‘Everything is gone’: liberated Ukrainians on rebuilding Kharkiv | Ukraine

Kateryna Sabadosh looked up at what was once a nine-story building. Its apartments were black shells. An explosion had ripped through the ground floor and turned it into a macabre dollhouse, with someone’s dressing table visible. Windows were broken. Garbage filled the front yard. A zucchini plant grew in the deep crater where a Grad missile landed.

“It is psychologically difficult. The area was once so beautiful,” said Sabadosh, a 63-year-old retiree. She moved to northern Saltivka, an ensemble of high-rise buildings in the city of Kharkiv, back in 1989, when Ukraine was part of the USSR. “There is some nostalgia for the more equal society we had back then, but not for communism,” she said.

Vladimir Putin’s attempt to return Kharkiv to Russia brought disaster to her suburb. Saltivka is located in the northeastern part of the city, next to a busy ring road. Until last month, it was the closest point to territory occupied by Russian troops – and to their mighty artillery. Over the course of six months, Saltivka became synonymous with terror, destruction and death falling from the sky.

Sabadosh said the Kremlin began bombing northern Saltivka in February, at the beginning of the invasion. Enemy armored vehicles tried unsuccessfully to capture Kharkiv. Several bombs hit the district. On March 23, her block of flats off Lesia Serdiuka Street was hit. Part of it burned down. Huge concrete panels collapsed in a cascade.

Kharkiv. Saltivka. A large and peaceful residential area. That’s how it was until Russia came. But no missile will bring the terrorist state closer to its target. Instead, each missile brings Russia closer to international isolation, economic collapse and historical condemnation pic.twitter.com/65TF5qKvrb

— Volodymyr Zelensky (@ZelenskyyUa) 26 September 2022

North Saltivka now looks like the set of an apocalypse movie. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy tweeted photos of the damage. Saltivka was a “large and peaceful residential area … until the Russians came,” he wrote, adding: “No missile will bring the terrorist state closer to its goal.” Instead, Russia would experience “international isolation” and “historic condemnation.”

During the worst of the bombardment, many people moved out. Others moved down the road to the “Hero of Labor” subway station, where for months they lived deep underground, sleeping on the platform and in railroad cars. Earlier last month, the Armed Forces of Ukraine pushed the Russian army out of Kharkiv oblast in a dramatic counteroffensive. The daily shelling of the city finally stopped.

Sabadosh and her neighbor, Vera Gubereva, were standing in line for a free lunch offered by a charity. Most recipients were pensioners. “We need help, from our government, the international community, from anyone, frankly,” said Gubereva, who is 63. She added: “Winter is coming. We don’t have warm clothes, heaters or glasses for our windows. There are many of us living here with nowhere to go.”

In an interview with The Guardian, Kharkiv’s mayor, Ihor Terekhov, acknowledged that some buildings were so badly damaged that they had to be demolished. “The houses we can save, we will save. The ones we can’t, we will demolish,” he said. He added: “We will turn one of them into a war museum so that future generations can see the horror of Russian aggression.”

The city planned to build a new microdistrict nearby, Terekhov said. It would be a modern, energy-efficient development with solar panels and garages that could double as underground shelters. “When Saltivka was built in Soviet times, nobody thought about sustainability. Our goal is to have comfortable, cozy and modern homes,” he said.

British architect Norman Foster had offered to help. In April he published a “Kharkiv Manifesto” and promised to gather the “best minds” to reconstruct Saltivka. They will include “top Ukrainian talents” and international experts in planning, engineering and design. “I speak to Sir Norman via video once a week,” Terekhov said, adding: “I am very grateful to him.”

According to the mayor, the project should attract a “colossal amount of investment”. Large-scale work could only begin when the war was over, he said.

Damage to Oksana Sinko's 16-storey tower block in Saltivka, a suburb of Kharkiv
Damage to Oksana Sinko’s 16-storey tower block in Saltivka, a suburb of Kharkiv.

Another resident of Saltivka, Oksana Sinko, agreed with the mayor that some buildings were beyond repair. Her 16th-floor apartment survived, she said. But the fifth, sixth and seventh floors of her block burned out completely, rendering the structure unsafe. She went before the blaze with a few belongings and her neighbor’s cat, Filomon. Sinko now lives in another part of Kharkiv.

“Everything has gone. From the smallest kiosk that sells bread to the biggest stores. How can they bring it back to life?” she asked. She continued, “Saltivka is on the outskirts of town next to a spring. I associate it with the smell of fresh grass; with water and a river. You have a strong attachment to a place and it becomes a wasteland, devoid of life. It is better to move on.”

Damage to 16-storey tower block in Saltivka, a suburb of Kharkiv
Damage to Oksana Sinko’s 16-storey tower block in Saltivka, a suburb of Kharkiv. Photo: Oksana Sinko

One Saturday last month, a group of young volunteers gathered outside North Saltivka’s school number 165. A projectile had blown a hole in a grassy soccer field. The modern structure was a glass-strewn mess. The helpers repaired a hole in the roof and boarded up the windows on the ground floor with plywood. When it started to rain, they broke off for lunch, put on by the so-called community initiative Edine Dzherelo.

Evgeniya Posledova, an 18-year-old philology student, said they wanted to patch up the school so it wouldn’t collapse during the cold winter months. The government will have to carry out additional renovation work, she said. “We are trying to do something for our children’s future. We want them to come back and study,” she said, adding: “It is voluntary power. None of us knew each other before.”

Life is slowly returning to Kharkiv. Families strolled in the central Shevchenko park under autumn chestnut trees. A banner with the text: “Kharkiv, the city of heroes” hung over Freedom Square. Workers were patching up the ghostly facade of the city’s regional administration building, which was hit on March 1 by a devastating Russian cruise missile. Many surrounding buildings were in ruins.

In an underground place with a bar, a literary festival was in full swing last month, organized by Kharkiv’s most famous writer, Serhiy Zhadan. “The war did not prevent us from holding cultural events. Kharkiv is a great place with great potential. We want to do something positive,” he said. A packed crowd listened to Zhadan and four other panelists discuss the city’s future. All bilingual, they spoke in Ukrainian instead of Russian.

This city is unbreakable. In the middle of the war, just 40 km from the border, in the underground bunker, Kharkiv hosts the 5th literary festival and a discussion about the future of the front line. pic.twitter.com/n8kIPU4FW4

— Maria Avdeeva (@maria_avdv) 25 September 2022

Zhadan acknowledged that Kharkiv residents had previously held different attitudes towards the Ukrainian language and towards the pro-Western government in Kiev. Kharkiv is a predominantly Russian-speaking city. In 2014, when the Kremlin started an uprising in the east, some local people sided with Moscow. An activist from Russia briefly raised the Russian tricolor in the main square.

Overnight, February’s invasion consolidated the patriotic feeling as people sheltered in their basements. There was a collective feeling that Kharkiv was a Ukrainian city. Everyone felt the pull of this identity, Zhadan suggested, regardless of their previous views. “Completely different people, but as it turned out, what united them was the Kharkiv factor. The genius of the city turned out to be quite strong,” he told the festival.

Back in northern Saltivka, Sabadosh showed off the lake where she had taken her grandchildren to feed the ducks. The site was also home to terrapins. Nearby was a playground, now overgrown and deserted. “I have six grandchildren. They would ask me if they could go and play in the sandbox,” she said. “This is not just a place where we live. For us, it is a place of memories.”

Related Posts

Pod Central, St. Leonards-on-sea, East Sussex, review

Sun, sea and sci-fi is not a common combination, but the futuristic and budget-friendly Pod Central makes it work. To find out more about space themed beds…

From Neptune Frost to The Crown: a complete guide to this week’s entertainment | Culture

Goes out: Movie theater Neptune FrostOut nowSaul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman’s electrifying Afrofuturist musical fantasy (above) follows the story of an intersex hacker’s journey to the realm…

25 great gifts for the strictly superfan in your life

We hope you love the products we recommend! All of them were independently selected by our editors. Just so you know, HuffPost UK may collect a share…

The UK’s largest control room to monitor Glasgow’s Bonfire Night

Police, fire and council staff will monitor CCTV together in Glasgow’s control center for the first time.

Edinburgh crime news: Greendykes Road double death sees 65-year-old Ian MacLeod charged with two counts of murder

Ian MacLeod, who lives in the capital, pleaded no contest when he appeared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court charged with two murders. He is due back in court…

Man Utd icon suggests Lionel Messi’s influence played a part in Garnacho’s ‘attitude’ problem

Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes suggested Alejandro Garnacho had apparent ‘attitude’ problems earlier this season and Red Devils hero Paul Scholes has an intriguing theory as to…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *