A group of volunteers hold a cleanup party to spread joy in Ukraine. Young Ukrainians blast music and dance while clearing the rubble of destroyed homes.
Mary Louise Kelly, Host:
War is terrible, but war cleanup – A Ukrainian grassroots organization is trying to make war fun by bringing young people from cities to war-torn villages. There is much more information.
Kat Lonsdorf, Byline: Hanna Yurchenko, 66, carries a basket full of apples freshly picked from the tree next door. On the first cool day of autumn she is one drizzly afternoon. She roams what was once her home, now just a foundation littered with broken bricks and shards of glass. The setting is tough, but the mood is bright. Her blast of techno flowing from a Bluetooth speaker. people laugh and dance. Hannah gives an apple to a worker who shovels a pile of rubble into a metal bucket to clean up the destruction so that her house can one day be rebuilt. She cannot rebuild until it is cleared.
HANNA YURCHENKO: (in Ukrainian)
Lonsdorf: On March 7, she said she saw not one, but multiple rockets hit her home. This is the small village of Kolychvka in northeastern Ukraine, which was heavily attacked early in the major Russian invasion.
H YURCHENKO: (Through an interpreter) I came to this cleanup alone, but I am very grateful to these children.
Lonsdorf: The kids Hannah is referring to are a dozen kids in their 20s and 30s who are clearing the rubble. They sway rhythmically and shuffle along with the music. A woman cutting an old pipe with an electric saw. Twenty-seven-year-old Roman Her Tarashuk hunches over a trailer, emptying a bucket of debris to be hauled. He wears overalls and a light blue shirt and has his long hair in a ponytail.
ROMAN TARASIUK: Volunteering in Ukraine is part of our daily life.
Lonsdorf: 20-year-old Viktoria Szytowska brought a full bucket. She says she needs this festive atmosphere.
VIKTORIA SEETOVSKA: We all feel anger and many destructive emotions.
Lonsdorf: According to her, listening to music helps push those emotions out and make them work. That’s the idea behind this whole event, put forward by a group called Repair Together. Marina Hrebinna is one of her organizers.
MARINA HREBINNA: The scale of destruction – it’s really huge.
Lonsdorf: It all started with a group of friends who went to help another village in the spring. But there were many places where help was needed. So they invited friends, and friends invited friends and groups. All volunteers now pay a small fee to rent a bus and work with local authorities to identify where they are most needed. Today they are clearing six houses.
HREBINNA: We are not builders here. We are all just normal people. But we have arms, bodies, and physical health.
Lonsdorf: Above all, she says, it’s about helping people, but it’s also about building community so no one feels alone.
(music sound bite)
Unidentified Music Artist #1: (singing in Ukrainian).
Lonsdorf: Down the street, a boombox on the foundation of another blown up house blasts Ukrainian music. Two young men throw bricks at each other and pile them up. Tetiana Vereshchahina uses a shovel with volunteers. This was her family’s home.
TETIANA VERESCHHAHINA: (in Ukrainian)
Lonsdorf: She says it was all a surprise. She asked the local government for a trailer and learned the day before that the entire team had come to her aid, her 9-year-old daughter Anastasia jumping and dancing nearby.
Vereshchakhina: (in Ukrainian)
Lonsdorf: Techiana says she’s helping out too, making tea for everyone. Volunteer Liza Kochubey says that just because she’s helping out here today doesn’t mean she’s not paying attention to what’s going on. In fact, it’s the opposite.
Liza Kochubey: (through an interpreter) Here you go. There are 7 days in a week. For example, five days a week I read the news and feel really sad about what I read. And then there are two days when we get together and get distracted by work.
(music sound bite)
UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #2: (singing in a language other than English).
Lonsdorf: Katya Yurchenko, 60, is just a short walk by a cow grazing on the side of the road, watching over her destroyed property. There, a young volunteer is packing up at the end of his day.
Katya Yurchenko: (in Ukrainian)
Lonsdorf: She says she was born in this house and has lived here all her life. Cleaning it up was too emotional to do alone. She says this group of workers finished in one day what would have taken her months, even if the music wasn’t really for her.
K YURCHENKO: (through an interpreter) They’re young and they like music, so it doesn’t matter. But honestly, there is no music in my soul right now.
Lonsdorf: And she stops and says…
K YURCHENKO: (via interpreter) What do you know? Music is much better than bombs.
Lonsdorf: As Katya speaks, the setting sun fills the entire horizon. Bright pink, orange and purple. It reflects off the gold-domed church next door and off a nearby creek. A few volunteers start packing to take selfies, then continue to pile up equipment. Katya thanks them. They wave their hands down the dirt road, holding Bluetooth speakers and still roaring.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (laughter).
Lonsdorf: They turn the corner. Music fades. The village becomes quiet again. Katya stood in what used to be her kitchen and walked over. Now she says she needs a little help to rebuild.Kat Lonsdorf, NPR News, Kolychvka, Ukraine.
(Sound bite of Italo’s song “Mischief”)
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