Ukraine: The ones who stayed behind

Inspecting the damage in Novovasylivka, Ukraine

Halyna Bilak, CARE Ukraine

17 July 2023


Damaged houses, broken windows, signs warning of landmine dangers and exhausted but extremely friendly elderly people. This is how we are greeted in the south of Ukraine.

A difficult situation made worse

The villages of Snihurivka and Novovasylivka in Mykolaiv region have been under Russian military control for about nine months. The shelling and the whistling of rockets rarely cease here. And after the dam explosion at the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station, the consequences of flooding have complicated an already difficult situation.

Liudmyla, 70, from Snihurivka says,

"We are patient, and with God's help we will survive everything. Almost all the young people left the village in the spring of 2022. Most of them never returned."

Discussing the damage in Novovasylivka, Ukraine

Image: Residents discuss the damage after the floods.

Protecting what is left

Almost a quarter of Ukraine's population is of retirement age. In the areas newly under control of the Ukrainian government, this percentage is over 90.

Halyna, 62, says,

"We left too. We travelled all over the South. We were in Mykolaiv and Odesa. We stayed with friends and in shelters, but as soon as we learned that Snihurivka was again under the control of the Ukrainian government, I decided to return. Because this is my home and my whole life. I am protecting what is left."

CARE staff talk to residents affected by the dam explosion in Ukraine

Image: CARE staff speak to local residents about the effects of conflict and recent floods.

With the financial support of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), CARE is helping people in the region to restore their damaged apartments. The process of replacing the broken windows has already begun, and for everyone who stays here, it is invaluable.

Raisa, 72, recalls,

"We spent all our savings while the Russian military controlled everything here. Shops, pharmacies, hospitals, nothing worked, and we had to pay very expensive prices to get at least some food. At that time, everyone who stayed here cooked and ate together. That's what helped us survive those grueling months."

Antonina, 66, says,

"It's a little easier now. Humanitarian organisations bring us bread, water and inform us when some hygiene products or long-term storage products are brought to the city: cereals, tinned food, oil. The only thing we lack is peace and quiet, so that we can rebuild everything and return to a normal life."

Living among landmines

Landmines are also a big challenge. Some agricultural land is overgrown with weeds because these areas have not yet been cleared of mines. It's the same with forests.

Antonina tells us,

"Our own vegetables, wild mushrooms and berries helped us survive. But now, unfortunately, these are not available. Recently, a man from a neighbouring house went to the forest to pick mushrooms and hit a mine. The authorities warn of the danger, but sometimes out of desperation, and sometimes because of their own habits, people ignore these warnings."

The flooding from the dam has damaged other areas of agricultural land and destroyed homes. In the street in Novovasylivka where 60-year-old Alla lives, back in mid-June the water was higher than the top of the windows. Alla says,

"The library is damaged, the garden is ruined, all the furniture and appliances are destroyed. We have nothing left."


Image: Damaged books and personal items.

Alla is living temporarily with neighbours on her street whose home is up the hill and luckily above where the floodwaters reached. Many were not so lucky - 64 houses in the village were damaged. At Alla's house walls are collapsing, there is no electricity, and there is a lot of mud. All the beds were flooded. There is still water in the basement. The well is silted up.


Image: Alla shows visitors the damage to her home.

Alla explains,

"I live with my mother, who is 87 years old, and my husband. We are all pensioners, and I don't know if we can restore all this on our own. Unfortunately, we have no other place to live."

The floods will have lasting impact

In this region, people lived on vegetables harvested from their own gardens. The water took away all this year's crops, while orchards and vineyards have been damaged and will take years to rebuild.

The water has come and gone, but its destructive effects will be felt in this region for a long time.

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