What is the problem?
Russia shells peaceful Ukrainians practically every day. The front-line territories experience the most significant destruction of civil infrastructure, and the windows are the first to suffer. Broken glass, torn out frames, black holes on walls cut by shell fragments — this is how many houses in the Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Kharkiv, and Sumy regions look now. People often cannot afford to replace broken windows with new ones — over the past year, prices for plastic windows have increased by 80%.
What is the solution?
Volunteers from Warsaw decided to help Ukrainians restore buildings destroyed by the Russians. They have been collecting used windows all over Poland for more than a year and sending them to Ukraine.
How does it work?
The completed puzzle
The Window project is a joint initiative of Kyiv architect Petro Vladimirov and Polish activist Zofia Jaworowska. They met on the wave of volunteering at the beginning of the full-scale war in 2022. Jaworowska worked with the Grupą Zasoby organization seeking housing for refugees from Ukraine. Vladimirov, who was in Warsaw when the full-scale war started, helped Ukrainian architects find work as part of the Projektantki_ci dla Ukrainy project.
By June 2022, the number of refugees fleeing the war to Poland had significantly decreased. Volunteers began to think about how to support Ukrainians in other ways. Then, people began to return to the liberated territories of the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions, and for them, the problem of rebuilding destroyed settlements was very acute.
"Because of the explosions, glass and windows are the first things that are destroyed, so we decided to concentrate on windows," recalls Vladimirov. "We found out that Ukraine has no production of window glass, and before the war, 75 per cent of it was imported from Russia and Belarus." Since the beginning of hostilities, windows in Ukraine have become very expensive, and not all people can afford them. By contrast, Poland is the largest exporter of windows in the European Union. "We thought that this is a puzzle that can be put together to help those who have lost the most important thing — a roof over their head."
Vladimirov adds that Jaworowska had long planned to establish a fund for social projects, and the Window project became a pilot project for the newly created BRDA Foundation in Warsaw.
Where do they search for windows?
Poland has strict legislation regarding removing construction waste – people cannot just take a used window to a landfill. The window must be taken to a disposal point, where it will be separated into plastic and glass. All this takes a lot of time, and homeowners doing renovations would simply rather not bother with it. Often, completely intact dismantled windows simply sit there decaying somewhere in garages or near homes.
BRDA appealed to the residents of Warsaw with a request to share with Ukrainians the plastic windows they have after the repairs. On the very first day of the gathering, the citizens brought 30 windows to the Warsaw Institute of Industrial Design, where the initiative was housed at the time.
Another source of windows for Ukrainians was manufacturers who gave windows from exhibitions to volunteers. Such products have minor defects and can be undesirablea for sale, but they are still quite suitable for installation and can also serve for over a dozen years.
The project quickly gained popularity, and its geography expanded to the whole of Poland. In September 2022, the BRDA Foundation in Warsaw sent 638 windows to the Kyiv charitable foundation District #1. These windows were used to reconstruct a school and a kindergarten in the city of Hostomel, and another part was given to people who were renovating their houses and apartments. In February and May 2023, trucks with new batches of Polish windows were sent to Ukraine's Kharkiv and Kherson regions.
In a year, the initiative has managed to ship about 1,500 windows to Ukraine. They are received and distributed by Ukrainian partners of the initiative. Ukrainian NGO Svoi Lyudy takes care of the residents of the liberated areas of the Kherson region, and the volunteer organization Vdoma helps the residents of the Kyiv region to rebuild. Charity fund Unity and Strength, which united volunteers of the Kharkiv region, supports the people of Kharkiv — from them, BRDA learns about requests for windows.
Challenges of the project
"When we started, it was essential for us to gain trust. We talked a lot about the initiative on the radio and communicated with authorities, builders, and manufacturers. They believed in the project — now we have a lot of offers, and the Warsaw City Hall even allocated us a free warehouse space," Vladimirov told Rubryka. The main problem remains logistics and, more precisely, its financing. Transportation is a rather complicated and expensive process. For example, sending one truck from Warsaw to Kyiv costs an average of €1,500. That is why the project is constantly collecting funds for transportation.
The activist emphasizes that the project is not commercial and exists only because people still send money. Currently, the project has two sites for fundraising — you can join the fundraiser here and here.
The size of the windows became another challenge for the project. Previously used windows are usually too small, too big, too narrow, too long, and frameless — in short, they differ from those in Ukrainian homes that were damaged by hostilities. Therefore, to ensure heat preservation in the house, such windows must be adjusted to the parameters of the home, or the wall opening itself must be prepared for installation.
Recently, an office building in Warsaw built 33 years ago was demolished and from there, the project got 215 double-sided windows in very good condition at once. These windows have already gone to Kherson and the village of Kamianka, located near Kharkiv. "We were very lucky that the windows of this building turned out to be the same size as we are used to seeing in ordinary living quarters. Of course, this is not always the case with office buildings. We try to find windows of more or less acceptable sizes, but you have to understand that it is rare to find the perfect window for a specific opening," says Vladimirov.
To solve this problem, in November 2022, Jaworowska from BRDY and Michal Sikorski from TŁO architectural studio held a workshop to explore different ways of installing used windows, as part of the Lower Silesian Festival of Architecture in Wroclaw. The result of the event was a manual describing installation methods that can be successfully applied independently, even if it concerns windows in an apartment on the tenth floor. The proposed mounting options are reliable and practical, and where possible, substitute materials and various modifications are offered. The instructions also assume that the window, which is installed as a temporary one, will still serve for a long time. In total, nine architectural bureaus participated in the creation of the manual, a joint contribution to rebuilding Ukrainian civil infrastructure on the ground.
Even more useful solutions!
"One and a half thousand windows in a year sounds like 'wow' to someone, but looking at the scale of the destruction, we understand that it is just a drop in the ocean," says Vladimirov. "On the other hand, our windows will help several villages we managed to rebuild. In addition, it seems to me that the window is a very symbolic object. It is what connects you and your home to the world, and at the same time, it is what protects you from adversity. When you live with windows all the time, you don't understand how it can be when there are none. I hope our project will encourage people to think about it and help."
The architect notes that the Window project is also a conceptual project because it was within its framework that windows began to be reused not as recycled material but as a complete object. Reuse — the second use of such a building system as a window — is an environmentally friendly solution, and the very principle of reuse is one of the keys to the response to the climate crisis.
This year, the project of Warsaw volunteers entered the international arena. At the London Biennale, the Poetics of Necessity pavilion, curated by Ukrainian architect Vladimirov and Jaworowska from BRDA and Michal Sikorsky from TŁO Studio, was awarded the top prize. The exhibition was devoted to studying cross-border cooperation and rethinking everyday facilities in times of crisis, presenting an installation of about 30 windows donated to the needs of Ukrainians by residents of London. After the exhibition, these windows were also sent to Ukraine.
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