JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Yaro Hnatusko, a student at East Tennessee State University, has been hard at work since Russian missiles first screamed over his family’s Eastern Ukraine home in February. Now, his organization Restore Ukraine is working to create desperately-needed housing throughout the winter.
“The scale is quite massive,” Hnatusko said. “For example, in October we completed the procurement part of the project. Once we completed it, we received 1.5 million pounds of construction materials.”
Restore Ukraine was born as the outreach arm of construction material supplier Atlant. Now the organization is partnered with the International Organization for Migration, a United Nations-connected agency that works to support migrants and displaced people around the world.
As an organization operating in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Yaro said he and his team members have seen their fair share of hardship. Earlier this year, his uncle died on the front lines after volunteering to fight.
“The threat is everywhere, especially you don’t know where to expect it from,” Yaro said. “And that ranges from the missiles, that ranges from the power outages because you have to become reliant on humanitarian support.”
Kharkiv sits on Ukraine’s northeastern border with Russia and has seen some of the war’s worst destruction. According to local estimates, over 11,000 residential buildings have been destroyed by Russian munitions since the war’s escalation in February 2022. Of those, Yaro said nearly 900 were public buildings like kindergartens, schools, universities and hospitals. On top of that, Russian missile strikes have largely targeted power infrastructure in an apparent attempt to freeze out the nation.
“Nobody has electricity as of today, in the country,” Yaro said. “So that means that they have no means to use their oven to prepare food, which is of course a necessity. But also never find means to heat their own house.”
In the wake of such chaos, Yaro said his team is working to rebuild the homes of vulnerable Ukrainians before it’s too late.
Restore Ukraine’s volunteers are receiving roughly 30-piece shelter repair kits to make house calls to 5,000 damaged homes, and crews have plans at 60 houses for direct reconstruction work. For those that have already left their homes, a collective center in Kharkiv will also receive a winterization treatment.
Volunteer efforts will focus on those in the most need, such as multi-child families, people with medical needs or disabilities, the elderly and those injured during the war. Structural analysis for more damaged buildings makes sure all homes are safe and up to international standards.
“I would evaluate it from light to medium repairs,” Yaro said. “Of course, we have to make sure that once we complete the repairs there will be families living in them.”
Yaro said he hopes their efforts can bring some peace of mind back to Kharkiv residents as temperatures plunge to an average between 14 and 17 degrees.
Another major boon to Restore Ukraine’s efforts is the involvement of the international community. With those resources comes a massive vote of confidence, and an even larger responsibility.
“We have to complete our work with absolute perfection,” Yaro said. “So that, of course, there are many more projects to come on behalf of Restore Ukraine.”
Those that are interested in supporting on-the-ground efforts to keep vulnerable populations in housing can donate directly to Restore Ukraine. Donations are tax-deductible through Humanitarian Social Innovations, Restore Ukraine’s sponsor.