On April 28, a Russian missile strike in Pokotylivka, a suburb of Kharkiv, brought neighbors
together in a way that they never would have imagined before. Tragically killing three, it also left
others facing the challenge of having to put their lives back together again in the place that they
Irina Osroverhova is already a mother of two and about to have another baby “who will be called
Andriy”. She used to balance two jobs, one in a vet clinic and the other in a hospital, but now she
must devote herself full-time to her children. Instead of fleeing, Irina decided to remain in
Pokotylivka. Taking advantage of the relative calm since the liberation from the Russians, she
now must rebuild her home with her own hands.
Vyacheslav, who never expected to re-invent himself as a builder at the point of his life knows
that “it will be long but we work both day and night”. Alexander Ivanovich Bezruk, who also
decided to stay, was “born here and willing to die here, if necessary. I am too old to run away,”
he explains. Although the missile damaged their homes, these neighbors did not want to seek
refuge elsewhere. They wanted to stay, rebuild and slowly begin to live again, despite the terror
that they had just faced. “We spent the first five days in the basement. We didn’t think the
conflict could last that long. We believed it was a provocation. Nobody knew what to do. We
were just hoping,” remembers Irina.
Svitlana Omelchenko, also from Pokotylivka, is in the same situation. She also decided to stay
and rebuild. The decision to do the work themselves comes after the Municipality declared that
financing the reconstruction is practically impossible at this time. “We had no idea where to
go. We had a meeting because among neighbors we feel like a family, and together we decided
to stay. Some are very old and didn’t feel like running away. They preferred to roll up their
sleeves,” explains Svitlana.
The economic situation of rebuilding is difficult everywhere, especially in the villages furthest
from the major centers and it is not predicted to improve in the foreseeable future. At 2022
Davos Economic Forum in May, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke about the
enormous resources that will be needed to rebuild the country, asking the international
community for support. On a more local basis, it is clear the citizens of Pokotylivka also need
external support. Svitlana tells us that “in the end, the city helped us with approximately 10
percent of the budget, but it wasn’t enough. We had to look elsewhere for donations. We were
lucky to have met our angels, the Flaming Beacon volunteers.”
The name “Flaming Beacon” has its roots in the novels of JRR Tolkein where the kingdom of
Gondor uses a series of flaming beacons to signal to a neighboring kingdom for aid in
battle. Beacons, one after the other, are lit to transmit the call for help. Slaven Vujić, head of
Flaming Beacon describes the role of the organization in the first phase of the conflict as
“primarily helping to move refugees from dangerous border areas to safety in other countries, but
with the diminishing numbers of refugees leaving Ukraine, we have now decided to do
something for the internally displaced. We evacuate them from war zones and provide them with necessities.
Here in Pokotylivka, we went one step further and are supporting those that stayed to
rebuild their homes,” Slaven explains.
By Slaven’s side is Iryna Vlasenko, from Dnipro, who became a volunteer after experiencing her
own escape. “I know how it feels to be on the other side,” she said, after having left her own
town on April 16th. “I wanted to bring my son to safety. After arriving in Poland, I had to sleep
for eight days in my car with my son and my dog, Runa. We decided to escape to Zator because
my mother and sisters had also found shelter there.” After being helped by Flaming Beacon, she
decided to help others as she herself had been helped. “I wanted to do something for my
compatriots. While I was in Poland, I met a boy from Kharkiv who told me that his parents’
house in Pokotylivka had been destroyed by a missile.
I relayed this boy’s story to the organization’s volunteers and they decided to finance the renovations.
So, here we are.”
Despite the support that they are receiving from organizations such as Flaming Beacon, it is not
easy for the inhabitants of Pokotylivka. “We are always on high alert, waiting for
something. Sure, more and more people are returning to Kharkiv, but not because it’s safer
now. The truth is that we are simply getting used to war,” says Irina. She doesn’t understand how
everything changed overnight, forcing her and everyone else to review their priorities.
“Every day, we just hope that everyone we know will survive,” she sighs.
Perhaps, the new house that is slowly taking shape is a little spark of hope.