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Rebuilding in defiance of war: how Ukrainians restore cities & homes damaged by Russian attacks

Bravery isn’t just about fighting a war on the battlefield. Bravery isn’t just about resisting violence with strength and honor. Bravery is also about having the will to live in the face of war, to not give up or fall into despair. The efforts of regular Ukrainians restoring and repairing cities ravaged by Russian brutality are a testament to this everyday courage. Bombs may still fall on Ukrainian streets, but their residents refuse for their lives to be diminished or subdued by evil and violence.

Volunteers from District One in the Kyiv region: designers, photographers, and managers taking up repair & construction tools. 
Photo: District One Foundation

Back in May, when the atrocities of the Russian army north of Kyiv were still fresh in our minds, a single street in the city of Hostomel made national headlines for a seemingly small reason. Hostomel was among the first towns to suffer from the Russian invasion, alongside Irpin and Bucha. It was the site of heavy battles between aviation, artillery, and ground forces due to the proximity of the local airport.

Read the full wartime story of the 3 cities: Bucha massacre, nightmares of Irpin and Hostomel

Yet following the city’s liberation by the Ukrainian army, local residents rose up to clean up and repair Hostomel’s streets. A single fence shot up by Russian machine guns, became one of the symbols of Ukraine’s resilience, as locals painted flowers around each of the bullet holes… reaffirming beauty and humanity in the face of war.

The famous fence in Hostomel, with flowers drawn around each bullet hole.
Photo: Alla Beletskaya / Facebook

In many ways, this is a representation of several core features of Ukrainian national mentality: the deep care Ukrainians have for their home (meaning both the country and their local communities); their yearning for beauty and peace even in the darkest of times; their will to survive, resist, and live despite any odds.

Ukrainians have worked tirelessly to heal, clean, and patch up every wound inflicted by Russian bombs on their cities and villages. It has been difficult in the face of continued rocket strikes and scarce resources, but the people have not given up. Below are just a few examples of volunteer groups, organizations, and specific stories related to this phenomenon.

Brave To Rebuild 

“Join the brave”, says the volunteer organization’s motto.
Photo: BraveToRebuildUA

Brave to Rebuild is a small yet active volunteer organization founded by urbanists that never expected to be involved in home repairs before the war. The organization is very active in Bucha, Irpin, and other towns and villages of the Kyiv region. The team gathers volunteer groups and fundraises to repair residential houses and clean up heavy debris from airstrikes and collapsed buildings. They focus especially on helping vulnerable families, as well as elderly and disabled people.

The BraveToRebuild team conducts repairs of homes damaged by Russian attacks in the Kyiv region.
Photo: BraveToRebuildUA

Volunteers of all ages, regardless of experience or social status, are welcomed. What counts is the desire to help others with your time, effort, and kindness. Fundamental repairs require considerable funds and sometimes – skilled professionals, yet huge amounts of debris left behind by Russian airstrikes are often cleaned up by regular folks that come out to support local communities on weekends.

“Before and after” photos of the clean up of heavy debris in Irpin after the retreat of Russian invaders.
Photo: BraveToRebuildUA

While the organization does not communicate with a global audience in English (as it mostly focuses on gathering local Ukrainian support), you can find photos and reports of their activities on the social media page.

District One Foundation

“Every district is number one in our book!” – the District One team motto.
Photo: District One

The volunteer foundation started in 2018 with urbanists and history lovers. They initially established the organization to preserve and renew historical streets in downtown Kyiv, yet the war made them change their focus in a new harsh reality. Today, District One helps with repairs and reconstruction of homes and buildings that government agencies can’t yet reach.

The organization is active in towns in the north of Ukraine, where Russian bombings and airstrikes have left people without proper homes. With winter fast approaching, having roofs and windows in many Ukrainian villages is a matter of saving people’s health and lives.

House repairs in Kukhari village in one of the “before and after” reports of District One.
Photo: District One

One such example is the village of Kukhari in Kyiv region which was severely affected by Russian artillery strikes and ground battles. With the autumn winds and rains picking up, repairs have become even more important in rural areas. You can check out the organization’s reports and photos on its Facebook page or website.

Dobrobat (Volunteer repairs battalion)

The vest of a Dobrobat volunteer, signed by thankful residents of the Kyiv region villages. The Dobrobat motto proclaims: “Rebuild Ukraine with us!”.
Photo: Dobrobat

Dobrobat is perhaps one of the most well-organized and large-scale volunteer repair operations in Ukraine. Translated as “Volunteer battalion” or “Kindness battalion”, it was founded by Kyiv’s regional administration to support the brave first responders of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine.

Acting as a charity and volunteer organization, it coordinates and conducts repairs in the Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Dnipro regions. Unlike some smaller grassroots organizations that focus on helping individuals and families, it has the capacity to conduct large-scale repairs, sometimes even with heavy machinery. The work can be both difficult and dangerous but is absolutely necessary to restore local communities and the country at large.

Dobrobat volunteer repair crews in Kyiv region.
Photo: Dobrobat

As summer turns to autumn in the small cities and villages of northern, central, and eastern Ukraine, Dobrobat volunteer teams continue to install roofs and windows, fences, and floors. They clean out rusted debris and follow in the wake of sappers that remove mines and explosives. Schools, private homes, hospitals, and municipal buildings – every project is important in Ukraine’s mission of renewal. And while resources may remain limited, the Ukrainian spirit is not. 

Volunteer crews repairing village homes in preparation for the cold seasons.
Photo: Dobrobat

You can read more about Dobrobat on their website and see their reports on social media page.

Ukrainian emergency and repair services

The intersection of Bohdana Khemlnytskogo street in Kyiv, hit by a Russian rocket strike on October 10.
Photo: Kyiv City Administration

Ukrainian emergency service workers and repair crews have been hailed as heroes almost from the very start of the war. Sappers, electricians, firemen, and repairmen have been on the frontlines of Ukraine’s defense almost as much as its soldiers. In the most recent brutal Russian attacks on October 10, Russian cruise missiles hit one of the most prominent intersections of downtown Kyiv, next to its famous Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University and Kyiv’s Opera Theatre. 

It was a horrific attack that made global headlines that very evening, as it was targeted at civilian objects with no military value. The world was once again reminded of the shameless violence of this war on Ukraine. Yet in just 3 days, Kyiv’s authorities had repaired the damage to this beloved area of the city and renewed traffic to its normal capacity.

Repairs finished on October 13. Photo: Kyiv City Administration

While this is just one of the thousands of examples of the bravery of emergency workers across the country, it stands out as another bright symbol of Ukrainian defiance in the face of Russian terror… and Ukraine’s state service first responders are the ones to thank. 

While it is difficult to aid Kyiv or the emergency services directly, you can lend your support via United24 – the charity initiative from President Zelenskyy that focuses on de-mining, reconstruction, and medical aid. Or donate to other private Ukrainian charitable foundations and volunteer organizations that help to bring victory and recovery closer.

These are just a few of the thousands of examples of regular Ukrainians joining the fight for freedom, dignity, and peace. Joining in their own way: sometimes with just a few donations, a weekend of work, or a repair instrument in hand. At the end of the day, the biggest lesson we can learn here is this: nobody is powerless and every little effort helps a greater cause. Regardless of skills, distance or background, you can contribute to making the world a better place.