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    28 November 2019

    New Home

    The photo story by Oleksandr Khomenko about an Odesa squat harboring a group of displaced people from Donbas

    This is the story about the importance of seemingly long devalued collectivism. It’s been three years now that a building in the heart of Odesa has been squatted by a hundred-odd displaced people from war-torn Donbas, rebuilding their lives. Oleksandr Khomenko, author of the photo story, is a Ukrainian press photographer, photo editor and journalist for the Ukraїner’s storytelling project.

    “The abandoned building at 4 Uspenska Street in Odesa is over 120 years old. On 24 June 2016, a group of IDPs from Donbas stepped into its yard to protect the unfinished municipal building from possible illegal sales. For four nights, they’ve been sleeping in the open air. On the fifth day, it started raining, so they moved inside and occupied a few rooms.

    It was built in 1874-76 as a dormitory for the sea port workers. In 2008, it was no longer safe to live there, so all the residents were settled out, and renovations began. In 2014, the building was signed off to the regional authorities. However, the displaced were unable to find any documentation on whether the renovations of the dormitory were completed. The place includes three buildings, one of which was nearly 100% renovated with dormitory rooms rebuilt into apartments when the new residents moved in. The other two buildings were in emergency or near-emergency condition.

    Currently, the place hosts 118 displaced people. Most of them are families with small children and elderly people who cannot afford to rent a flat in Odesa. Their homes in Donbas are either destroyed or belong to the occupied territories. Even when the war is over, none of them plan to go back; what they went through during the war was too traumatic. Yet, this spontaneous squat inhabited by displaced people still belongs to the city, which can evict them at any time.

    During the three years of squatting, these people had to stand together in many protests to battle for their right to housing. Any household and organisational issues are also addressed by calling general meetings. This collective housekeeping allows for cultural initiatives, particularly those aimed at raising children to be Ukrainians. The war drove many displaced people to understand why Donbas is Ukraine.”

    Hennadii from Rovenky — at the entrance to the squat yard at 4 Uspenska Street
    Squat yard
    Logging to heat the gatehouse. Unfinished buildings do not have heating. People use electric heaters, which causes regular blackouts in the old mains.
    Oleksandr from Toretsk is wiring the yard for electricity
    Davyd from Rovenky is playing soldiers with his granny. The first building, which is nearly finished and has separate apartments, hosts families with two or more children. The other two buildings used to be in disrepair, and the rooms there were restored by the dwellers themselves. The third building remains uninhabited
    Maryna from Luhansk region is crying as she remembers being hit with a barrage of artillery on her way to work. Only recently, her grandson Nazar started speaking again after suffering psychological trauma due to artillery attacks
    Old Dusia from Donetsk is the oldest squat dweller. She and her son, Serhii, occupy a small room in the second building
    Liudmyla from Donetsk, in a room where she lives with her two sons. One of them was badly beaten during a pro-Ukrainian rally in Donetsk. “On 13 March, it was the last fight where this boy, Cherniavsky, was killed. My boys Sashko and Yurko were there too, and they were beaten badly. Yurko was missing for few days, and we couldn’t find him anywhere. Sashko came home at night, all beaten up — no eyes, nothing. His face was a total mess, all torn. He said, ‘Mum, I was on a bus holding a little flag.’ Later, Yurko turned up, barely conscious, wearing somebody else’s clothes. He was yelling, huddling in the corner; he even tried to jump from the balcony”
    Vasyl and Tetiana, parents of Nataliia from Rovenky, came to see her from the Donetsk region
    Olha from Donetsk refers to her room as “Shahrazad’s chambers” because of the blue décor. Her husband stayed in the occupied territory, and now, she has to travel back and forth from time to time. “I went through the wild ’90s, owned a business. I had a small fish factory. As the war started, we didn’t take anything with us, hoping that everything would soon blow over. And now, I, a businesswoman, enter a tram and say, ‘I am not begging for money; if you have candy, could you please give some to kids?’ Because my grandchildren pick up candy wrappers on the street and smell them. Once, when we were living in Luzanivka in Odesa, some kids threw a firecracker in our yard. And my little ones reflexively fell down on the floor covering their heads”
    The first, nearly fully renovated building at Uspenska Street in Odesa. One of the windows on the upper floor has a Christmas drawing on it
    A room in the second building. Toilet facilities had to be arranged right there in the room
    Sofia from Horlivka is playing with a puppy in the room she occupies in the first building. The woman is the head of Good People, an NGO for displaced persons whose members have occupied the building at Uspenska Street, as well as the squat’s board
    Nataliia from Yenakiieve together with her three kids in a flat they occupy in the squat on Uspenska Street in Odesa
    Yurii and Anna from Donetsk are playing with their little daughter, Angelina, first child born in the IDP’s squat
    Former miner Mykola; his wife, Inna; and daughters Nataliia and Yulia together with their many pets. Before the war, they lived near the Donetsk airport with their 24 animals. In 2006, Mykola was the only one who survived a gas explosion at Zasyadko mine. It was his wife Inna who saved him by not allowing the response group to fill the mine with liquid nitrogen too soon, which would replace oxygen from the air, preventing explosions
    Iryna from Donetsk and her daughters, Daryna and Mariia, in their apartment in the first building. Her husband, Roman, suddenly died of a heart attack when the family had already moved into the house at Uspenska Street
    Anna from Donetsk is picking some clothes — humanitarian aid for the people of Avdiivka. A year ago, the woman started arranging such parcels herself, and now, she sends clothing to the front-line town every month
    Exhibition of drawings by displaced children in the squat yard
    The displaced are carrying bags full of clothing collected by the squat dwellers to send them to front-line Avdiivka
    Donbas kids are singing the national anthem of Ukraine at the grave of a hedgehog they have just buried in the yard
    Iryna from Toretsk is swinging in the squat yard. The swing for kids was made during the first months after moving in. This is one of the yard’s attractions, the local kids’ favourite. The yard has enough space for skateboarding and even riding a bike
    Yehor from Donetsk is doing his homework
    Nataliia from Yenakiieve is feeding her little daughter, Elvira. The community calls Nataliia “Madonna of the Uspenka.” She was among the first to come here and spent nights holding her newborn baby, together with everyone in the open air
    Kids are rehearsing their festive show in the squat yard
    The grown-ups are singing songs to celebrate the anniversary of their squat
    Lunch time fun
    Anatolii from Rovenky airs his dog in the squat yard. This ex-miner is now a local handyman, despite missing two fingers
    The men are unloading the carpet they brought for the kids center arranged in one of the rooms in the third building
    Yurii from Donetsk, dressed as Koschei the Deathless, is having a rest before the show celebrating the second anniversary of the squat
    Oleksandr from Toretsk is beating a carpet in the squat yard
    Sofia from Horlivka and Nataliia from Yenakiieve are doing Anna’s hair for the squat anniversary show
    Cleaning of the yard near the building that hosts over a hundred IDPs from Donbas
    Olena from Donetsk and Vitalii from Vyhoda are setting a festive table in the squat yard to celebrate the first anniversary of living here
    Preparations for the festivities
    Having fun during the holiday feast
    Grown-ups and kids are competing in the tug of war
    Yurii and Anna from Donetsk in the yard
    Ira from Toretsk is looking into the squat yard

    [This publication was created with support of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Ukraine. The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Norwegian government.]

    Дочитали до кінця! Що далі?

    Далі — невеличке прохання. Будувати медіа в Україні — справа нелегка. Вона вимагає особливого досвіду, знань і ресурсів. А літературний репортаж — це ще й один із найдорожчих жанрів журналістики. Тому ми потребуємо вашої підтримки.

    У нас немає інвесторів чи «дружніх політиків» — ми завжди були незалежними. Єдина залежність, яку хотілося б мати — залежність від освічених і небайдужих читачів. Запрошуємо вас приєднатися до нашої Спільноти.

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