By Carlos Barria and Leonardo Benassotto
IRPIN, Ukraine – The Russians are gone and the tulips are out, but 72-year-old Zinaida Baranchuk has no idea how long she will have to live in a caravan next to the ruins of the home that she inhabited for more than 40 years.
Baranchuk said she last saw her one-storey home standing on March 24 when she took cover in a bomb shelter. Shelling had been raining down on Irpin, her hometown to the northwest of Kyiv, during the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces that began a month earlier.
She was in her bedroom when a round landed outside her gate and shattered all the windows in her home.
“We spent the night (in the bomb shelter). And when I came back in the morning, there was no house. Only smoke left. It lasted for two days,” she said.
Irpin was recaptured by Ukrainian forces in late March.
With the roof, doors and windows blown out and possessions wrecked and covered in debris, the only things still intact at Baranchuk’s home are the brick walls that her late husband laid with his own hands.
Born on the edge of Ukraine’s Luhansk and Russia’s Rostov regions in what was then the Soviet Union, Baranchuk moved to the house in 1981 to live with her husband. He died there later.
“I still can’t believe it. I just think it’s a nightmare. I can’t believe it, but I have to. And these emotions, it’s just unpleasant to look at it now. It’s a shame,” she said.
She said her only certainty was that she cannot still be living in the trailer when winter comes. Her 41-year-old son, Serhiy, also lives in the caravan.
“Maybe our government will think about it and help us, after all. They have already given me a trailer to live in, so maybe they can lend a place to live in the winter,” she said.
Baranchuk cooks on a gas stove in the caravan, getting by on a pension of less than 3000 UAH a month ($99). “Thankfully, they give us humanitarian aid. It would be hard without it,” she says.
She lights candles in her caravan as it helps her to concentrate on peace, calm and good things, she said, but her home is never far from her thoughts.
“I would like to rebuild it, but I don’t have the money, strength, or the health for it. I just want the same building to stand here again,” she said.
“A regular one-storey building, with all its conveniences. A roof overhead, warm, with light and water. Everything the other families have.”