Be it a nation, a town, or the house they grew up in, for those whose identity is inextricably interconnected with the place that defines them, the simple belief that “There’s no place like home” is more than merely a sentiment, it’s a way of life. For many residents of Mariupol, Ukraine, whose world was upended when a three-month siege was launched by the invading Russian military marauders on Feb. 24, 2022, the homes they’d known and loved were lost in a flash of missile fire. Forced to flee everything familiar, hundreds of cruelly uprooted civilians made their way to Dnipro, where, with the help of the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation, they found refuge. Temporary housing, true — but a home nonetheless.
From Shelter Worker to Evacuee
Nadiia Astanina, who’d been working at a Mariupol refugee hostel that provided shelter to Donbas evacuees prior to becoming an internally displaced person herself, told the Museum of Civilian Voices of the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation, “The greatest need of the [internally displaced persons] from Mariupol is temporary housing.”
Astanina recalled that the day after the first Russian attack, Mariupol was without electricity. By March 1, they’d lost mobile service. “We had no information,” she shared. “We went into survival mode.” Feeling, hearing, and seeing the destruction as it rained down on them, the bombardment of residential areas and maternity hospitals, was overwhelming.
“The sound of an airplane is the most terrible sound in my life now,” Astanina acknowledged, “because it did not stop.” Although there were breaks from time to time, the sound of planes overhead was near constant. Worse, Astanina says, they could hear victims moaning and knocking under the rubble but could do nothing to save them because it was impossible to lift the heavy debris without special equipment. By mid-March, supplies in Mariupol were running out. With no other choice, Astanina joined a caravan of refugees heading for Dnipro.
Welcoming Mariupol’s Displaced Residents to Dnipro
Astanina and her fellow evacuees found sanctuary at the IAmMariupol project, a temporary housing initiative established through the coordinated efforts of Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko and Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk Military Administration. Some initial funding for the project came from the government of France, whose donations to the International Organization for Migration were routed to Mariupol IDP relief efforts.
In April 2023, the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation — a charitable organization financed in part by Akhmetov’s successful industrial concerns, including Ukraine’s leading steel and mining corporation, Metinvest — became a partner in the vital displaced persons housing project. By using existing structures and upfitting them to meet more complex needs, the first refurbished university dormitories were able to accommodate 127 people. Of those residents, 55 were children, including seven youngsters with disabilities.
“In order to move ahead, a person needs a home, at least a temporary one, where he or she could gather their strength and wits. I am proud that we, the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation, are helping to fit out such homes for IDPs from Mariupol here in Dnipro,” said Natalya Yemchenko, a Rinat Akhmetov Foundation supervisory board member.
Already under expansion, IAmMariupol and its sponsors have begun preparations to create second and third housing units, with a projected capacity of an additional 360 families. “Both the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation and [System Capital Management] businesses … support the current stages of this project in Dnipro and are ready to support the next ones in other cities,” Yemchenko avowed. “The cooperation between the cities, philanthropists, businesses, and international partners yields the support that Ukrainians deserve, which every day brings us closer to our common victory.”
The Moral of The Story
In the 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz, after the Wicked Witch of the West is “liquidated” by a serendipitously pitched pail of water, Glinda the Good Witch reveals Dorothy always had the power to go back to Kansas — all she had to do was believe. For the displaced men, women, and children of Mariupol, vanquishing their foes and righting the maelstrom of destruction wrought by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his malicious military minions won’t be as easily accomplished as a classic Hollywood happy ending.
That said, the moral of the fictional tale of Oz and the factual story of Ukraine are the same: Belief is one of the single most powerful forces driving the human spirit. While there might not be a pair of ruby slippers to magically transport them, and willing the future alone won’t make it so, for all of the brave Ukrainians battling against the scourge of Russian oppression, there really is no place like home. Hopefully, through perseverance and belief, it will just be a matter of time before they too are able to find themselves back where they truly long to go.
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