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17.10.2020

For more than a week, starting from September 30, Luhansk region was in flames. Surrounded by dense forests the frontline village Nyzhnia Vilkhova did not escape the natural disaster. Five houses have been destroyed in the village, but the consequences can be very serious. It would be still unknown whether they would be able to celebrate the Village Day on October 14. We join the greetings of the residents from our public correspondent and wish this community successfully overcome difficulties of fate.

REFERENCE: Nyzhnia Vilkhova is a village near Stanytsia Luhanska. 1917 is considered as a year of establishment, but it is well known about the hamlet of Nyzhnia Vilkhovka, which existed here for over 300 years. The population increases 802 people. The village has been managed by the civil-military administration since 2014, which also takes under control Verkhnia Vilkhova, Malynove, Plotyna and Pshenychne villages.

Once they were engaged in growing various crops, raising cattle, making dairy products in the village. Now there are two private agricultural farms left from the whole agro-industry, which offer jobs to village residents. Some people work in the civil-military administration and in the district center – Stanytsia Luhanska.

Nina Horbacheva’s houses were burnt down

In Nyzhnia Vilkhova, there is a secondary school, a kindergarten, a house of culture, a library, a local feldsher and midwife station, a pharmacy, a post office, a church and several shops. The main problem is the lack of transport links. The distance from Nyzhnia Vilkhova to the district is only 12 kilometers, but the shuttles, which used to go every two hours in peacetime, do not run now – drivers reject of this route due to unprofitable runs. Therefore, the villagers get to the district, if urgently needed, rent a car.

International organizations contribute to making life in the frontline village more or less comfortable. The water supply system, for example, has been improved by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Arche Nova Foundation to provide financial support to the German government. Rehabilitation assistance was provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Norwegian Refugee Council and other donors. According to Yurii Penkov, head of the civil-military administration, though the administration is located in Nyzhnia Vilkhova, but changes are happening in every village.

The first stress of 2020 was quarantine – not just because of the introduction of a mask regime, but because of the organization of cultural activities. Many elderly people live in Nyzhnia Vilkhova so that there is a circle for them in the house of culture. Grandmothers created handicrafts, embroidered, knitted tablecloths and napkins, talked. Singing groups and “Skillful little hands” also worked for children. The quarantine circles became online. The masters work at home and post new masterpieces on the Internet, but miss their collective gatherings.

Photo by Serhii Baiev, the night of fire

Another challenge was fires. It was really scary – night and fire, which threatens to destroy the houses where people have lived for generations. Some people hastily packed up things and drove away, others just stood by the houses, which were already in fire, and did not know what would happen next. But there were some people – many of them, more than 100 desperate people – who were not afraid of fire. Shovels and water were used to dig in the territory and extinguish the fire or at least to repel it from buildings and forests. Farmer Mykola Kostylov provided machinery – tractors, excavators, as well as water barrels.

The newspaper column will not be enough to list the names of all those who prevented the burning of the village. But the residents of Nyzhnia Vilkhova are especially grateful to two men – Oleh Shpiler and Dmytro Nosenko. They are neighbors; both are community activists and young parents. Oleh has three children, the youngest is not even a year old. He says that he did not stay away for the sake of his family. He asks to mention people who also helped from the very beginning:

– Hryhorii Kurapov, a resident of Komyshne village, which is next to us, Hryhorii was the first who started his tractor and together with Mykola Lukianenko began to cultivate the territory from Kolesnykivka village to us. To understand, I emphasize that a person from a completely different village helped ours. Apparently, if it were not for him, more houses would have been damaged. I saw how where the epicenter of the fire was, people were already releasing cattle from the yard. The strong spirit of people of retirement age also surprised me. Like Volodymyr Dudka, who did not even throw a shovel in the great smoke and did not pay attention when we asked him to move away, because it was already difficult to breathe. Probably, it was the cohesion of the people that helped, because there were a lot of fires. We tried to keep in touch with people who lived further away, because the wind spread the fire to different parts of the village. Then a fire truck arrived from Kramatorsk with rescuers. The head of our administration coordinated my and Dmytro’s work competently. He eventually asked us to show the way to the rescuers, who quickly localized the fire.

The approximate area covered by the fire in Luhansk region is over 20.000 hectares. 1.150 people and 294 units of equipment were involved in the firefighting, including three AN-32P aircrafts and two SES helicopters. According to the Luhansk Regional State Administration, 11 people died and 18 were injured (including three rescuers). 150 people were evacuated during the firefighting. As of October 10, about 500 residential and more than 1.800 farm buildings were registered damaged by fire.

Dmytro Nosenko is a father of two children. He recalls that there was no time to think then. He took a shovel, drove the car and called other men with him. In 44 hours, Dmytro drove 350 kilometers around the villages where the fires occurred.

– Unfortunately, it was not possible to save Nina Horbacheva’s houses. Although the territory was cultivated and the yards were watered, the fire started from the roof, and there was nothing to do. The covering slate of the opposite house was already cracking, so firefighters poured water on this piece, because there were whole streets nearby. Later firefighters from Stanytsia Luhanska arrived. The guys and I pulled hoses and put out the fire. This stormy wind is very insidious – extinguished one house, another is already on fire on the other side. We just drove away from that house, there was an explosion. It was a gas cylinder, the wreckage flew apart and hit a neighbor.

Dmytro also got a piece of covering slate in his leg when the next day, together with another fellow villager, Serhii Baiev, he was helping firefighters in Vilkhova massif.

The fire lasted for three days. And people won. The surviving village is currently recovering from the shock and is trying to return to everyday life. Civil-military administration provides victims with counseling on compensation for damages. According to the deputy head of the civil-military administration, lawyer Yurii Syrovenko, for this purpose it is necessary to collect a package of documents: a passport, a tax certificate and notarized document of title. Next, you need to write a statement to the civil-military administration and wait until a special commission checks the documents and draws up a report that the person was really injured. The last stage is an appeal to the district. For a completely damaged house, the state promises financial assistance in the amount of 300 thousand hryvnias, partially – up to 50 thousand. If a person was physically injured and was hospitalized, the financial aid will be 20 thousand.

Nina Horbacheva, whose two houses were destroyed by the fire, tells:

– Life did not prepare me for this; it was like a horror movie. The fire was visible for about 17 hours, but at a great distance. I packed my documents and some things in my backpack. Later, tractors came to us and started cultivating the area near the houses, and people together watered the yards. Soon a large forest nearby ignited, and the wind carried sparks, twigs and flames. When the fire approached the houses, everyone tried to help – the administration, firefighters and people, a lot of people. Water was poured on neighboring houses so that the fire would not pass there. And my houses still could not be extinguished… I let my dogs go to escape, but in the morning they returned home, slightly burned their paws. They do not go and now guard what is left.

Liliia UDODENKO/Hromkor Gromada Skhid 19(28) 2020