For almost a year and a half, a group of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from eastern Ukraine have lived in a 19th-century building in the heart of Odesa, in Uspenska Street. They number over a hundred and have been improving the building on their own. It was there that Oleksandr Khomenko photographed Ira, a little IDP Fairy, who brought him the Prize of Prizes at the 19th Den’s International Photo Competition.
For three months, the IDPs lived without water and power, and only subsequently were able to connect to the power supply and water mains. There is still no district heating there. People want to pay utility bills, but cannot because they do not have the required legal status.
The Day visited the house at 4, Uspenska Street and talked with the community’s representatives: head of the “Good People” NGO Sofia Markina, and head of the “DONBAS – ODESA – NEW LIFE” NGO Yulia Piatachenko.
“THE BUILDING’S INTENDED PURPOSE IS UNCERTAIN”
“We came here on June 24, 2016, and after just a month, realized that the authorities did not want to contact us (the only exceptions being police visits and those by representatives of Transbud Ltd., which has possession of the property). After a month, we began to write to Infoksvodokanal [this company provides drainage and water supply in Odesa. – Ed.] and the regional power company, asking them to conclude agreements with us which would bind us to pay for water and electricity which we would actually use. We have sent many different requests. They have been denied, because we are not considered members of the community, they say: ‘Who are you? Why do you need it?’ We paid the bills in May, but they then cut our power supply. We, of course, went to the regional power company as one, talked there to one Mr. Honcharenko, the head of the credit department. Then we were promised that an interim agreement would be concluded, which would then be extended on a monthly basis. We agreed. For our part, we signed this agreement; we were asked to leave it there, because before it would be signed by the regional power company’s CEO, it had to be signed by the District Grid’s chief manager. After that, we were to pay all the bills in full. A month later, they called us and told us that they could not sign this agreement with us because they lacked authority to do it. We know they have that authority, but it seems that there were superior orders against it. Since then, we have transferred 68,000 hryvnias to the regional power company, but have had them all returned, with the explanation: ‘We may not accept from you money for power consumed, because there is no contract.’ Now we are going to pay again, but we do not know how it will end up...”
That is, you pay, but are not sure whether these funds will be accepted?
“Yes, this week, we will transfer funds to the Odesa regional power company (Odesaoblenerho) for the third time to pay for power consumed, one payment covering three months... We have data from meters installed by the company. We just add money to our total payment due every month.”
Do you have power now?
“Yes, we have. But winter has come, and nobody knows how the regional power company will behave in the future... We have also appealed to Anatolii Urbanskyi [chairman of the Odesa Oblast Council. – Ed.] and Transbud with a request to conclude some provisional contracts with us. But Transbud has replied that the owner of the building is the territorial community of Odesa city in the person of the Oblast Council, while Transbud is only its possessor. Thus, they advise us to contact the owner with any questions. We appealed to the Oblast Council, but there were many different answers on its part. It seems they are a little confused. At first, they claimed the building was in disrepair, then that it was a non-residential building, and lastly they stated that ‘the building’s intended purpose is uncertain.’ This building is an architectural monument, and the possessor must maintain the building and prevent it from crumbling. Moreover, this architectural monument is a former dormitory, and by law it should be used for its intended purpose. If it is a dormitory, then it should be used as a dormitory...”
“IF IT IS NOT MADE CLEAR NOW TO THE POPULATION THAT WE ARE UKRAINIANS, WE WILL HAVE TO FLEE ONCE AGAIN...”
Before coming to dwell in this dormitory, all these people were renting apartments or rooms in the city. But during the holiday season, the rent for housing in the city goes up greatly, so finding a separate large home for everyone was the only solution.
“A friend of Markina lives near this building, she is also an IDP. And she told us once that she was regularly walking past this building, that the building was empty and there were no repairs being done there. We came looking and requested information from the State Property Fund, and so we learned that the building was municipally owned and therefore belonged to the community. And we are also members of the community! The only thing we ask is to give us a building for use, we do not ask for any gifts. We were offered accommodation in Borshchi and Stepove. There are no jobs in either place,” Piatachenko said.
“We do not demand anything from anyone. We have already cleared a lot of rubbish here... If only you saw what was going on here when we came! For example, there was a huge rubbish heap instead of this flowerbed. And recently we were presented with 15 cherry trees, and we have planted them as well. We have also installed all the windows ourselves,” Markina added.
“We are now creating a children’s center in one of the rooms. Truth be told, we got a lot of help as people provided us with free materials. Children already study there, they made pendants yesterday. We have brought three computers there. We want to conduct English lessons for adults. And we really want to learn Ukrainian, because we are all Russophones. We strive to speak good Ukrainian. We need patriotic education. It turns out that nobody was doing it before, and look where it has led us,” Piatachenko concluded. “If it is not made clear now to the population, the kids that we are Ukrainians, we will have to flee once again... And we do not want to do this anymore.”
P.S. For our part, having a special attitude towards these people and taking into account their desire to learn Ukrainian, we will send them as Christmas presents our Ukrainian-language bestsellers: Ukraine Incognita; Ukraine Incognita. TOP 25; My Sister Sofia... and our latest book The Crown, or Heritage of the Rus’ Kingdom.
Read them and send us your impressions.