Young Ukrainians volunteer to clean up destroyed homes — and try to make it fun

by | Oct 23, 2022 | Top Stories

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Repair Together volunteers dance to music in Anysiv, Ukraine, after a day of cleaning up destroyed homes in nearby Kolychivka on Oct 1. The after-party took place in a theater damaged by shelling. Repair Together is a Ukrainian volunteer initiative that organizes young people to travel to and clean up sites damaged by Russian strikes.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

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Pete Kiehart for NPR

KOLYCHIVKA, Ukraine — Hanna Yurchenko carries a basketful of apples, freshly picked from the trees next door. It’s a drizzly afternoon on one of the first cool days of fall. The 66-year-old walks around the perimeter of what was once her home — reduced to the foundation by multiple rocket hits on March 7 — and hands out apples to workers shoveling the debris into metal buckets. “I’m retired, and I can’t do this cleanup myself,” she says, her eyes filling with tears. “I’m just so grateful for these kids.”

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Repair Together volunteers clean up the home of Hanna Yurchenko in Kolychivka, Ukraine.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

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Pete Kiehart for NPR

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“I’m retired, and I can’t do this cleanup myself,” says Hanna Yurchenko, 66. “I’m just so grateful for these kids.” Yurchenko’s home was destroyed by a Russian strike.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

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Pete Kiehart for NPR

The “kids” she refers to are a dozen 20- and 30-somethings clearing rubble. It’s a grim setting, but the mood is light: Techno music blasts from a Bluetooth speaker and people dance and laugh as they work. They volunteer for Repair Together, a large network of friends who raise money to bring busloads of young people from around Ukraine to destroyed villages, to help people clean up their homes. Organizers say another aim is to restore a sense of community after seven months of war.

Today, they’re in Kolychivka, a village near the northern city of Chernihiv, which Russia bombarded early in the war. Roman Tarasiuk, 27, dances atop a trailer parked out front as he empties buckets of debris to be hauled away. He worked for a major educational company in Kyiv but lost his job when the war started. “Volunteering in Ukraine, it’s become a way of our everyday life. We all just want to feel useful,” he says.

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Roman Tarasiuk, 27, helps clean up the destroyed home of Hanna Yurchenko in Kolychivka on Oct. 1.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

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Pete Kiehart for NPR

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A portable speaker and an extension cord rest on a heater in the rubble of a home in Koly …

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