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As Kyiv Struck Again, Victims Of First Russian Offensive Still Battling To Rebuild Lives, Homes

The Lishchuk family survived a direct hit to their residential building in Kyiv by a Russian cruise missile around 8 a.m. on the third morning of the war.

KYIV -- With Ukraine's capital squarely back in the sights of Russian missile launchers for the first time in weeks, many residents are bracing for more of the bombing that killed civilians and left hundreds of buildings damaged or destroyed before the Russians pulled back from the outskirts of Kyiv in April.

Ukrainian military planners repeated warnings this week that the chances are "high" that Russian President Vladimir Putin's forces will launch a second assault on the city, as they reportedly grind out gains further east, especially in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko told a Davos forum last week that at least 120 Kyiv residents had been killed and 300 wounded since the large-scale Russian invasion began on February 24.

Beyond the tragic loss of life, many more Kyivans are still coping with damage to their homes from the Russians' first, abortive offensive on Europe's seventh-most-populous city.

And they are still trying to make their homes livable again, including navigating obstacles to rebuilding during wartime that include bigger national-level priorities, legislative delays and red tape, and a lack of resources.

"Show Putin how he shoots at residential areas," said Kostyantyn Lishchuk, who along with his family survived a direct hit to their residential building in Kyiv by a Russian cruise missile around 8 a.m. on the third morning of the war.

Much of his apartment was destroyed, and there's a gaping hole where several external walls once stood that looks out on adjacent apartment towers.

Kostyantyn Lishchuk and his neighbors are trying to rebuild after a direct hit to their residential tower in Kyiv.
Kostyantyn Lishchuk and his neighbors are trying to rebuild after a direct hit to their residential tower in Kyiv.

His wife was struck by hallway doors blown off by the explosion, and he says his baby daughter survived only because she wasn't sleeping in her room at the time. He shows a Current Time reporter what's left of his destroyed apartment's nursery room: "Thank God that our child wasn't in here -- she was right there in the corridor."

Amid the wailing of air-raid sirens and other wartime challenges, Lishchuk has spent much of the past three months removing the fragmentary walls in his apartment and installing rebar, or reinforcement steel, to prevent collapse.

Because Lishchuk and most of the other 500 or so residents of his apartment tower have decided to stay and fight for their homes -- and hopefully restore the place to habitability -- with or without the funding or explicit permission of state or local officials.

Wartime Priorities

So far, Klitschko has pledged around $20 million toward the restoration of residences in Kyiv, and the state has earmarked at least $6 million more.

That's just a drop in the bucket in a city of nearly 3 million residents before the war, with around 400 buildings already confirmed damaged and no early end in sight amid signs that the Kremlin is hunkering down for a long fight.

Ukrainian officials including Justice Minister Denys Malyuska have hinted they hope seizures abroad of Russian-held assets under the unprecedented sanctions adopted since Putin's invasion orders might be channeled toward rebuilding the country.

But that is a long shot, at this point.

Caught in a legal and practical limbo as the authorities scramble to formulate compensation mechanisms and meet more urgent priorities in Ukraine's defense since Putin launched Europe's biggest military invasion since World War II, they used state funding to get an assessment of the damage and have presented several options for its restoration.

The structural engineers said their damaged building wouldn't survive a Kyiv winter, when average daily temperatures are just a few degrees above freezing, and overnight temperatures plummet even further.

"The heating season starts in about October," one of the other residents said. "That means we have a couple of months left -- two or three months."

Lishchuk and his neighbors are acutely aware of officials' current limitations. They don't expect the state and local budget funding to be nearly enough for their building's repairs, and in any case suspect such money won't be allocated until much closer to autumn.

They have already created a website to share financial details and have raised the equivalent of around $10,000 in a fund to restore the building.

"We decided that we also need to help the state, unburden it," the owners say. "We pitched in money, [and] organized work on the removal and demolition of the [garbage and rubble]."

Delays And Red Tape

In addition to the lack of state and local resources pledged so far to reconstruction, bureaucratic hurdles are emerging as the national legislature, the Verkhovna Rada, continues to debate a bill to support homeowners victimized by Russia's aggression.

Lawyers say the first reading of that draft legislation limited compensation to a maximum of 150 square meters, although lawmakers are continuing their debate. Foreigners and legal entities are disqualified from such compensation. Also, the draft explicitly identifies only private buildings, gardens, and country homes as properties eligible for financial compensation.

Ukrainian firefighters work at a bombed apartment building in Kyiv on March 15.
Ukrainian firefighters work at a bombed apartment building in Kyiv on March 15.

"There are no apartments [listed] there," lawyer Natalya Ostrukh told Current Time. Apartments are included in another form of compensation, she says -- namely, the construction of new facilities.

And the concept envisaged by lawmakers only grants apartment owners financial compensation if they can show that it is significantly cheaper to repair the existing building than to construct new housing. "We made a decision: If housing is destroyed, you can only receive compensation in square meters [of alternative housing]," lawmaker Olena Shulyak said of the upcoming legislation.

Kyiv officials have already vowed to construct two new housing complexes, with a combined 100,000 square meters of residential space. But even optimistic estimates are that those projects will take at least five months.

Some modular housing has been installed for families including in Borodyanka, near Kyiv, where more than 20 multistory residential buildings were destroyed. The minister of regional development, Oleksiy Chernyshov, says they will be used to accommodate 352 people.

For the first time in weeks, explosions rang out in two districts of Kyiv overnight on June 4-5 in what Klitschko said were Russian missile strikes.

Russia withdrew its forces from the area around the capital in April in what analysts say was an effort to concentrate its military campaign on the eastern Donbas region and southeastern Ukraine.

Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and other Russian officials have repeatedly denied targeting civilians. But three months of shellings and other attacks on apartment buildings, schools, and hospitals in Kyiv and around the country suggest otherwise.

Other cities and towns have been all but razed by Russian artillery and aerial bombardment, including Mariupol, a strategic southern city of nearly half a million residents before the war that is now under Russian military control.

Written by Andy Heil based on reporting by Current Time correspondent Borys Sachalko
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    Borys Sachalko

    Borys Sachalko is a correspondent in Kyiv for Current Time, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. Born in Ukraine, he is a graduate of Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv. Before joining Current Time’s Kyiv team in 2021, Sachalko worked for the Ukrainian TV channel STB.