"There is still shelling, but you can live here," the neighbor told elderly couple by phone and they returned to their frontline village in Eastern Ukraine

Victoriia Ievgeniievna (76) and her husband Rudolf Nikolayevich spent many nights in this dark room with no windows. Long ago when they built their dream house in the village of Vodyane, they could never have imagined that this pantry might come in handy one day. "Yes, it was at night. The airport is right next to us. The shells were outdated, so they were flying around like birds. One of them hit the foundation of our neighbor`s house, but did not explode, it just stuck there," Victoriia Ievgeniievna recalls the first time she faced real fighting three years ago. 

"During the day we were not afraid usually, but sometimes we had to hide on the ground floor," she says and adds: We wouldn’t go anywhere in the morning, because it was dangerous, but we had to go out to find food.” The village of Vodyane is located approximately 9 km north-west from the Donetsk airport and it remains a hot spot on the 500 km long conflict line.

Lovely house hit twice

It took years of hard work for Rudolf Nikolayevich to finish the house, while Victoriia Ievgeniievna put her heart and soul into carefully decorating and equipping the new home. It was a beautiful two-story house with two kitchens, a ground floor, a well-kept garden, a flowerbed and a well. Before the conflict, the building served as a summerhouse but in the middle of 2014, it became the family’s permanent shelter instead of their Donetsk flat, which was located in a regularly and heavily shelled district.

Day by day, the situation was becoming more and more dangerous in Vodyane. "The neighbor’s barn was hit and his pigs died," Victoriia Ievgeniievna remembers. During the winter of 2014, their house suffered two hits with two different levels of damage. "We just finished the meal and we got up from the table," Victoriia Ievgeniievna tells pointing the table next to the window at the kitchen. "It all happened in a moment. Rudolf shouted my name and then there was rumble, shattering of glass and dust. He shouted: ´Are you alright?´ I was holding a glass teapot in my hand, I look down there and it’s gone," Victoriia Ievgeniievna remembers.

Later they realized their roof now looked like a sieve. "And even the walls. Here, where there is a wardrobe now, there was just a hole. And there was a stuck shell fragment there," Victoriia Ievgeniievna shares.

Away from the war for a while

Life in Vodyane has become completely unbearable and insecure for the couple. Their children were worried about them and this made the couple move to another region for a while to stay with their children. Victoriia Ievgeniievna and Rudolf Nikolayevich rented an apartment for their internally displaced persons allowances and lived off of their pensions.

Former miner and a teacher are used to living modestly. "Anyway, home is home,” Victoriia Ievgeniievna says. “It was good for us to be away, but we owned nothing there, everything belonged to our daughter and it was strange. Here if I want to grow plants I do that. If I have no time for cleaning, I do it when have time,” she explains. Tired from living away from their home, the couple would take any opportunity to return.

"We talked to our neighbor every day on the phone. He reassured us saying: ´There is still shelling, but you can live here´," Victoriia Ievgeniievna explains how they decided to return home after a year of a peaceful life.

Getting used to changes caused by war

In Vodyane they had to adapt to a different environment. There is no pharmacy, no shops and no hospitals in sight. Everything has been relocated. “We need to travel nearly 70 km to collect pensions,” says Victoriia Ievgeniievna. Although a bus comes several times per day, the transport connection is far from convenient. Because of constant shelling, blackouts are frequent and if there is no power, you cannot pump up the water. The elders have to bring the water from a well.

The couple lives like this together with other 13 families on their street. Before the conflict there were 30 families living here, more than a half have gone. In total, there are only 160 people in the village today. The majority of those who stayed are pensioners or unemployed as there is no work whatsoever. Since the beginning of the war the major economic center, the city of Donetsk, has been cut off the rest of the region by the frontline and those, who remained on the government-controlled side, have lost access to the long-time established markets.

Leaky roof

The main struggle for the couple was to survive two winters under the damaged roof. There was a big crack in the roof and many smaller holes due to shrapnel. The couple was fixing the holes themselves until the end of the summer. Before the new heating season, People in Need with the support of the EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department (ECHO) repaired the entire house. "You helped us a lot and it means a lot for us. We had no means to complete this repair on our own. People in Need also repaired roofs for our neighbors. Everyone is very happy. It is a great relief," Rudolf Nikolayevich says, showing the new roof.

New roof ensures warm winter for Victoriia Ievgeniievna and Rudolf Nikolayevich, but the war is still here. "The ´Grad´ sounds like ´bah-bah-bah´. That is what you think - that can be now. And calmly," Victoriia Ievgeniievna explains how to hear to the sounds of war. They wish that the war will not get so close to their home again.

Victoria and Rudolf were supported in terms of ACCESS consortium (People in Need, Action Contre La Faim, Médecins du Monde, and ACTED in partnership with IMPACT Initiatives) funded by the EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.

Maria Lozan, People in Need Ukraine Communication Officer

Petr Stefan, People in Need Communication Officer

Author: People in Need