Almost 11 months have passed since the liberation of Izyum. Both during the occupation and now, life in this city has been concentrated in the private sector, as apartment buildings in the center and surrounding neighborhoods suffered terrible damage in March 2022. Children, pedestrians, and cars can be seen on the outskirts. The city's residents have access to medical services, pharmacies, a market, shops, post offices, banks, notaries, and all the usual services. The streets are clean, the lawns are mowed, marigolds and colorful petunias are pleasing to the eye. For a moment, it might seem that the city has recovered from the six-month reign of the "Russian world". But this is not the case at all.
FLOWERS, A FOUNTAIN AND DRAWINGS BY HAMLET ON THE RUINS
For those who saw the empty center of Kharkiv last spring and the ruined high-rise buildings on its outskirts, Izyum will not come as a shock. However, the depressing impression does not leave even on a sunny day. The central part of the city is a continuous wound. The city council building was destroyed by air strikes and fire, and next to it is a large polyclinic, which was also destroyed by fire after several hits. On the other side of the city council and opposite it, buildings were also damaged. And only the beautiful roses and annuals that are now blooming wildly in the flower beds seem to remind us that life goes on…
A car or a cyclist occasionally passes by on the neighboring Soborna Street. There are almost no pedestrians. A few meters away is the Central Park, which is also well maintained and cleaned. It has a fountain, but even here, next to the cool spray and in the shade of the trees, it is deserted.
Behind the water jets, you can see the ruins of a building erected in 1882, which housed Lyceum No. 4. The remaining walls of the school will have to be demolished.
Philosophical drawings of Hamlet Zinkivsky's can be seen in the center and surrounding neighborhoods. "How is our freedom measured?" - asks the street artist. "I did not buy this path, but it is so expensive," he wrote over another graphic.
The apartment buildings are gaping with holes in the roofs and walls, burnt-out apartments, and shattered balconies and windows.
THE MEMORY OF THE TRAGEDY OF PERSHOTRAVNEVA STREET
There are houses in Izyum that will have to be demolished because of the global destruction. However, some of them should be left as memorials to the genocide committed by Russian troops.
The five-story building at 2 Pamiati Street, formerly Pershotravneva Street, was torn in half by air strikes. The wreckage killed 47 residents who were hiding in the basement from the shelling. The figure is not final - on July 31, special equipment and rescuers will start working there again, as law enforcement officers found out that there may be several more bodies under the rubble.
Ms. Tetiana from Izyum used to live in this house. She tearfully recalls how wonderful life was here before the Russian invasion.
- "We thought that we would live a quiet old age, enjoying our grandchildren. Everyone loved living here, so close to the Siverskyi Donets. We used to leave the house in swimsuits. And how many flowers we had under the house, it was so beautiful! People would always stop to admire them on their way to the river. We were very friendly, we took such good care of our house, everything was neat and tidy around us and in the entrances too! And now my apartment is gone, the people I knew and loved are gone. Most of my neighbors are dead. Whole families," Tetiana cries.
She says that at the time of the air strike, she was in an adapted bomb shelter nearby.
- "When I found out, I thought I was going to go crazy. There were children here... They were digging up the dead by hand, looking for them," recalls Ms. Tetiana.
Now she lives with her husband in an old country house.
- "One third of it is ours. We have always planted a vegetable garden there. And now we are trying to grow something," the woman says.
Another resident of the building, Natalia Donchenko, left the city before the air strike. She has recently returned from Poland and is trying to recover her lost documents and collect certificates to establish her as a victim. Her two children are studying at the National Guard Academy. The woman herself is going to go abroad again - she has a job there now.
- I'm spending the night at my relatives' place. We hope for some kind of help, compensation, because we need housing, we need somewhere for me and my adult children to take shelter," Natalia says.
Residents do not know if and when this mangled five-story building will be demolished.
- "I can't imagine anything else ever being built here," sighs Ms. Tetiana.
The survivors are not happy about the renaming of the street to symbolize the Pamiati [Memory]. They believe that the tragedy caused by Russian aggression occurred on Pershotravneva Street, and it should remain in history.
PEOPLE ARE WAITING FOR THEIR HOMES TO BE RESTORED
According to the regional and local authorities, 27,000 people already live in the city (before the invasion, it was about 50,000). Instead of the destroyed polyclinic (there were two in the city), a mobile outpatient clinic was set up, which will start operating on July 31. There are now half as many family doctors as there were in the pre-war period, but there are enough for the current population, assures Valeriy Marchenko, head of the city's military administration.
Also, the head of the Kharkiv Regional Military Administration, Oleh Syniehubov, promises that the reconstruction of the destroyed hospital will begin this year.
- There are agreements with the Ministry of Health on financing and purchasing medical equipment for the institution. The priority is operational," the official said.
"Six schools were destroyed in the city, and some of them are planning to conduct the educational process - as in the past year, exclusively online.
To ensure heat supply, modular boiler houses are being installed in the city.
- "The boiler house that provided heat to almost 40% of the population was completely destroyed," explains Syniehubov.
"But what people are waiting for most is the restoration of their homes. According to Marchenko, almost 80% of high-rise buildings were damaged. 120 buildings need to be overhauled, and 80 need routine repairs. In addition, more than 4 thousand private households were damaged.
After the liberation in September 2022, 8 high-rise buildings in Izyum were repaired before the heating season, and another ten were repaired before the heating season.
This year, there is a more ambitious plan, assures the head of the Kharkiv Regional Military Administration.
- "Almost 60 apartment buildings in Izyum are planned to be rebuilt using various sources of funding. "We cannot guarantee that all the work will be completed this year, but it will be started," says Syniehubov.
"In the ProZorro procurement system, you can already see the signed contracts for the development of design and estimate documentation for the restoration of three buildings in the city center. The estimated cost of each repair is between UAH 17 and 25 million.
In early July, a commission was set up in Izyum to award compensation under the eRestoration program. However, homeowners in apartment buildings will have to wait. As Maksym Strelnyk, deputy head of the city's military administration, explains, if a building has damage to the entrance, roof or wall, compensation will be paid after all damaged common areas are repaired and removed.
- "Unfortunately, this applies to all high-rise buildings in Izyum that were damaged by direct hits from enemy shells, and there are most of them in the city, including mine," Strelnyk said.
"After the repairs are done, the apartment owners have to immediately reapply to Diia.
The authorities hope that Ukraine's international partners will join the rebuilding of infrastructure and housing stock.
Yulia Bayrachna, Kharkiv - Izyum
Photo by the author and Serhiy Kozlov