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“Tired of crying over our past life, we have to start over” – the story of a family from Irpin

Euronews first met this Ukrainian couple from Irpin in 2019 during the presidential elections in Ukraine. At the time, Anastasia and Roman Akulenko could hardly have imagined that a few years later they would have had to hide underground with their two daughters, then run from their house for their lives, not knowing if they would return.

“It was very scary. My husband was on the balcony and the warplanes flew right over his head. He thought the rockets were being launched at us and shouted ‘down’, we all fell down , then we all hid in the bathroom, where we got dressed and went to the underground cellar, since then the children did not want to come up at all. We spent a night in the cellar and in the morning we hit the road,” recalls Anastasia.

At the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, this suburb of Kyiv was hit hard. The family first went to 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 recalls – “You always have to be strong”.

All but three people from their building were evacuated by volunteers in a risky mission a few weeks later. News from their home was hard to hear. One day, shortly before Irpin’s release, Anastasia and Roman saw video of the two apartments below theirs being destroyed after the building was hit by a missile. The family fears the worst. “I cried a lot at that time,” Anastasia recalls.

Eventually, they learned that the fire had 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 held the bookshelves and the TV to the wall, the computer desk, the synthetic clothes…all melted,” Anastasia recalls.

“I can’t call it happiness, but it was nice to find out when we got back that some things important to our hearts survived what happened here. A few little cups… Oh… I was so relieved to get my wedding ring back, to find it could be polished and worn again.”

At first, the authorities first decided to demolish the building, but recently this decision was changed to keep it and renovate the damaged floors under Akulenko’s apartment. Anastasia is delighted with this decision. “I really like it here,” she says. But there is no money for this renovation in the city budget, and no date has been given for the start of major work.

Anastasia and Roman’s daughters did not see what happened to their house. The family was reunited at the end of the summer and now they are temporarily living in another apartment in Irpin. Today, Akulenkos smiles a lot and remains hopeful, working tirelessly with every spare moment to bring their old place back to life.

“We already have plans, what will we do differently,” says Anastasia. “We will correct our past mistakes – which was impractical regarding the location of our captures. The most important thing is that the war is over. And then everything will be fine.”

“We’ll start work in the spring or when the war is over,” Roman said. “In the spring when the war is over,” replies his wife. “Yes, in the spring when the war will be over”, they agree and smile.

The roof above the apartment was also badly damaged. With the help of local elected officials, charities and volunteers, it was temporarily covered with a lightweight drop cloth to protect the flats below during the cold and wet season. It was really difficult to raise funds even for this temporary measure – most of the residents of this building are retired and for them even 30 euros is a lot of money.

The kitchen cabinets are falling apart: the top layer does not hold together.

“I could paint that, but I’m not sure Roman is up to it.” “With water repellent paint?” I ask.

“Yes!” Anastasia’s blue eyes start to look excited.

‘Nope!’ Roman interrupts us gently. ‘We will have everything nice and new. The ashes penetrate deep into the surfaces, we will not be able to get rid of them. “OK, we’ll have brand new, another cheap kitchen!” smiled Anastasia again. “I’m so tired of crying over our past life, we have to start fresh,” Anastasia says.

Last winter changed the life of this family forever. Another is in front of them. The Akulenkos family hopes this will bring victory to Ukraine, complete security and a chance to turn the page.

euronews Gt

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