Residents of Peace Street in Irpin now have a new fight on their hands - how to survive the coming winter.
Velytsia Myru - which means Peace Street - was badly damaged during the full-scale Russian invasion that started in February.
In an L-shaped building at the start of the street a large group of residents is united by common mission.
While they share many painful memories from February and March they know their building is not ready for the winter.
The windows in the middle of the building are wide black holes - the flats there were destroyed by a missile and the subsequent fire. Every other family in the building had their windows blown out by explosions. With the temperatures dropping ahead of winter it’s getting really cold in the apartments.
The residents are in touch with charity organisations to replace the glass. They have measured the windows, but no news so far.
Those who have put a little bit of money aside are replacing their windows at their own expense.
“I live in this building and it was badly damaged during this Russian invasion, says Liubov Zavoruhina. There is a lot of damage in my home. The windows are broken on the balcony and in the apartment, my doors are damaged, my fridge, my wardrobe. My retirement payment is very low, I can’t replace the windows. The winter is coming and we would like to have the heating on, but if the windows stay like this, how would that be? The warmth will go out…”
In the early days of March, all but three residents fled or were evacuated from here. Only two of those who stayed survived. Today, all the apartments that could be inhabited have seen their owners return but life has not got back to normal.
Most of the residents are retired, and somebody always spends time in the garden sitting on the benches near the building entrances. Conversations here are long, usually about what is going on and what is coming next, but sometimes also about what was lived through.
“Oh you know the sound this film that covers the windows makes at night? The wind blows and it gets really scary,” - says the resident Nadia Pavlivna, 85, who we meet sitting near the building.
Remembering what her family went through, Lidia, 74, starts to cry. Her daughter got badly injured by the shards of glass from the window following the explosions. Her health has never fully recovered. She lost the sparkle in her eyes, this zest for life she always had, Lidia remembers.
The residents lived with uncertainty for a long time. First, they were told the damaged building would be demolished.
Later, another commission came and the overhaul appeared to be possible - the structures of several middle floors had to be replaced. There is no budget for these works so far and no dates for the renovation have been given.
The roof, also badly damaged, was covered only temporarily to help save the apartments on the upper floors from further decay during winter.
One morning, while I talk to the residents, sitting on the benches, as usual, I see a van arriving. The residents who were talking quietly in the yard got a little excited. A young energetic man sells vegetables from his van - potatoes, carrots, cabbage. “Not expensive” the residents agree, and a line gathers near his van.
“Sometimes when I walk around the town, it seems life here is like before….but then you look up and see all these damaged buildings…..” says another resident Anastasia, 36.
When she first returned to Irpin from Poland, devastated by losing her apartment after the missile strike, the contrast with the lively atmosphere in town caused her pain. Today, she is only concentrating on what is ahead of her and the town with coffee shops, hookah bars, restaurants full of visitors, playgrounds and parks buzzing with children helps to remind her that life goes on.
'Not a ghost town' Bucha residents say
There is no visible division between Irpin and neighbouring Bucha, another Kyiv satellite town, that made it to the world news this spring after mass graves and numerous bodies on the street were discovered there after the Russian army retreat. If you keep walking in the right direction in Irpin, you eventually get to Bucha.
Fewer buildings were damaged here but the number of human lives lost is significantly higher. It means, that many households are affected by the loss or what they have endured here.
Those who can, are trying to move forward, gradually reconstructing their lives with the desire of leaving the past behind.
The new image of a ghost town irritates the locals. Bucha invested much into growing as a very green family-friendly suburb of Kyiv, with a lot of small local businesses built around that concept.
“We have driven in the car around all the Kyiv suburbs to understand if we ever will be able to live here again. But it turned out that plenty of children returned here and Bucha continues to live,” - one young mother shares.
I was busy looking into my backpack when greeted by a wide-smiling young woman with long curly hair, a cake in her hand and a young child by her side. Julia, 37, turned out to be the owner of the coffee shop I was standing next to and a mother of 5 children. Originally from Donetsk, she felt love at first sight for Bucha when she decided to settle here with her family some years ago.
Her coffee shop was badly damaged during the street fights, the windows broken, cakes and furniture disappeared. Today, some glass in the windows has been replaced, while some are still boarded up. Local visitors write good wishes to Julia on it.
Back in March, Russian soldiers came and parked their armoured vehicles on the lawn in front of her house. They let her family escape saying there would be no other chance.
“When the war began we first decided we are not going anywhere - we love this place, this is our house, this is our business. Even when many people started leaving, we decided to stay. Until March 10 when Bucha was occupied and the Russian soldiers came to our house and told us we have one last chance to escape if we wanted to stay alive. They said, “Today we have an order not to kill civilians, so this is an opportunity for you to escape safely.”
Today, the family is back to Bucha with a great desire to move forward. Their coffee shop once named ‘Coffee and wine’ is now called ‘Coffee and peace’.
“A few years ago I had this dream of opening my own coffee shop, Julia continues. After everything got destroyed, my new dream was to start working again. And turn this place into what it used to be, to make it cosy again, nice again. I'd like people to gather here with their children, with their families, with friends. To have a cup of coffee, a glass of wine and talk… I don’t want these conversations to be about those horrible events that we lived, I want everybody to come back to live and to see our children smile again.”