Cases 13:42 01 Nov 2023

"For us, this is a matter of honor": how the volunteer construction battalion Dobrobat works

Rubryka spoke to the head of the organization about work in de-occupied communities, why creating shelters is not only about security but also about the economy, and the plans of more than 46,000 volunteers.

What is the problem?

As early as the summer of 2023, the number of damaged houses of Ukrainians was counted. This figure was more than 163 thousand. The total area of damaged or destroyed objects is 87 million square meters. This is 8.6% of the total area of the housing stock of Ukraine. Hundreds and thousands of homes of Ukrainians, which were damaged as a result of the Russian occupation and shelling, need urgent restoration. The amount of destruction increases daily because the attacks of the Russian army on civilian objects do not stop.

What is the solution?

Contrary to the destructive actions of the aggressor, Ukraine continues to rebuild. Participants of the volunteer construction battalion Dobrobat are helping residents rebuild their homes in the liberated territories — in the Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson regions. Among its tasks is the reconstruction and improvement of social infrastructure facilities.

How does it work?

"Our help is the least we can do to support each other"

NGO Dobrobat is a non-profit organization established at the beginning of April 2022. Then, the community set a goal: the urgent restoration of housing and social infrastructure in the territories liberated from Russian occupation. Every day, volunteers from seven battalions of Dobrobat — Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions — help communities recover and restore order after the Russians invaded their hometowns. They dismantle rubble, cover destroyed roofs, and repair walls and windows damaged as a result of the full-scale invasion of the Russian army.

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Repair of the roof in Dymer, in the Kyiv region.

Work does not stop for a single day. For example, just now in Dymer, in the Kyiv region, Dobrobat volunteers are fixing the roof of an apartment building. This house was destroyed at the beginning of the full-scale war as a result of hostilities in the region. It is essential to be in time for the cold season so that the residents of the 75 apartments are comfortable in winter.

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Repair of a house in Yahidne, the Chernihiv region.

The house in Yahidne, Ukraine's northern Chernihiv region,  was also destroyed at the beginning of the full-scale war after being hit by a Russian missile. In 2022, the building was rebuilt by the Dobrobat volunteers, and some of the residents returned to their homes. However, some of the apartments still need repairs. Mykhailo, one of the residents of the building, appealed to the residents of Dobrobat for help. In Dobrobat, they say: "Mykhailo had to experience real horrors: one of his sons was killed by the Russian military, another son went missing. Restoring his daughter's apartment is the least we can do in support."

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Dobrobat works in the village of Bilka.

In the Sumy region, in the village of Bilka, a volunteer team works in the house of Borys, a veteran of World War II. The war started by the Russians became the second war he had to go through. The house in which Borys lived was on the front line during the liberation of Trostianets from the Russian occupation. Three enemy shells exploded nearby, damaging the walls and roof. Unfortunately, the building was deemed unsuitable for further operation, so the volunteers of the Sumy construction site began to dismantle it. So far, the floor and gable have been dismantled, and the dismantling of the internal walls has started. It is painful to look at this — the veteran's entire life was spent in these walls, but there is hope that a new house will eventually appear for Borys on the site of the destroyed one.

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Before and after reconstruction of a house in Stepova Dolyna, the Mykolaiv region. Almost every house in this village is damaged or destroyed by enemy fire.

At the beginning of October in the Mykolaiv region, Dobrobat went to the villages of Prybuzke, Pervomaiske, and Stepova Dolyna. The house in which a woman lived in Prybuzke was significantly damaged as a result of enemy shelling by Grad and mines. The hostess's husband died, so she had to turn to the benefactors for help, who rebuilt the destroyed roof. Likewise, volunteers repaired the roofs of local houses in Pervomaiske and Stepova Dolyna so their owners could return home.

All these cases are a small part of the facilities visited by Dobrobat volunteers only in the first week of October. In general, since the creation of the community, the volunteers of the construction battalion have helped reconstruct the affected houses of almost three thousand families, urgently restoring more than 250 roofs. Thanks to the community's efforts, over 150 homes received new windows.

The power of unity, openness, and mutual assistance

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The team at the Kherson construction site is rebuilding the home of a woman from the village of Oleksandrivka. Here, the area was cleared of construction debris, broken doors were dismantled, and new ones were installed.

The secret of effective work of Dobrobat is in constant interaction with communities. In addition, community volunteers strive not only to restore the destroyed but also to build a strong community based on shared values. The organization's mission is to show that together, Ukrainians can overcome any challenges and create a new, better future.

"For us, an individual approach is important here, so each specific case of interaction with the local community is different," says Dmytro Ivanov, executive director of the volunteer construction battalion Dobrobat. "We communicate with the communities themselves, with non-governmental organizations, and with local administrations, guided by the principle of 'people for people.'" Dobrobat is generally a people-centered project based on the philosophy of uniting everyone around the reconstruction and improvement of living conditions in the country.

The organization's team notes: as a rule, Ukrainian communities are open to cooperation and help volunteers in every possible way. Irpin is an example of successful cooperation and mutual understanding with local authorities because local self-government bodies are in constant contact with Dobrobat. Here, they not only invite volunteers to the facilities but also help in every possible way — they quickly provide materials and transport. As a result, community volunteers have already completed work on more than 110 facilities, including apartment buildings. Currently, no debris is left in the city, which suffered significant destruction in the first days of the war.

Thanks to the same recipe of openness, Dobrobat manages to involve Western partners in the recovery of Ukraine. In particular, among them are the governments of Latvia, Estonia, Belgium and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Ivanov says that partners are primarily attracted by the organization's transparency and lack of bureaucracy.

"The only thing we may lack right now is human resources because there are currently more than 180,000 objects damaged by the enemy, and there is, unfortunately, a banal lack of workers in Dobrobat to restore them," adds the director of the volunteer organization.

How to invite Dobrobat to your city or become a volunteer?

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Volunteers of Dobrobat are dismantling a destroyed house in Irpin.

According to Ivanov, Dobrobat is always open to applications from different regions of Ukraine.

"For example, our website is built in such a way that it is easy to find a form there and fill out an application to restore this or that object," the head of the organization explains. There, you can also find all contacts of the founders, ambassadors, and other members of the Dobrobat team. You can also contact the organization using the Telegram bot or via official mail. In addition, the head's personal contact or the contacts of the heads of Dobrobat divisions on the ground in the seven regions of Ukraine in which the team currently works are well known to most local leaders or heads of communities, so the task of calling Dobrobat volunteers for help does not pose any particular difficulties.  

Currently, there are about 46,000 volunteers in the battalion. These are people of various professions: teachers, doctors, businessmen, sailors, railway workers — anyone can freely join the ranks of volunteers.

The process does not stand still, and the team is expanding its daily activities and is ready to do even more. The volunteers do not only act as builders. Sometimes, they are also rescuers when they have to dismantle rubble, and sometimes, Dobrobat workers have to act as psychologists, providing appropriate support to the local population in war-ravaged settlements.

It is because of this that the NGO started special seminars for volunteers in the regions where Dobrobat works. At them, qualified experts talk about psychological safety in wartime and the basic principles of countering the main threats to the human psyche. In general, they also deal with soft skills here — they try to unite volunteers, give them attention, and help with training and development. Currently, the NGO cooperates with the Eastern Europe Foundation and other non-governmental organizations in this area.

Even more useful solutions!

Ivanov joined the Dobrobat team relatively recently and previously held the position of deputy head of the Chernihiv Regional Military Administration. He came to Dobrobat with new ideas and goals.

In addition to rebuilding the homes of people in the regions destroyed by the war, for them to establish a full-fledged life, it is vital to restore social infrastructure facilities, primarily educational institutions, including preschool ones. Thanks to this, people who previously left their homes due to war and destruction can return to their communities. In terms of private housing reconstruction, the team mostly uses the concept of fast recovery — a quick restoration of the building by replacing the windows and roof and bringing its general condition to order. Social infrastructure facilities require a somewhat different approach.

The executive director of Dobrobat notes that before the war, most of these facilities had no shelters, and now they have no right to function without such shelters because the relevant government regulations simply prohibit this. Therefore, this became an additional challenge for Dobrobat — taking into account the new realities, it is necessary not only to rebuild a school or a kindergarten but also to make them safe. Make the shelters better, equip them correctly — particularly, setting up the Internet there. 

"In my opinion, nowadays, shelter is not only about security but also about the economy. For example, parents send their children to kindergarten and understand that they will be safe there, so they can go to work with a light heart. This means they can receive a salary, pay taxes, and support the economy," Ivanov explained to Rubryka.

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Working meeting on the issue of starting the implementation of the reconstruction project of the Dzhereltse kindergarten in the Brovary city council on October 12.

One of these objects, in the restoration of which Dobrobat will take part in the near future, will be the Dzhereltse kindergarten in Brovary, in the Kyiv region, which was partially destroyed as a result of the fall of rotorcraft on January 18, 2023. At a working meeting of the Brovary city council, the deputy head of the Kyiv regional state administration, Mykola Boyko, noted that the intensive process of restoring the kindergarten begins in mid-October and will take 14 months. It will be a modern and inclusive kindergarten. 

The representatives of the battalion assured that they were ready to help in the reconstruction of the facility in every possible way. "For us, this is a matter of honor," says the Dobrobat team.

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