Thousands of Kharkiv residents have lost homes and jobs due to Russian shelling that has left buildings in ruins and shuttered factories and shops in Ukraine’s second-largest city
By Natalie Vikhrov
When Russian rockets started falling on their neighbourhood in Kharkiv, Youri and his family sought shelter in a metro station in Ukraine’s second-biggest city. The decision may have saved their lives – but they could do nothing to save their home.
A rocket struck the apartment block where they had lived in the Northern Saltivka suburb in late March, leaving their home in ruins. Only a few kitchen utensils remained.
“When I went up there … I stood there for about 15 minutes and cried,” Youri, 55, who asked not to use his full name, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
Many Kharkiv residents have left underground bomb shelters since Ukrainian troops pushed Moscow’s forces back from the city in May, but some like Youri and his family have been unable to return home.
Along with others who sought shelter in the metro, the family have now been housed in unoccupied student dormitories.
Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said 150,000 city residents have lost their homes since Russia sent its troops and tanks into Ukraine on Feb. 24, with hundreds of high-rise apartment buildings damaged beyond repair.
In recent weeks, many residents have returned home for the first time to find blown-out doors and windows, burnt out interiors and crumbling balconies.
Others still have no electricity or water supply, though work is underway to restore utilities across the city.
The Northern Saltivka neighbourhood, which had been home to about 300,000 people before the invasion, bore the brunt of Russian shelling in the city, which had a population of 1.4 million people before the Russian invasion drove many to flee.
Terekhov said city authorities were working with British architect Norman Foster on plans to rebuild Kharkiv, an industrial city known as a hub for culture, education and scientific research.
“After our victory, we will immediately start building new neighbourhoods and will give people housing. Today, the question is who will finance it,” Terekhov said by phone, adding that he hoped to attract funds from investors and international institutions.
Ukraine’s economic output is expected to shrink by 45% this year, according to the latest World Bank forecast, as the Russian invasion shutters businesses, slashes exports and destroys productive capacity.
Still, life has started to return to Kharkiv even as Russian forces continue to strike the city.
Russia calls the invasion of its neighbour a “special military operation”.
Some businesses have been tentatively reopening and large numbers of people who fled in the early days of the invasion are returning, local officials have said.
Earlier this month, the city council launched a Telegram chatbot that informs residents about the condition of their home before they decide whether or not to return.
The metro system reopened in late May as part of efforts by city authorities to kickstart the local economy, but many sheltering there were initially uncertain about where they would go and were scared to leave.
Hundreds of those unable to return home have been housed in student dormitories.
Oksana Tkachenko, who like Youri and his family spent months in a metro station, has only been able to visit her apartment in Northern Saltivka once, briefly. She found her windows had been blown out and her balcony damaged.
But she said it was the ongoing shelling and a lack of amenities such as power, water and gas that made it impossible to stay.
“We took what we could carry and quickly left,” said Tkachenko, who is also staying in a student dormitory with her partner.
A lack of job opportunities has made it harder for many to start rebuilding their lives. While some businesses have reopened, Tkachenko said no one was hiring.
She used to work at a confectionery factory, but after the invasion, the owners closed the business and fled abroad.
“If anyone is working, they’re working for themselves,” she said.
(Reporting by Natalie Vikhrov; Editing by Helen Popper and Hugo Greenhalgh. Credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation)