On an unseasonably cold and wet June day in northern Ukraine, word spreads quickly that the breadman is coming.
Old and young alike rush over to a covered structure beside some rubbish bins, and wait.
Novoselivka is a tiny village in the Chernihiv Region left in ruins by Russian air strikes near the beginning of the war. Once a week a van arrives loaded with delicious-smelling, fresh bread — a measure of care taken by local businesses and the government to support those who have lost everything.
“This is necessary because they can’t build houses now because of the war. Such attention as a food basket every month, or hygiene or break every week or sweets for children … this is our attention,” said Oleg Serky, known by locals as “the breadman.”
When Global News first visited the small community in May 2022, a handful of people, mostly seniors, in the village surrounded the vehicle thinking the crew was from an aid agency.
They shared harrowing stories of survival, how they hid in cellars and witnessed homes burning, along with the wounding of neighbours.
“I can’t get it out of my head. The noise of flying rockets or airplanes is all in my head. It flies and falls, and we see someone’s house on fire. It was all in plain sight,” said Olha Makarenko.
It’s been 13 months since the Global News crew last saw the tiny woman with an expressive face and her partner, Grygoriy. When asked how they’ve been, the answer was simple.
“Alive and thank God,” Grygoriy said.
The couple now live in a modular unit. It resembles a typical storage rental container.
All the units are the same with two sets of bunk beds separated by a narrow floor and some wall storage. There’s a small table and two windows opposite the door. Residents have access to a shared kitchen with seating, laundry room, playroom and bathing accommodations.
The units have been arranged to form a larger mobile complex in the centre of the community, just off the side of a partially destroyed building and a large tree stump, which is where several of the residents were sitting the day Global News first arrived in the community.
From that vantage point, you can see one wall of the modular community has a picture of the Ukrainian flag blended with the Polish flag, clasped hands and a hashtag, #PolandFirstToHelp
The Polish government has provided several Ukrainian communities with modular villages, along with a number of aid agencies.
“Before the war, we had a very good village,” said Nadiya, who also lives in the modular units after her home was destroyed in an airstrike.
“Better than nothing. In the summer I lived in a barn and then in the fall we were given this housing,” she added.
The friends in the units love tending to the gardens. And despite the rain and cold, they take the Global News crew down the road to ruins that used to be their beloved homes.
Nadiya has several large rose bushes that sit bordering the foundation of her destroyed home. She cuts a few stems, fashioning a bouquet of red and pink roses.
The destruction is a stark contrast to the bright blooms.
Across the road from Nadiya, lived Mararenko. Shrapnel holes mark the large red metal gate and door that hides a large garden.
Makarenko has planted rows upon rows of vegetables, and the sight makes her smile. But as she turns toward what was once her home, she starts to cry.
When we first met her, she said that all of her homes have been “ruined,” with her first home lost following the Chornobyl disaster and the other destroyed by the Russians.
In the village, some of the large destroyed buildings have been torn down and a few private properties have been rebuilt.
But Grygoriy says there is a long road ahead.
“They are destroying the country,” he said of the Russians. “It will be a lot of work to restore and do everything.”
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