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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations
19 January 2024

Homecoming dreams: a story of resilience and rebuilding

Ihor with his mother Tetiana  sitting in the living room
Ihor with his mother Tetiana
© European Union, 2023 (photographer Oleksandr Ratushniak)

"It is still a bit scary. I’m afraid it might all start again, what happened before — the explosions,” admits 18-year-old Ihor. “But I'm getting used to the idea that everything is fine and that the war will end soon."

Ihor lives in the village of Pervomaiske, roughly 400km south of Kyiv. Following Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, he found himself at the centre of intense fighting.

In 2022 the frontline dissected his neighbourhood, with fighting in the streets. The constant explosions, shelling, and the noise of military vehicles became a true ordeal for Ihor. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy, every sound literally resonated in him with a sense of physical pain.

"He is very afraid of loud sounds. Even now, when planes fly nearby, we put headphones on him to absorb the noise. Otherwise, he says it hurts him to hear it," says Ihor's mother, Tetiana.

Close up of the face of Tetiana.
Tetiana has devoted her life to her family and the well-being of her son. The sight of their severely damaged home still brings tears to her eyes. "Life was good before the war. And now everything is destroyed.”
© European Union, 2023 (photographer Oleksandr Ratushniak)

Ihor remembers how, during one particular period of shelling, projectiles destroyed their roof and one of the walls of their house. This attack killed one of Ihor’s beloved dogs.

A Labrador who had lived with the family for almost 13 years and assisted Ihor in his rehabilitation, couldn't withstand the stress and passed away in their yard. This loss was a terrible blow to the family.

A white dog sitting in the front, in the background of the living room Ihor and his mother.
In the first weeks of the war, the dogs became guides for the family. "If they went outside, it meant it was safe, and we could go out too. But if they hid, we understood that shelling would soon begin," says Tetiana.
© European Union, 2023 (photographer Oleksandr Ratushniak)

Fearing for their lives, Ihor and his parents, Tetiana and Oleksandr, were forced to evacuate to Mykolaiv. When the frontline finally shifted away from Pervomaiske, it left a village in turmoil: hundreds of houses damaged, infrastructure ruined, livelihoods destroyed.

But with the help of EU financial support and the Czech NGO People in Need, more than 700 local households – including Ihor’s family – have received construction material for emergency repairs to their homes, helping them to rebuild their home and their return to normal life.

View of the outside of the house. A part at the left with a window has been renovated/rebuild.
Active combat left this family's home severely damaged. After months of renovation, it is almost ready to welcome back its owners. But marks on the exterior still serve as a painful reminder of the challenging days they endured.
© European Union, 2023 (photographer Oleksandr Ratushniak)

Ihor’s family received construction wood to restore the damaged roof, followed by cash support for more substantial reconstruction works.

They plan to finish rebuilding and return to their home soon. With every passing day, renewed hope returns to their lives.

Many more families in Pervomaiske are now also supported with cash for more substantial rebuilds.

Ihor seated while talking to an aid worker, seen from the back wearing a jacket with a print of the EU flag on it.
"It feels good to be back here, even if it's just for a day," says Ihor. The family continues to live in Mykolaiv until the construction works are finished. However, with each passing day, their return home becomes closer.
© European Union, 2023 (photographer Oleksandr Ratushniak)

Ihor dreams of resuming his education at the IT academy, where he was pursuing a profession before the full-scale invasion:

"I would like to become an IT specialist. It's a modern profession, very much in demand now. When the situation gets better, I hope to return to my studies. Perhaps I can help our military with my knowledge."

  • Photo of Ivanna Bedei

    Story by Ivanna Bedei, Information and Communication Assistant in Ukraine, EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.

    Publication date: 19/01/2024