By Misha Vavylyuk


Misha Vavylyuk, 43, is a photographer and writer for Mission Without Borders in Ukraine. His photographs of bombed-out schools, weary villagers showing him their once-loved homes, now destroyed, and residents queuing for boxes of food and bread, reflect the reality of life now in parts of Ukraine.

February 2023

Chernihiv region was heavily bombed for 37 days over last February and March. Civilians didn't have time to flee as the attacks started suddenly and without warning. Over 300 people were killed and over 1000 were injured.

Sasha’s mother explains, “Sometimes he acts as though his father is still here. He’ll sometimes ask the others to be quiet because father is sleeping.”

A Mission Without Borders summer camp held in Voloshky, Ukraine, provided some much-needed fun for children whose parents are serving on the front line, in the army, police, fire service and rescue units. Some of their parents had already been killed. 

Pavlo chose to stay in Ukraine and help his country towards victory. He is a mechanic and is working hard to repair damaged military vehicles.

Volodymyr visited villages in the Chernihiv region, an area that came under heavy bombing in February and March 2022. Mission Without Borders works closely with church partners to offer support and distribute aid.

Yhaidne village, Chernihiv region – where this man lives – hit the news when over 300 locals, including babies, children and elderly people, were locked into a school basement for over a month by Russian troops.

He looks out the window at what was once a peaceful community, surrounded by farmland. Before the war, families from Kyiv would spend their summers here. Oleksandr knows his home, which was hit by a mine, is now uninhabitable. Homelessness has skyrocketed in Ukraine since the start of the war, a result of homes being destroyed as well as millions being displaced.

A woman sits outside while volunteers replace broken windows in an apartment block in Nova Basan, a village in Chernihiv region. She had returned home after the region was liberated to find everything in her home broken, destroyed, robbed, and contaminated.

Nadiya and her two children lived in Donetsk region – and hid in a school basement when their town came under heavy bombing. This was a particularly challenging time for Nadiya’s autistic daughter who needs routine and calm. As they escaped on an evacuation bus, they all had to lie down on the floor as Russian tanks began shooting the bus. Eventually they arrived safely in western Ukraine.

After months of constant shelling, during which people retreated to their basements and tried their best to be invisible, Lyman became like a ghost town – with so many of its buildings destroyed, infrastructure wrecked and homes now lacking basic utilities. A study in May 2022 by the World Food Programme found that one-third of households in Ukraine were food insecure.

With their city under Russian occupation for four months, many were gripped by fear as their neighbours were killed and the bombardment went on and on. Both women are afraid that the Russians will come back – but they are also worried about how they will survive the winter. They explain that only by helping and supporting each other have they managed to make it to this day.

The Bobyk family live in a rural area of Sarny region and are enrolled in Mission Without Borders’ family sponsorship programme. They have a piece of land where they grow potatoes, beets and other vegetables, and keep two cows. The family of eight live in an old one-roomed house, with its toilet and bathroom outside. They had hoped to build an extra room onto the house, but the war put their plans on hold.

Davyd lives with his family in western Ukraine, where they are enrolled in Mission Without Borders’ sponsorship programme and receive regular support. The war has caused a steep rise in deprivation in Ukraine – with half a million children now living in poverty. There are also an estimated 1.5 million children at risk of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders and other mental health conditions.

The war has affected families’ livelihoods and economic opportunities in Ukraine, leaving many parents without sufficient income to meet their families’ basic needs. The war, cost of living crisis and destruction of infrastructure means that children like Denys are even less likely to access the essential services they need to be safe and thrive. They are more at risk of child marriage, violence, exploitation and abuse than they were a year ago.

“It was a nightmare that went on and on,” Olha said, describing the Russian occupation of her village in Chernihiv region. She is pictured by her half-destroyed house. “The day that the Russians fled, one of their tanks shot straight into our house. Thank God we were all in the cellar, as there was such heavy combat that day,” she said.

80 per cent of houses have been damaged or destroyed in some towns and villages in Chernihiv region. Air attacks in October 2022 left 1.5 million homes without electricity and about 40 per cent of Ukraine’s electrical grid damaged.

Widespread Russian looting has been reported since the early days of the war. Homes that have been occupied have often been vandalised, with empty vodka bottles, cigarette butts and food waste strewn around, and overflowing blocked toilets. They have also been stripped of anything of value – from clothing to washing machines.

“Now I live in a penthouse,” Oleksandr said. His dry sense of humour and optimism is evident, even as he shows his visitors how a mine destroyed the roof of his apartment and made his home a ruin. There is sadness in his voice only when he shares how the soldiers took away his Bible.

Posad-Pokrovskiy was once a comfortable, flourishing community of about 2,500 people, characterised by lots of cherry trees and a friendly welcome – and now, like so many towns and villages in this region, it lies in ruins.

Misha, the MWB photographer who took this picture, said, “So many people have returned to find their home in ruins – but they’re all eager to rebuild. If the situation stabilises, even more people will return home. Our help is urgently needed in the Kherson region as well as in other regions. There are people with almost nothing left, with no savings, in a country caught up in an exhausting war.”

The siblings live in Kherson region, an area that was occupied by Russian troops for eight months and relentlessly shelled. Before the occupiers left in October 2022, they destroyed critical infrastructure, leaving residents without electricity, water supply or heating. There are severe food and water shortages.

The woman’s daughter said, “Our apartment is on the fourth floor of the building. It was incredibly painful for me to run down the stairs to the basement every time the bombs started, leaving my mother in her bed. Every single time, I was afraid to return in case I found that that my mother was gone. Once, a rocket hit the apartment across from ours.”

Eyes tightly shut, a bombed-out car the backdrop, a woman leans onto her cane and prays to the Lord, together with her neighbours.

Along with so many other people, she cannot understand how such atrocities can be committed – or how her community will ever recover from all the tragedies it has suffered.

Sixteen schools in Kherson region have been completely destroyed, and 48 have been so badly damaged that it is impossible to resume classes in them, the Ministry of Education and Science in Ukraine reported. In Ukraine as a whole, 2,621 educational institutions have been damaged, and 424 have been totally destroyed.

Ukraine has 5.7 million school-aged children. Around two-thirds of them are now displaced, while about half a million students are continuing their schooling from abroad. In September 2022, when the new school year began, 3,000 schools reopened in person, 5,660 operated virtually, and 3,602 used a mixed method. For the thousands of schools that operate virtually in Ukraine, electricity blackouts and poverty affect children’s ability to access their online classwork.

For children affected by war, school is critical in providing them with a safe space and a sense of routine, as well as ensuring they don’t pay a lifelong price for missed education.

Similar to many places in Kherson region, Posad-Pokrovskiy’s water supply, electricity, gas and communications infrastructure were destroyed by Russian troops before they abandoned the town.

There is no electricity, gas and water here. Residents cook outside with firewood and take water from the water stands, and they have placed beds in the basements and sleep there.

As one resident said, “One bomb ruined everything I carefully gathered and built just to live a normal life. What should I do now? How can I start all over again from the beginning?”

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