Skip to main content

Maryna no longer has a home, but she does have a shed

Trees, completely scorched. Houses, broken down. Streets littered with bullets, mortars and pieces of tank. Everything in the Ukrainian village of Trisvyatska Sloboda bears witness to a very recent, bloody history. There was heavy fighting here. Also around the house of Maryna Shvets.


Maryna Shvets
Read more

ZOA helps to repair houses in Ukraine

Maryna lost her home, but not her hope

Photographer and filmmaker Lieuwe Siebe de Jong recently visited the area around Tjsernihiv, where ZOA helps residents rebuild their lives. Amidst the wreckage, he spoke to Maryna Shvets, a brave mother who lost her home, but not her hope.

“Look,” Maryna Shvets says jokingly, holding up a crumpled piece of paper. “This is the energy bill of our house that is no longer there.” I'm stunned. Maryna, forty years old, has lost everything. The new house where she lived with her husband and four children, for only just four years, has disappeared from the face of the earth. Everything went up in flames when the Russians invaded their village, Trisvyatska Sloboda. How can someone who has lost everything, still joke about it?

Maryna's humour is hopeful. Despite the misery she has been in since March 2022, she has not lost sight of the future. Like so many fellow villagers, she is afraid, that's for sure. Afraid of the cold winter now that so many houses are broken or swept away. But even more so for a return of the Russians to the Chernihiv region in northern Ukraine, where the war began.

The unknown

During the long train journey to the area, I meet many returning refugees. Early 2022, at the Hungarian-Ukrainian border, I saw desperate fear in the eyes of people who would give anything to leave their country. I remember a girl with a dog who, after a long wait, boarded the bus alone. On her way to the unknown.

Now, months later, I speak to another girl who is on her way with her dog - back home this time. After a time in Ireland, she hopes to start over in Ukraine. The war is not over, but life is picking up again. I feel the tension in the train compartment as we approach Kiev. What could be going on in these people? What do they expect to find? What are they hoping for? Is there still room for them in this shattered part of the world that is their home?

ZOA employee looking at broken buildings in Ukraine


“It's a miracle that you survived this,” Yuliia heard Russian soldiers say when she carefully stepped out of the shelter after five mortars hit her house. In the summer of 2022, ZOA started offering assistance in restoring homes in her neighbourhood.

Yuliia, who taught English at the university before the war, decided to volunteer as an interpreter. Together with her, for three days, I am visiting people who are busy building a safe shelter for the winter. So are Maryna and her husband.

Maryna no longer has a home, but she does have a shed. “One corner was blown out by a mortar,” she says. “But the rest is still standing. We have therefore decided to convert the shed into a home for our family. I think we will be living here for the next couple of years.” The mortgage for the house that is no longer there, will nevertheless continue. The family had no insurance.

While her husband is working on building a wall around the shed, Maryna talks emotionally about the week it all happened. The week in March 2022, in which they are ambushed by army vehicles in their village. The week in which ripping sounds and crackling explosions cause complete disorientation. The week Maryna spends with her parents, husband and children in the basement under their house.

Maryna in her broken home

An occasional thud

During that week, they sometimes dare to go up to feed the cattle that are still alive. When the fiercest fighting is over, everything above ground appears to be destroyed. Only a few walls remain of Maryna's parental home, that used to be next to the one they lived in. The family finds shelter with fellow villagers, but that is temporary.

“We need to move into the shed as soon as possible,” she says. It is still not quiet in the area, although the occupation around Chernihiv only lasted a few weeks. As we talk, an occasional heavy thud is heard. The danger is now at a distance, but it is not gone. Neither is the fear.

Maryna's oldest child is eighteen; the youngest only six. They too had to hide from the war. How do they process such a trauma, while the threat remains? How can they build their lives, if everything can be broken again tomorrow? Is it useful for ZOA to help repair houses, with the risk of a rocket landing on them?

I get the answers to those questions time and time again from the people I visit together with Yuliia. “ZOA didn't just help repair our house,” I hear them say. “ZOA gave us hope for the future.”

Maryna and her husband working on the shed


Deeply touched but encouraged, I return to my own warm, safe place in this world. If we can bring hope to other people, why not take that risk? With a smile, I think back to the farewell of the brave Maryna, who expresses her hope through the jokes she makes. “When our shed is ready,” she said with a smile as I left, “I invite you to a housewarming party.”

ZOA photographer and filmmaker Lieuwe Siebe de Jong recently visited the Tjsernihiv area in Ukraine, where ZOA helps residents to rebuild their lives.

Read more about ZOA's work in Ukraine