Breaking barriers, building hope in Ukraine
June 19, 2023
Nearly 1.5 million homes have been destroyed during the war in Ukraine, with direct damages to buildings and infrastructure estimated to have reached $135 billion.
From 1994 until 2018, official legislation prevented Ukrainian women from working in construction and other professions deemed to be heavy or dangerous work, but fifteen months into a devastating war, and with hundreds of thousands of men now in the military, groups of women volunteers are challenging lingering stereotypes and taking up tools to rebuild homes and communities.
Velyke Divnytstvo is a women’s only construction initiative based in Kyiv, Ukraine. The group travel to regions which were previously under the control of the Russian military forces and have now been liberated, to help rebuild damaged homes.
The idea arose after the women found themselves being overlooked when volunteering in local construction groups. One month after the official launch in March 2023, more than 50 women had signed up.
The group chose a house from a list of destroyed buildings in the village to reconstruct, having already learnt the basics during previous builds.
“We had a calling to set up this initiative because it is important to understand that women can be useful in construction. Our foreman said that we would not be able to build the roof, but he also said we could not build the walls and the walls are almost ready.”Viktoria Afanasyeva, one of the groups co-founders, explained.
The name of the group, Velyke Divnytstvo, means “girls” and “construction” in Ukrainian. The initiative is supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Government of Denmark who have provided constrution materials to support the build.
Anastasia Manoilo is a developer and has travelled from Kyiv to help with the rebuilding.
“When the Velyke Divnytstvo project appeared, I realized it was finally my chance. Previously, construction jobs were mostly for guys. But right now, rebuilding houses is where you can contribute the most and where you can see a real result from your work.”Anastasia Manoilo
From 1994 to 2018, Ukraine’s legislation prevented women from working in construction, and other professions deemed to be heavy or dangerous work. That’s why Ukraine does not have corresponding expertise, explained Daria Kosyakova, another co-founder of the group.
“a woman without experience is no different from a man without experience. I'm not talking about physical strength but about ability, acquiring skills, and learning.”Daria Kosyakova
The house the team are rebuilding was destroyed when Russian tanks fired at the building last year. The family were at home but fled as the house erupted into flames. When the region was liberated, they returned to the village and hope to be able to move back to their reconstructed house by winter.
This house is one out of thousands of destroyed buildings in Ukraine. In Chernihiv Oblast alone, the authorities estimate approximately 3,500 buildings, 80% of which were residential, have been damaged or destroyed.
Considering how long it takes to build even one house, it gives a serious perspective on how difficult it will be to rebuild the country and how all the people who can contribute are really needed,” explained a Velyke Divnytstvo volunteer.
The crisis in Ukraine has erased 30% of pre-war jobs. As reconstruction and recovery efforts gather momentum, supporting grassroots movements of women in local recovery efforts will be critical, including a focus on building skills and creating employment opportunities.
Photos: UNDP Ukraine