Young Ukrainians offer their time to clean up abandoned homes and make the experience enjoyable.



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switch to caption NPR’s Pete Kiehart NPR KOLYCHIVKA, Ukraine — Pete Kiehart Apples that Hanna Yurchenko just gathered from the trees next door are in a basket. One of the first cool days of fall is a cloudy afternoon.

The 66-year-old distributes apples to workers piling the wreckage into metal buckets as she wanders around the perimeter of what was once her home, which was devastated to its foundation by numerous missile attacks on March 7.

She continues, her eyes welling with sorrow, “I’m retired and I can’t handle this cleanup myself.” I’m just very appreciative of these kids.
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switch to caption NPR’s Pete Kiehart NPR’s Pete Kiehart There are a dozen people in their 20s and 30s removing debris when she refers to “kids.” Despite the gloomy surroundings, the atmosphere is upbeat thanks to techno music blasting from a Bluetooth speaker with workers dancing and laughing.

They work as volunteers with Repair Together, a sizable group of friends that raises funds to send buses full of young people from all around Ukraine to villages that have been wrecked so they can help residents clean up their houses.

After seven months of battle, organizers say a secondary goal is to reestablish a sense of community.
They are currently in Kolychivka, a village close to Chernihiv in the north, which Russia bombed early on in the conflict.

As he fills buckets with waste to be carried away, Roman Tarasiuk, 27, dances on a trailer that is parked outside. In Kyiv, he worked for a significant educational corporation, but when the war broke out, he was fired.

In Ukraine, volunteering has assimilated into daily life. All of us simply want to feel productive, he claims.

switch to caption NPR’s Pete Kiehart NPR’s Pete Kiehart The 20-year-old Viktoria Sitovska moves to the music while digging close by. She was raised in Germany but was born in Ukraine. She has returned to Ukraine during school breaks to assist ever since the war started.

She claims that the celebratory ambiance is essential.
We all experience wrath and other negative feelings right now. We can continue working since listening to music keeps us in balance, she claims.

That concept gave rise to the cleanup activities. Earlier this spring, a few friends got together to provide a hand in another village. However, there were so many locations in need of assistance that they invited additional friends, who in turn invited still more friends. Thousands of volunteers, according to the organizers, have now aided in the events.

One of the organizers, 34-year-old Marina Hrebinna, says, “The amount of destruction is simply so enormous.” She feels it’s simple to become overburdened by it all. The group makes an effort to concentrate on the positive changes they may bring about for specific individuals in specific villages.

switch to caption NPR’s Pete Kiehart NPR’s Pete Kiehart similar to the six homes they are cleaning today.
We’re not contractors, right? We’re just everyday people,’ she shrugs. However, “we have our bodies, our arms, and our health.”

And they make an effort to make it special by frequently camping nearby. After days of grueling, emotionally taxing work, they hold dance parties at night to let off steam.

switch to caption NPR’s Pete Kiehart NPR’s Pete Kiehart Some say, “Come on, you can’t enjoy yourselves, it’s a battle!” But I assert that we’re making progress. Why can’t we enjoy ourselves too? Hrebinna queries.

Ukrainian pop music is being played from a boombox that is perched on the foundation of a demolished house down the street. Bricks are thrown between two young people as they stack them as they do so.

Alongside the volunteers, Tetiana Vereshchahina performs shoveling. This was the home of her family.
She laughs and says of the volunteer effort, “This was all a surprise.” “I had no idea about any of it,”

switch to caption NPR’s Pete Kiehart She reportedly requested local authorities whether she might borrow a trailer to remove debris, according to Pete Kiehart for NPR Vereshchahina. Instead, she learned that a large crew was en route to assist.

Anastasiia, her nine-year-old daughter, dances and leaps around in the background. To keep the volunteers warm, she has been brewing tea for them.

Volunteer Liza Kochubei is having fun while helping Vereshchahina shovel. Kochubei claims that despite the fact that she is currently laughing in public, she is still aware of current events.

switch to caption NPR’s Pete Kiehart NPR’s Pete Kiehart Five of the seven days we read the news and become really depressed. And on the other two days of the week, we get together and talk about work,” she adds.

Kateryna Yurchenko, 60, who is unrelated to Hanna Yurchenko, stands watch over her damaged home while more young volunteers pack up at the end of the day a short distance away, past cows grazing by the road.

switch to caption NPR’s Pete Kiehart NPR’s Pete Kiehart She spent her entire life in this home, where she was born. Things has been too emotionally taxing to clean it up on my own. Even if she doesn’t like their music, she claims that this bunch of workers completed in a single day what would have taken her months.

They are young and enjoy music, so she doesn’t mind. But truthfully, I don’t have any music in my soul at the moment.
She pauses to reflect before saying, “But you know what? The bombs are not quite as good as the music.

As she speaks, a magnificent pink, orange, and purple sunset can be seen on the horizon. It rebounds off the nearby gold-domed church and catches the stream’s reflection.

switch to caption NPR’s Pete Kiehart NPR’s Pete Kiehart A few helpers stop stacking equipment and take selfies before they resume packing.

She expresses gratitude to them. The Bluetooth speaker is still blaring as they wave and proceed down the dusty road. The music stops as they round a corner. The village is once again calm.

Yurchenko approaches and takes a position in her former kitchen. She claims that she only needs assistance now to rebuild.
From Kolychivka, Hanna Palamarenko contributed to this report.