Three women share stories of how ordinary Ukrainians are joining together to overcome the challenges brought on by the pandemic

Photo credit: Oleksandr Symonenko / UNDP Ukraine

It turns out the best approach to overcoming the daily stress of living in a pandemic may involve getting one’s hands dirty – in the garden.  Furthermore, as many Ukrainians living in housing blocks are discovering, a house can become more of a home with the addition of a few plants and a bit of landscaping.

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At least this is the case with several Homeowners Associations (HOAs) in eastern Ukraine. Asya Bykova, who manages HOA Dvirtseva 44 in the city of Kramatorsk, says she believes planting trees and flowers “helps us to stay connected and physically and mentally healthy.”

The HOAs are receiving assistance through a joint project of the European Union and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Ukraine. The project, called Home Owners of Ukraine for Sustainable Energy Solutions (HOUSES), was launched in 2018 under the Energy Efficiency Support Programme for Ukraine (EE4U). Its main purpose is to achieve higher energy efficiency for multiapartment buildings, but has evolved into a programme to assist locally-supported initiatives to improve and sustain the well-being of residents. These associations have been particularly helpful during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

Bykova, for example, supported an important initative to inform housing block residents of the risks of COVID-19, and how they could protect themselves. With more than 15 years of experience working in healthcare, she was particularly well-suited to supporting this campaign, which she saw as an extension of her ongoing work to support the most vulnerable of her neighbours with payment issues, communal services, and reporting their needs to the local NGOs who support them.

When the lockdown was extended, Bykova mobilized 15 volunteers to improve the areas around the housing blocks by planting trees, bushes, and flowers at a nearby square.  

“People from different parts of our district asked us to help them take care of their flowerbeds and green places,” she says. “We started small, and then grew into a real movement that recently received a grant from the local government to further improve our surroundings.”

Inclusive sports playground

Natalya Liaskovka heads an HOA in Myrnohrad, a small city of 50,000 people in Donetsk Oblast, known mostly for its coal-mining industry.  She was able to join together with her community to overcome some of the challenges posed by the lockdown by organizing the construction of a sports playground for people with disabilities.

"With the onset of the lockdown, things became very difficult for us and our neighbours,” says Liskovka.“Many people felt isolated and alone.  At a certain point, I decided to speak up for our neighbours, many of whom are elderly and facing challenges with their mobility. The lockdown was particularly hard on them, being confined to small apartments.”

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Liaskovka and her husband, who struggles with rheumatoid arthritis, submitted a grant proposal and concept note to local authorities on the idea of a sports field for their neighbourhood.  They also worked together with other homeowners to establish an NGO called “Rozvytok”(“Development”) to unite the HOAs in Myrnohrad to seek joint solutions to challenges that occurred before and during the lockdown; for example: the need to improve communications with the local authorities.

Power of the Flower

Meanwhile, in Severodentsk, residents of the ‘Our House-17’ HOA are also discovering how urban landscaping and organizing outdoor activities (with appropriate social distancing) can help overcome the stress and challenges of the pandemic lockdown.  HOA coordinator Olena Herman says it is important to protect children, the elderly and the most vulnerable groups during the pandemic and beyond, and to unite people from all generations in this cause.  She says that one of the best ways to unite a community is around a garden.

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“Establishing a nice relationship with our community began with planting a single flower,” said Herman. “A flower has great power.”

After the planting of that single flower, Herman decided to mobilize her community to upscale the effort.  She started with her husband Konstantyn, who assisted with procurement and selection of seedlings. Konstantyn, who uses a wheelchair, manages the financial accounting of the HOA and inspires other people to join in its activities.

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“I’m thrilled that we inspired so many people to join the green movement, while helping them to relax from the bad news they may read in media these days,” Herman and her husband say.

 

Note

The article was written to acknowledge the work of the regional coordinators of the HOUSES project, who have assisted with the establishment of hundreds of HOAs during the lockdown and performed top-quality professional work despite difficult conditions.

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