we are at war. They started doing what they had never done before and what, until recently, they could not even think about. And they became stronger. We definitely will win this war.