Dobrobat construction battalion: rebuilding better than before

Dobrobat construction battalion: rebuilding better than before

Over two years of full-scale war, volunteers have gained experience that will allow them to rebuild the entire country in the future

Members from the volunteer construction battalion are among the first to arrive at the sites of shelling. They help clear debris and then rebuild destroyed homes and other facilities.

The branches of the Dobrobat volunteer movement are located in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson Oblasts. Today, there are over 40,000 people in the ranks of Dobrobat, including foreigners.

Ukrinform spoke with Dobrobat volunteers and asked them to share their stories.


The first story is about the Kharkiv branch. It is led by professional builder Pavlo Filipenko. He organised a humanitarian hub with his friends in Kharkiv in the early days of the full-scale invasion, providing people with food, medicine, wheelchairs for the disabled, and hygiene products.

‘When the military pushed the enemy away from Kharkiv a bit, there was a need for rapid reconstruction — covering windows, doors, roofs — and we decided to join Dobrobat. It was in July 2022. And so, our story began’, Pavlo recalls.

Today, the Russian army constantly shells Kharkiv Oblast. Volunteers say that after each attack, their chat literally explodes with messages.

‘We react quickly. Many volunteer organisations in Kharkiv participate in relief efforts. We have created a coordination headquarters among volunteers, and we work effectively at the sites of the attacks. The task of rescuers is to extinguish fires, rescue and protect people, and check for remnants of explosive devices. This is a rapid-response team. And we join in when the State Emergency Service gives us the green light. We work together with municipal services that have special equipment’, says Pavlo.

The Kharkiv Dobrobat chat has over 190 people of different professions, ages, and genders. Volunteers have professional battery-powered tools that allow them to work in places where there is no electricity. By the way, the tools were bought with grant money.

‘A half-year ago, we used to count the number of facilities we worked at. There were 3,000 square metres of boarded-up windows, over 1,500 square metres of repaired roofs, and tons of trash removed. Now we don’t count anymore because we are talking about hundreds of thousands of square metres. When a rocket lands amid high-rise buildings, 500 to 1,000 apartments are immediately left without windows. It’s not about counting, it’s about doing things quickly’, says one of the participants.

The volunteer mentions that there are visits when it’s really scary to work. He tries to ensure the safety of every team member as much as possible in the conditions of war. Because now everyone understands that human life is very easily lost.

‘The toughest day... If we talk about the emotional component, it’s the visit to Kupiansk, where the local authorities asked for help in boarding up a school. While we were on our way, and the road was quite far, several rockets hit Kupiansk, and some exploded near a high-rise building. We were told to go there instead of the school. And we found ourselves in the epicentre of that disaster, saw bewildered people coming out of apartments, walking over broken windows, some were bleeding... There were a lot of bloody spots, and then it turned out that someone’s hand was torn off as a result of the explosion. We took people and went with them to their apartments, took measurements, and said that we were there for them, that we would help, that they were not alone. It was a very rough day. However, there is emotional stress at every site. You interact with people; you see their bewildered eyes. Just yesterday, they were living in the warmth of their apartments, watching TV, being with their families, and today they beg to patch up windows or dismantle a fallen wall’, he recounts.

The Dobrobat team collaborates with various international funds and governments. For example, thanks to the assistance of the Belgian government, a kindergarten in Derhachi has already been restored, and a shelter has been made in the school. Joint work with the Estonian government is now underway to restore a dormitory for IDPs.

‘It’s important because this way, we can quickly cover windows with OSB panels or remove debris and do something that will serve people for many years. We try to make it better than it was before. If it’s windows, then PVC ones, insulated. If we’re building a kindergarten, we use cutting-edge materials and apply the best practices’, says the volunteer.

In December 2023, Pavlo and a friend opened a free construction school. He explains his decision by the fact that the country needs at least 1.5 million builders for reconstruction. The problem with qualified personnel in this field existed before the war and has now become even more acute. The Dobrobat school teaches installers of translucent constructions and tilers using the express method.

In the future, specialities such as drywall installers, plasterers, machine technology specialists, facade workers, roofers, and suspended ceiling installers are planned.

‘In a week of theory and two weeks of practice, you can acquire basic skills. People need to be socialised. Many who have lost their homes have arrived in new cities and are sitting around not knowing what to do. And we give them the opportunity to get a profession, enter the labour market, earn money, be part of teams. Potential Dobrobat volunteers come to us’, he explains.

He recalled how, on 29 December, he planned to present certificates to the graduates of the installer group. But at night, there was shelling, and the windows in the hospital were blown out. Pavlo took his ‘students’ and went to eliminate the consequences.

‘They received certificates on the spot, in the headlights, because they worked, as they say, until the last window’, he recalls.

Pavlo would like similar schools to be opened in other regions. He offers this format to international donors, but he finances it himself so far.


We met with Andriі Razin, the coordinator of the Zaporizhzhia branch, on the site of one of the enemy attacks in the winter of 2022. Volunteers helped clear debris in the private sector. It was a miracle that no one died. A rocket hit the ground between two houses: there was a huge pit in the garden, one of the houses had a wall blown out, and the other had its roof partially torn off.

The Zaporizhzhia branch was created on 25 October 2022. Andriі says he had been thinking about it since early October, as soon as the massive shelling of Zaporizhzhia began.

‘The trigger was my destroyed business facility at Naberezhna. I had two car centres: one in Mariupol and the other in Zaporizhzhia. The one in Mariupol burned down immediately after the invasion, and the one in Zaporizhzhia on 11 October 2022. Now it’s in ruins. When we started clearing debris at my facility, we removed over 250 tons of trash. People I didn’t know responded, including an American, and then I realised how much everyone cares. People help sincerely, not for money. We started talking, and it turned out that everyone had felt some kind of misfortune. This kind of mutual assistance is what society needs. This is a good example of how people can unite’, Andrii recalls the events of a year and a half ago.

About 300 volunteers are registered In Zaporizhzhia, and the core of Dobrobat consists of 35 people. Volunteers underwent training in the ranks of the State Emergency Service and know how to work in sites of missile strikes.

In addition to ‘emergency assistance’ in the form of window replacement and roof repairs, there are also projects implemented jointly with international partners. For example, now a major repair of one of the educational institutions, which has repeatedly been targeted by Russian troops, is underway.

‘We came here to clear debris, then, at the request of the administration, helped several more times. We realised that the facility with such functionality is unique in Ukraine and started looking for partners. With the help of the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the NGO Mondo, we repaired three premises, where the administration can now be accommodated and online training can be conducted. We replaced windows in several buildings. This facility is flagship for us. Although it’s difficult to prioritise because many people are suffering’, Andrii said.

In 2023, the volunteer battalion worked in 14 settlements of Zaporizhzhia Oblast. Volunteers made 154 visits, worked on 504 sites (clearing debris, dismantling structures), and worked in 360 apartments, 186 private houses, and 12 social infrastructure facilities. They recently completed work at a dormitory where about 200 internally displaced persons reside. Windows have already been replaced on two floors, but they say much work still needs to be done.

Andrii adds that many Dobrobat volunteers are currently on the front lines. He proudly tells the story of 18-year-old Anton Martynenko.

‘In March 2023, he joined the ranks of the Armed Forces, eagerly awaited this moment. Recently, in one of the battles near Robotyne, he saved his comrades-in-arms, dragged them, wounded, into a bunker, and provided medical assistance. After that, as a result of a drone attack, he was unfortunately injured and lost a leg... The president personally visited him in the hospital and awarded him a medal. We are proud of him. Anton is now undergoing rehabilitation. Recently, he underwent surgery again. We support him constantly. He probably won’t return to the military because treatment, rehabilitation, preparation for prosthetics, and actual prosthetics will take a long time. I really hope that the war will end by then’, Andrii says.

He also remembers those volunteers whose lives were taken by the war.

‘We lost one of our Dobrobat volunteers during a massive shelling on 29 December 2023. Viacheslav Kaminskyi was at work, he did not survive, unfortunately. It was 40 days after his death recently’.

I ask him if there is a need for trained personnel, mentioning Pavlo’s school.

‘There is a need, and we communicated with our colleagues in Kharkiv, who founded the Dobrobat school. We were going to send some guys there for training, but now we need to work here. So, after completing a certain amount of work at this facility, I still want to send about seven guys there to learn’, he says.

Andrii also mentions that they cooperate with the Employment Centre, and some volunteers can participate in the state programme as performers of socially useful activities. He explains that there are certain nuances and selection criteria. Those who qualify for the programme get employed and receive a minimum wage. However, Andrii adds, most team members work for free.


Another story is about volunteers working in Kherson Oblast. The local branch is headed by Larysa Bortovyk. Before the full-scale invasion, the woman was the head of the municipal enterprise Kinovideoprokat.

I spoke with Mrs. Bortovyk on the phone while she was sitting in the corridor as the Russians were shelling the city with Grad rockets.

‘I’m sitting in the corridor because something’s exploding’, Larysa said at the beginning of the conversation, which we had to interrupt later. Shells were landing very close to the woman’s house, and her phone was literally ringing off the hook with calls from relatives and loved ones who wanted to make sure she was okay.

She joined the Dobrobat team immediately after the de-occupation of Kherson on 17 November 2022. And the Great War caught her on vacation, in Mexico. She sent her mother and child to Kyiv and returned to her hometown.

‘I was so motivated that I didn’t have time to be afraid. But when I got to Kherson and saw Russian soldiers for the first time, I must admit, it was a very strange feeling. There was total anarchy in the city. They could simply kill you on the streets. Let’s say you’re going about your business, and you meet an APC that can run over people, cars. The invaders stole cars, drove drunk, ran over people. It was commonplace. I don’t know if it was reported in the media because we were constantly trying to keep our phones ‘clean’ and not use Ukrainian news resources. They could check the mobile phone at any time. The terror was terrible. Imagine: it’s spring, almost summer, three o’clock in the afternoon — and no one on the streets. The city became dead because people were being kidnapped, tortured. My friends were in captivity. But thank God, they’re alive’, Larysa recounts.

She stayed for a month in the occupied city, then left. She was volunteering: sometimes she brought medicine, sometimes humanitarian aid. That’s how she met Dobrobat. And already in November 2022, together, they went to Kherson with humanitarian cargo.

‘There was no communication, electricity, water. But there was such an uplifted mood the whole month that nothing else mattered’, recalls Larysa.

The territory was heavily mined, explosives and ‘petals’ were scattered everywhere. So the volunteers had to wait until the experts inspected these objects.

Larysa calls Kherson Oblast ‘an atypical region’ because after the Ukrainian Armed Forces drove out the enemy, there were still a lot of Russian boards with slogans like ‘Kherson is part of Russia’ in the city. The first task of the volunteers was to clean up the city.

As for the difficult missions, the Kherson battalion had plenty of them. Larysa still remembers the first one.

‘We were asked to go to the region, to Zelenivka, to cover the roof of a private house and board up the windows. That’s when we first heard that a drone was flying. It was morning. Cold. We can hear the drone, but we think it’s our reconnaissance. And we’re in bright orange vests, we’re clearly visible. And then in 15 minutes, we hear a mine coming, close. And we’re on the roof! We look at each other. The second mine lands even closer. We hear the third... I must say, I’ve never jumped off a roof so quickly. Then we did climb onto the roof again and covered it. But after that, before taking on any site, I would think about whether it was worth it because life is the most important thing. That was the beginning. After that, there was a lot of everything... And we had to flee from shelling on cars...’, the volunteer recounts.

Larysa recalls how difficult it was to work when the Russians blew up the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant. She says that at that time, communication between the authorities, volunteers, and services was quite complicated. Everyone wanted to help, but no one knew exactly what needed to be done. In order for people to receive compensation, all damages needed to be properly documented, including the water level in apartments after flooding.

Now, due to heavy shelling, it’s very dangerous to work in the city.

‘There used to be days when it was quiet. But now there aren’t any. A shell flies for three seconds. So now I hear it leaving, three seconds – and I hear the hit. I hear it and I think: thank God it didn’t hit me. In the summer, we could gather 25 people for work, and now it’s 13 or 14. Today, for example, three of us worked, covering windows with sandbags. We carried about 50 bags. I can’t post an announcement in the group because it creates danger for everyone: there will be a gathering, and the Russians will hit there’, says Larysa.

She doesn’t hide that they lack manpower or professional builders. Larysa explains that gender doesn’t matter at all, everyone works equally.

‘I think women can do everything. Boarding up windows and re-roofing are not that difficult. Every time I think I’m tired or something else, I look at the left bank and think: somewhere there, our boys are sitting. We want victory. We lack security. I mean, it would be good for us to have protection from Shaheds, artillery. Because we’re always listening to where it’s flying’, she says.

She is very proud to be the coordinator of the Dobrobat branch. She says she has always supported gender equality, although she is not a feminist.

‘It’s important for me to show that men and women can help equally. Maybe I’ll mobilise over time. But for now, I’m helpful here’, she adds.

Larysa really dreams of visiting the left bank, which is now occupied. She says there is definitely something to rebuild there.

The Dobrobat volunteers already have a construction background that will allow them to join reconstruction and capital construction in the future. Each of them dreams of restoring the region where they live and work. But while the war continues, most of the big plans are on hold.

Olha Zvonarova, Zaporizhzhia

Photos by Dmytro Smolienko and the press service of Dobrobat

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