Spotlight on Ukraine 9

Rebuilding Amid Uncertainty: Reconstruction in Ukrainian Cities

by Tetiana Skrypchenko 03/07/2024

Reconstructing buildings damaged by shelling is a challenge while Russia continues its attacks. And yet reconstruction is in full swing in Ukraine. A survey conducted in spring 2024 shows that many of those affected have rebuilt their homes using their own funds.

Reconstruction of houses damaged by Russian shelling in Irpin, in the Kyiv region, in February 2023. © IMAGO / Volodymyr Tarasov/Ukrinform/ABACAPRESS

Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, a considerable number of the country’s residential buildings have been damaged or destroyed. Aside from the direct implications in terms of damaged property, the indirect consequences of this destruction include forced displacement, poverty, and urban economic decline.

In spring 2024, a comprehensive study into damaged housing was conducted as part of the Ukraine Research Network@ZOiS in two significantly affected cites: Irpin, in the Kyiv region, and Kharkiv. The research included 20 in-depth interviews with local residents and managers of damaged buildings as well as a quantitative online survey of 300 residents. The results of the research revealed that almost half of the affected population had already rebuilt their housing, often at their own expense.

Sources of reconstruction financing

Most residents who have rebuilt or are in the process of rebuilding their homes spent their own money on repairs: this was the case for about 60 per cent of residents in Kharkiv and more than 70 per cent in Irpin. However, reconstruction costs often included multiple sources, such as general state programmes and local authorities. Overall, residents’ satisfaction with assistance from the local authorities was higher in Kharkiv (59 per cent) than in Irpin (41 per cent). In Irpin, additional funds were often provided by the Union of the Owners of Multiple Houses, and residents tended to raise funds themselves, usually through Facebook.

One manager of a restored building in Kharkiv praised the local authorities, saying they ‘were always there [and] helped to remove rubbish and organise the work’. But a resident of a building in Irpin that had not been reconstructed was less positive, saying, ‘At first, the authorities promised reconstruction, and then they said that there would be an art park instead.’

Building managers emphasised the importance of communication within communities and with local authorities, which were generally more helpful than central authorities. Those whose housing was significantly damaged relied on local authorities more often. In general, greater damage correlated with a lower level of recovery, while private houses were harder to restore than blocks of flats. Houses with neighbourhood associations, where residents are co-owners of their buildings, had higher recovery rates than older houses managed by the communal housing maintenance office, where residents’ involvement in the recovery was lower.

Importantly, where there were discussions among the residents or work was carried out jointly, there was also greater success in terms of recovery. For example, one resident of a restored building said that the neighbours ‘gathered on the weekend and cleared the rubbish’. Meanwhile, the manager of a restored building explained that ‘volunteers came and helped install windows, replace doors, and even provide materials for repairs’.

Interviewees and survey respondents also mentioned help from international or charitable foundations, such as Caritas, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the UN. Various Ukrainian charitable foundations were highlighted as well. In Irpin, respondents mentioned the help given by private businesses, including in individual cases of energy-efficient reconstruction.

The change in funding sources over time is noteworthy. While the Kyiv region was damaged only at the beginning of the war, the shelling of Kharkiv continues to this day. About 15 per cent of respondents there suffered housing damage in 2023–2024, and they received more help from international and charitable foundations than in the earlier period of the war.

The government’s eRecovery programme

The Ukrainian government’s eRecovery programme was the primary form of state assistance mentioned by respondents. About a third of residents in Kharkiv and half of those in Irpin applied for assistance from eRecovery. Yet, the programme has been plagued by challenges including complex registration, long waits, and insufficient funds. Fifteen per cent of respondents tried to apply for assistance from the programme but were unsuccessful.

About a third of applicants interviewed said they had already received help. Younger residents navigated the online process more easily, leading to a higher number of applications from them than from older residents.

Official evaluations of housing damage are crucial for successful applications. Despite some difficulties, most respondents assessed the process as transparent. However, one interviewee mentioned the risk of corruption in the process of assigning the status of a damaged house.

Self-financed reconstruction

A lack of help from authorities or foundations at the beginning of the war led many residents to rebuild their homes themselves. One resident of a restored building said, ‘We collected funds from the residents because there were no state funds then.’

Free temporary accommodation was not widely offered to those displaced by damaged housing, making returning home a necessity. Temporary solutions like dormitories, schools, or modular houses were often seen as unsuitable for long-term living. Those whose homes have not been rebuilt currently live with relatives or, more commonly, in rented apartments. In general, interviews revealed that self-financed reconstruction gave residents hope for a faster return to normal life. Not knowing how long they would have to wait for third-party help pushed residents to take independent action. They wanted to return to their city and move out of temporary accommodation as soon as possible.

The use of personal resources did not vary much by income level: both low-income and wealthier residents spent their own money. However, while the wealthy primarily used their own funds, low-income individuals more often took out loans. In the words of one resident of a partly restored building, ‘There were not enough funds for repairs, [so] we had to cut costs on everything.’

Even with help from authorities or foundations, restoring individual flats after the building reconstruction work was still difficult. People needed extra funds for furniture restoration, as those with heavily damaged homes had lost almost all property, and current aid programmes do not cover these losses.

Future expectations

Notably, more than 70 per cent of those who spent their own money do not believe that these funds will be reimbursed. Only a small proportion of residents hope for compensation, mostly from the government, while few believe that reparations from Russia are likely. As for the eRecovery programme, many residents applied at the beginning of the war, when the programme was new and had limited functionality.

Among those who have not yet rebuilt their homes, most assume they will have to do so at their own expense. Many remain uncertain as to whether their houses will be rebuilt at all. Those without a clear recovery plan have a more pessimistic outlook; this is slightly more frequently the case in Kharkiv, a city with ongoing shelling. In contrast, those who managed to restore their homes feel optimistic and are generally satisfied with the result. People who rebuilt their houses are proud of their achievements and hope their experiences will help improve support programmes and lead to more successful reconstruction.

Tetiana Skrypchenko is a fellow at the Ukraine Research Network@ZOiS, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.