When Buildings Can Talk: Real Face of Civilian Infrastructure Ruined by Russian Invaders

February 2, 2023
Russia’s full-scale aggression has caused $137.8 billion damage to Ukraine’s infrastructure. This devastation is not only a matter of buildings and facilities, but about people’s personal tragedies.
Photo credit: Suspilne

Russia's war against Ukraine has damaged all spheres of life in Ukraine, but infrastructure has suffered the most. According to the latest calculations as of December 2022, the total amount of damage to Ukraine's infrastructure by Russia has reached $137.8 billion.

A considerable proportion of this damage has been caused directly to civilian infrastructure. Thus, the damage to Ukraine's housing stock amounts to  $54 bln. 149,3 thousand residential buildings have been destroyed or damaged, including 131.4 thousand houses, 17.5 thousand apartment buildings, and 280 dormitories.

Educational institutions have been heavily affected. They have sustained estimated losses of $8.6 billion. More than 3 thousand educational institutions have been destroyed or damaged. Other types of civilian infrastructure objects have also taken significant damage, including cultural, sports and religious institutions ( $2,2 billion.), healthcare facilities ($1,7 billion.), and social sphere facilities ($0,2 billion).

These figures are telling enough. However, behind every statistic, there are stories of real people who have lost everything because of Russia's brutal invasion. This pain and suffering is testified to by the wrecked buildings themselves. The UkraineWorld team and its partners visited places heavily damaged by the Russian military in different regions of Ukraine. They spoke to people who continue living in their wounded hometowns and villages, and who have witnessed the scale of disaster.

Kyiv Oblast

Moshchun - once a picturesque village close to Kyiv, it now lies in ruins. Our team visited it in August. The village witnessed fierce fighting. With about 90% of houses in Moshchun's area of country houses destroyed, the village was almost empty. Only a few people remained living in the ruins of their homes. We talked to a man who was trying to survive in his almost destroyed house. He managed to make just one room inside it liveable. It was liveable only in a nominal sense, since there was no water, gas or electricity supply in the village.

An elderly couple found themselves in a desperate situation. They have nothing but their ruined house. No other property, and no children. They had to live in their neighbor's house, which was also damaged by Russian artillery.

One man standing in the ruins of his garage came to Moschun with his children from Kyiv in the beginning of the full-scale invasion, thinking it would be safer in the suburbs. They used the basement of the garage as a shelter until it was ruined to the brick. Luckily, he and his family were not wounded in the bombardment.

Video by UkraineWorld

These people's stories, along with the scarred face of Moshchun itself, provide key human context to the sterile figures of damaged civilian infrastructure. One day, all the buildings will be restored, new houses will be built, and life will come back to this picturesque village close to Kyiv. But these scars are carved in people's hearts forever.

Eastern Ukraine

The beginning of December. The UkraineWorld team is visiting villages in Kharkiv Oblast of eastern Ukraine. It was another hotspot before the Ukrainian Armed Forces liberated it in September. Kharkiv itself was heavily damaged by constant Russian bombardment. Now, life is gradually coming back to the city. However, it's difficult to say so about the villages between Kharkiv and Sloviansk which were either under occupation or directly in the frontline.

The village Korobochkyne was on the frontline for 6 months. The once-prosperous village of 3000 now has just about 300 inhabitants.

One of them is 82-year-old Nina, whose house was completely burned down after being hit by a Russian shell. Nina miraculously survived the strike, but now has to live in her 'summer kitchen', a small building used to cook in the summer. Volunteers helped her to repair this building so that she could live in it. Nina refuses to leave her village, because she knows that her animals would die without her. (by Ukraine_World)

As in many other Ukrainian cities, towns and villages that suffered from Russian attacks, there's no water, electricity, or gas in Korobochkyne. About 70% of houses have been damaged, while about 10% have been completely destroyed. People try to take care of the  houses which aren't completely ruined. They build improvised roofs and cover windows of some houses in hopes of preserving what remains in them.

Further towards Sloviansk, the scenery becomes more apocalyptic. The villages of Kamyanka and Dolyna are almost completely wiped out. Not a single house can be seen there which wasn't damaged by Russian shelling. Only about a dozen people remain. One of them, Serhiy, has stayed to take care of  his elderly mother. They live in Kamyanka in a small house with just two remaining habitable rooms. The Russian invaders have made these people live in ruins in unbearable conditions. There's no water, electricity, or heating. People rely on rain and snow for water and burning wood for heat.

Video by Ukraine_World

However, that's not all that the Russians left behind. Local people spoke of how the Russians destroyed appliances they saw or and blew up people's old cars with grenades. This inexplicable destructive impulse living inside the Russian invaders leaves no chance even for concrete and metal.

Southern Ukraine

When Russia launched their attack from occupied Crimea up the Black Sea Coast, the two regional capitals, Kherson and Mykolaiv, bore the brunt of their fury.

Kherson fell under Russian occupation for 256 days, while Mykolaiv managed to hold out under Russian fire, protecting the rest of Ukrainian south. The entirety of Mykolaiv bears wounds from Russian aggression. Even though the constant artillery bombardments ceased after the liberation of Kherson, the wounds are still bleeding. The city still looks half-abandoned, even though people are gradually coming back. There's no water supply in the city, as those facilities were destroyed by the Russians. Instead, the city relies on salty water from the Bug River delta.

One of the biggest city's wounds is the regional administration building, which was destroyed by a Russian missile strike on March 29. About ¼ of the building collapsed, leaving a huge hole in its body. 

  (by Vitaliy Kim)

One of the women who worked there was lucky enough to survive simply because she was late to work that day. Many of her colleagues died. In total, 38 people were killed in that attack.

The apartment buildings opposite the regional administration building were also damaged, and they haven't recovered yet. They remain without their windows, facing the world with open wounds. It's also impossible to find any school or university in Mykolaiv which escaped without damage. The Russians treated them as bases for Ukrainian soldiers.

The liberation of Kherson brought so much joy for both its residents and the whole of Ukraine. But this was quickly tempered with the start of everyday Russian bombardments, as the enemy sought to punish the city for being free again.

Now, Kherson is a front-line city. The Russians hold positions just on the opposite bank of the Dnipro river. They are shelling the city with everything they have: missiles, artillery, and tanks. Kherson's external wounds are quite fresh, but they are very numerous and striking. The bombardments are chaotic and damage many different parts of the city, mostly civilian infrastructure. The tragedy of December 24, when Russians struck a market in the city center, took the lives of 10 people and wounded 68. A number of buildings and cars were also damaged. Apartment buildings across the city are under constant threat. 

  (by Reuters)

(by General Prosecutor's Office)

Healthcare facilities in Kherson have come under particular Russian fury. Since the beginning of January, hospitals in Kherson have been under constant attacks. On January 1, the Russians struck a children's hospital, hitting another one on January 10, and bombing a  maternity hospital on January 11. 

(by Viktor Liashko)

(by Kherson Civil-Military Administration)

The aggressor has brought misery to the lives of Ukrainians, wounding their bodies and souls, but also the bodies and souls of the cities, towns and villages they live in. Attacks on civilian infrastructure are  war crimes - among the many horrendous and criminal acts Russia has been committing in Ukraine and must be punished for.

This article is produced within the project «EU Emergency Support 4 Civil Society», implemented by ISAR Ednannia with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Internews Ukraine and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

Anastasiia Herasymchuk
Analyst and Journalist at UkraineWorld