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Ukrainian residents struggle to repair homes destroyed by Russian missiles before winter

I had the privilege of working on a reportage with American writer Kris Parker and captured photographs for it. We were in Borodyanka, Ukraine, a town located around 50 kilometres west of Kyiv. Our aim was to document the plight of elderly residents trying to get their homes back before temperatures plunged below freezing. This town had been destroyed by Russian missiles during the war, and its people were still suffering the consequences.

We were welcomed into the home of Halina Egorovna, a 73-year-old pensioner and resident of Borodyanka. Her one-bedroom apartment was soaked with rainwater, pouring in through the holes in her building’s roof. She had placed buckets, pots, and pans all around the floor to catch the water. Sheets of plastic lined her walls and couch, but they weren’t enough to keep her home dry. “Do you see how we live?” she asked, weeping. “No one helps us, and they only bring promises.”

In Borodyanka, Ukraine, the aftermath of the Russian airstrikes in early March continues to be felt seven months later. I captured the harrowing reality of an entire apartment complex on the brink of collapse. Residents have resorted to using wooden sticks and other makeshift tools to prop up hallway walls and prevent them from crashing down. The windows, roofs, and holding structure of the complex in Neberezhna Street were severely damaged during the bombings in neighbouring apartments, leaving little hope for those wishing to return. As winter approaches, the situation becomes even more dire, with many facing the prospect of enduring the freezing temperatures without adequate shelter. This photo, taken on Saturday, Oct 1, 2022, is a haunting reminder of the ongoing devastation caused by war. (VX Photo/ Vudi Xhymshiti)

Egorovna and her neighbours had been pleading for assistance to repair their damaged building, but government authorities had been slow to respond. With winter approaching, they were growing increasingly anxious that the freezing weather would make their already precarious living situation unbearable.

We soon realized that Egorovna’s predicament was not unique. Homes remained damaged across countless villages and towns in Ukraine, and people with nowhere else to go were facing the prospect of enduring the long winter without adequate shelter. To make matters worse, Russian forces continued to strike Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, creating a situation where millions of people would potentially be without heating amid temperatures that regularly drop below freezing. Despite the government’s efforts to prepare for the cold months by stockpiling gas reserves and developing temporary housing programs, Russia’s destruction of apartments and homes was affecting countless citizens. The elderly and impoverished, unable to move quickly, were most at risk.

Egorovna was deeply worried about the upcoming winter. “I’m very afraid,” she explained while wringing water out of a towel she used to dry her floor. “We’ve asked for help many times, and nothing has happened!”

We learned that Egorovna’s apartment block, number 425A, had been damaged during the Russian assault on her town in late February and early March. Before the war, Borodyanka had a population of roughly 13,000 people. The town had been subject to some of the heaviest Russian bombardments in all of Kyiv Oblast during the initial stages of the February invasion, resulting in the destruction of an estimated 600 buildings and 711 individual apartments. Hundreds more were, and still are, in need of repairs.

At least 156 civilians, including seven children, were killed during the attacks, and 28 more remain missing. At 425A, a state-owned housing block situated between numerous burnt-out and collapsed apartment blocks along the town’s main road, dozens of windows were blown out, interior walls collapsed, and its roof was riddled with holes from Russian artillery and missile strikes exploding nearby.

Olha Kulish, another resident of the building, was worried that the wall separating her neighbour Nina Petrova’s apartment and hers would collapse. “We’ve placed these sticks here to hold up the wall,” she told us. Kulish is a 64-year-old retired veterinarian originally from Kyiv. She is considered a hero in this block after she risked her life to care for eight people during the Russian assault and occupation eight months ago. Braving frequent incoming shelling, Kulish cooked food on an open fire outside the building’s entrance and brought it to her hungry neighbours. When electricity, heating, and water were cut off, Kulish searched the town for supplies to bring to the building’s immobile elderly residents.

The reportage, published in The Nation and VX Pictures, highlights the urgent need for international aid and support for those affected by the conflict. If you’d like to bring this reportage to your audience, please do not hesitate to contact us via [email protected].

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Nightly terror: documenting the human toll of Russian missile attacks in Zaporizhzhia

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