Anastasia and Roman Akulenko left their Irpin home with two daughters running for their lives. Today they are back to Irpin and hold on to the hope of living in their home again one day.
Euronews first met this Ukrainian couple from Irpin back in 2019 during the presidential elections in Ukraine.
Back then Anastasia and Roman Akulenko could hardly have imagined that some years later they would have had to hide underground with their two daughters and then flee their home, running for their lives, not knowing if they would return.
“It was very scary," Anastasia remembers. "My husband was on the balcony and the warplanes went just above his head. He thought the rockets were launched towards us and screamed ‘on the floor’ we all fell and then we all hid in the bathroom, where we got dressed and went to the underground cellar. Since then, the children didn’t want to go back upstairs at all. We spent one night in the cellar and, in the morning, we hit the road.”
In the early days of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, this Kyiv suburb was hit hard. The family first left for the countryside in another region. Later, Anastasia and their daughters went to Poland. The separation from her partner was the hardest thing of all for her, she remembers - "You have to always be strong".
All but three people from their building were evacuated by volunteers in a risky mission some weeks later. The news about their home was hard to hear. One day, shortly before the liberation of Irpin, Anastasia and Roman saw a video of the two apartments below theirs being destroyed after the building was hit by a missile. The family feared the worst. "I was crying a lot in those days," Anastasia remembers.
Eventually, they learnt that the fire stopped after burning down their balcony. The apartment, its furniture and equipment were damaged by the proximity of very high temperatures below, by caustic ash and rust.
“The temperature was so high that here on the fifth floor the metal construction that was holding the shelves, TV on the wall, the computer desktop, the synthetic clothes ...have all melted,” Anastasia remembers.
'I can't call it happiness, but it was good to find out on our return that some things important to our hearts survived what happened here. Some little cups... Oh... I was so relieved to retrieve my wedding ring, to find out it could be polished and worn again," she adds.
At first, the authorities first decided to demolish the building, but recently, that decision was changed to keep it and overhaul the damaged floors below Akulenkos' apartment. Anastasia is delighted with this decision. "I really like it here", she says. But there is no money for this renovation in the town budget, and no date has been given for the major work to start.
Anastasia and Roman's daughters haven't seen what happened to their home. The family was reunited at the end of summer and now they are living temporarily in another apartment in Irpin. Today, Akulenkos smiles a lot, and remains hopeful, working tirelessly in every spare moment to bring their old place back to life.
“We already have plans, what will we do differently," Anastasia says. "We will fix our past mistakes - what was inconvenient about the locations of our sockets. The most important thing is for the war to be over. And then everything will be better."
"We will start the works in the spring or when the war will be over", Roman says. "In spring when the war will be over," his wife replies. "Yes, in spring when the war will be over," they agree and smile.
The roof above the apartment was seriously damaged too. With the help of a local politician, charities and volunteers, it was temporarily covered with a light protective canvas to shield the apartments below during the cold and humid season. It was really hard to raise money even for this temporary measure - most of the residents of this building are retired and for them even €30 is a lot of money.
The kitchen furniture is falling apart: the top layer is not holding to the rest.
"I could paint this, but I am not sure Roman is up to it". "With water repellent paint?", I ask.
"Yes!" Anastasia's blue eyes are starting to look excited.
"No!" Roman interrupts us gently. 'We will have it all nice and new. The cinder gets deep into surfaces, we won't be able to get rid of it. "OK, we will have everything new, another cheap kitchen!" Anastasia smiles again. "I am so tired of crying over our previous life, we need to start fresh," Anastasia says.
Last winter changed this family's life forever. Another one is ahead of them. The Akulenkos family hope it will bring Ukraine victory, full safety and a chance to turn the page.