A young man timidly and carefully plasters over the traces from shells on a wall of a school in Sloviansk. The man’s name is Fedir Menshakov. He hasn’t worked as a builder since he was studying in the university several years ago.
After spending a week in captivity in the Donetsk City Hall, where he was tortured by the Russian-backed insurgents who took him hostage, Menshakov, 29, went to Kyiv for treatment.
When he recovered, he wanted to return to eastern Ukraine, so gathered his friends from Donetsk and Mariupol to help out with the rebuilding of Sloviansk. The Donetsk Oblast city of 120,000 people was held by separatists for nearly three months since mid-April, until the Ukrainian army liberated it on July 5.
The team of seven volunteers that Menshakov leads arrived in Sloviansk on Aug. 9. They decided to start with a school and took up the renovation of the junior school building.
Pro-Russian insurgents occupied the building of primary school number 4 in Sloviansk on May 20. They chose it for the location, on the crossroads of routes to Donetsk, Kharkiv and Rostov-on-Don. The takeover took place on a Saturday, when children were not at school.
When Oleksandr Pastuhov, the school director, arrived, the insurgents aims a Kalashnikov on him and told him that he is no longer in control of the school building.
Ukrainian School No. 4 had two buildings, a small one for children from the first through the fourth grades and a bigger one for seniors, with some 375 students.
Each week, parents of children who study at the school gather for the cleanup. Repairing the damaged school is essential as the children don’t want to transfer to another district. They got used to studying in the cozy, old-fashioned school built in 1913. Although the thick walls of the building are still standing, the exterior needs work, the roof needs renovation and new windows need to be installed.
The local Sloviansk government provided the money to buy the materials and to hire a brigade of builders from Kramatorsk. But the first school bell rings on Sept. 1, so more hands are required for the repair.
“It’s hard to sit still and watch what is happening in Donetsk, you always want to do something, you always want to help. I’m 26 and I haven’t been to the army, so I’ve decided to help in a way I can do it,” says Artem Nosachev. Nosachev seems to be the most experienced builder among the volunteers. He used to work as a engineer constructing the billion-dollar Mezhyhirya estate vacated by overthrown President Viktor Yanukovych. Now he rebuilds the school in Sloviansk.
Nosachev’s mother stays in Donetsk. She is pro-Russian, so is his mother-in-law, who stays with his wife in Crimea. Since Nosachev supports the Ukrainian government, he and his mother try to avoid talking about politics.
“The main problem of our nation is that we all want our live to be improved, but instead of doing something ourselves, we just blame the government,” says Nosachev, while applying new plaster to the walls of a classroom.
Editor’s Note: This article has been produced with support from http://www.mymedia.org.ua, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark and implemented by a joint venture between NIRAS and BBC Media Action, as well as Ukraine Media Project, managed by Internews and funded by the United States Agency for International Development.
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