Special Project 15:53 17 May 2024

Homecoming: Ukrainian family begins anew in their war-torn town

Rubryka continues sharing the stories of displaced Ukrainian families, who, despite the formidable challenges of war, stayed resilient and started over their lives. This story is about a family who returned to revive their damaged home in Irpin — a war-battered city near Kyiv.

What's the problem?

"This house was given to me by my grandmother because I have the most children," Tetiana Herashchenko says, laughing, as she leads us into her yard.

Tetiana is from Irpin. She was born in this lovely city, where she raised her three grown-up sons. The Herashchenko family started expanding the small house that once belonged to Tetiana's grandmother for their kids. They even built an extension for their eldest son. To finish the construction, the family borrowed money. However, they never got to settle into the new home.

"We have many children, so we built townhouses. The children grew up, one married, and now the second one… And just when we finished everything, the war started," Tetiana says.

Компенсація за пошкоджене житло

Tetiana Herashchenko's yard doesn't show signs of the war now, but it looked very different not too long ago

When the Russians began massing troops at the Ukrainian border, the Herashchenko family knew they had to prepare for the worst. Tetiana watched many interviews with military experts to understand what to expect. Eventually, the family decided to stock up on supplies and set up their home to stay there.

"We prepared everything so we wouldn't have to leave. We even bought a gas cylinder and filled it. We stored water. And in case we had to get water from the river if there was no supply, we bought coal to purify it. We didn't plan to leave at all. We stocked up on all kinds of medicines. And we took so much food that we still have canned goods left," Tetiana shares.

Компенсація за пошкоджене житло

Tetiana Herashchenko shows a journalist a photo of her house after a missile hit the neighboring yard

Leaving home

Unfortunately, the family's preparations came in handy — Irpin was one of the first cities to feel the impact of the war Russia unleashed in 2022. Russian forces occupied a third of the city in the early days of the invasion. Irpin became a "zero point" in military terms — the front line, with battles raging in the streets for almost a month.

When Irpin was bombarded, Tetiana's husband, Pavlo, convinced her to flee. Tetiana recalls that those who had come to Irpin to escape the war in Ukraine's east when Russia invaded the region of Donbas in 2014 evacuated immediately because they knew what the Russians were capable of. In contrast, the native residents stayed until the last moment, as confirmed by the numbers.

From February 24 to March 28, 2022, when Irpin was liberated, over 300 people were killed in the city. About 20 of them were children. Many are still missing, including Tetiana's sister's husband. The family knows he was in his yard when a missile landed nearby. A fragment hit him in the stomach. What happened next is unknown — his fate remains a mystery.

On February 26 of that year, the Herashchenko family left the city. The next day, a missile hit the neighboring yard.

Компенсація за пошкоджене житло

Tetiana Herashchenko with her husband, Pavlo

"My mother lives in the house across the street. She thought it was our house on fire. She said, 'Tania, a missile hit your house; everything is burning.' The smoke was so thick that you couldn't see anything. Then I realized I couldn't return now; I couldn't look at my ruined city and my ruined home. But my husband returned as soon as he could," Tetiana says.

Now, Herashchenko's yard is filled with greenery — purple and red flowers, strawberries, bushes, and decorative trees. Tetiana's slightly pink hair also seems to say that spring has triumphed over everything.

Even though it sometimes feels like the war didn't touch this home, reality quickly sets in. When the family cat joins us outside, Tetiana says:

"She was lucky. Because of her differently colored eyes, she's deaf, so the explosions didn't shock her. But I can't imagine what the other cat went through. They were here during the shelling because we thought we'd take the children away first and come back for them. Now, whenever there's an air raid alarm, the other cat hides behind the curtain and stays there until it's over," Tetyana explains as the white cat with blue and yellow eyes poses for the camera.

What's the solution?

Near the Herashchenko house stands a green nine-seater van. They packed it with essentials on February 26, 2022, and the whole family drove to the safer western Rivne region. After learning about the missile strike in the neighboring yard and their son's house, Pavlo decided to return and help evacuate civilians. With their youngest son, Tetiana went to France to stay with a friend, where she immediately started working, surprising the locals.

"Meanwhile, my husband and older sons were here clearing debris, cleaning, and boarding windows. We even decided to build a fireplace, although we never had one before. This was so we could heat the house without electricity," Tetiana recalls. "It was painful even to think about having to rebuild everything from scratch. But what could we do? We borrowed money from friends; some people gave us money just to help us rebuild. Some gave $300, some $500, some $1000. It was all spent immediately."

The Herashchenko family hauled away two truckloads of debris, removed damaged windows and doors, repaired the ceilings, and gradually brought the house back to life. Tetiana returned home in May 2023 and immediately sought compensation for the damaged property. After applying for the "eRecovery" government program, the family received about $5,500, which didn't cover all the family's losses but was a significant help.


Компенсація за пошкоджене житло

This is what the house looks like today

How does it work?

Some of the missile debris that hit the Herashchenko house will forever remain in its walls — some were removed, and some were plastered over. The family keeps some fragments they managed to remove as a reminder of what they went through.


Now, Tetiana works in the social sector and is excited about the upcoming launch of a youth center in Irpin. They plan to hold workshops, lectures, and other events for teenagers and young people.

"During the war, everyone focuses more on the military and the wounded. But it's our children who will rebuild this country," she says. "And it's tough for them now — some have parents at war, some have lost a parent, and some have families in debt trying to pay them off. These children are also struggling. But they are all such creators, and they are so talented! They need to be guided and supported."

Компенсація за пошкоджене житло

Tetiana Herashchenko talks about the future youth center

The team managed to involve young people and teenagers in setting up the center—they are decorating it themselves and have the freedom to make their own contributions. So, while the Custom People Center prepares to open, Tetiana is busy. She says the idea of helping kids gives her the strength to keep going and believes that despite all the challenges, life can be rebuilt. The main thing is not to be afraid.


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