Shelter in Bakosh: how Transcarpathian activists host Ukrainians and Roma who have lost their homes
Since the start of the full-scale Russian military invasion of Ukraine, almost a quarter of Ukrainians have been forced to flee their hometowns and villages invaded by the enemy army. Those who have lost their homes today are forced to live in shelters and volunteer centers in different parts of the country. And hope that the war will end soon, and the way home will be safe again.
Accommodation for a road trip
The small village of Bakosh in Transcarpathia is now a fortress for migrants. Shelters for injured Ukrainians have been set up here on the basis of three secondary schools. One of the largest shelters in the village was the local secondary school, which now houses more than seventy people. Anzhelika is a school principal, chemistry teacher and part-time volunteer. She is one of those who made efforts to turn the school into a temporary shelter.
“In the first days of the offensive, the head of the village council called us and offered to turn the school into a temporary shelter. We started training and a few days later the first people came to us,” says the volunteer at a time when new residents are constantly arriving at the shelter.
The village of Bakosh is located 13 kilometers from the border with Hungary. Therefore, at first it was convenient to stay here for two or three days, and then travel again. Tired and frightened by the war, people who came to the shelter for the night more and more often wanted to stay. I no longer had the strength to travel further. Therefore, we decided to equip a full-fledged shelter with all amenities.
Cooperation of local authorities, activists and volunteers
Anzhelika, who takes care of the migrants the most, cares for every bed, food and humanitarian aid. He says that the school can accommodate a total of 163 people. Today, 74 people have taken refuge there, including children and teenagers. The local council is actively involved in helping and supporting shelters. Activists are also joining. During the full-scale Russian invasion, a session of the Bakosh village council agreed to help with food, hygiene and household items. In addition, according to volunteer Anzhelika, the cost of maintenance is covered by the community development project.
“Even before the recent events, we had an initiative group. We worked on various projects, but then the idea arose to direct funds from initiatives to the priority needs of migrants. We were supported, and we bought mattresses and products.”
Shelter has all the amenities for a comfortable stay. The school is warm; there are showers, toilets, washing machines. The agenda includes three meals a day for adults and four meals a day for children. All household chemicals and personal care products are also available at the center. The institution cooperates with humanitarian organizations that help internally displaced persons.
“By working with a variety of organizations, we are able to help people in the east of the country. From time to time we pass on the necessary things to our military, we help each other as much as we can,” says volunteer Anzhelika. NGO “Stan” also joins the organization of the shelter in the village of Bakosh.
The institution has its own rules, thanks to which household issues are organized. Four school cooks are in charge of cooking and a cleaner works at the facility during the day. Residents take part in cleaning after 4 pm, in showers and corridors, they also set the table. Children who have moved with their parents from other areas have the opportunity to continue their education at the school. There is a teacher here who educates children offline, and checks homework. Also, all students in the Transcarpathian shelter are connected to the general system of online learning. That is, they continue to get education.
Coat, boots and flashlight
Klavdia Storozhko – 65, she came to the village of Bakosh with her daughter, grandson and relatives, because her house in her native Okhtyrka was under shelling attack all the time. Only a coat, boots and underwear were quickly thrown into the small suitcase. Among the essentials she took with her a flashlight with which she sat in the cellar during the bombing. And also a phone without a charger. Madam Klavdia arrived at the shelter on March 9. Until then, she and her family and neighbors sat in a cold basement for two weeks, all the while hoping that the sound of rockets was about to subside. But the Russian military continued to ruthlessly wipe the city off the face of the earth. Okhtyrka, located in the Sumy region in Slobozhanshchyna, is located 45 kilometers from the border, so the tanks of the Russian army came here in the first days of the full-scale war. At first the woman refused to go. Home was her most important support and strength. The next day, Russian missiles began firing at neighboring houses and basements. Then she dared. The trip was not easy, first she went to Lviv, then to Uzhhorod.
“There are people here who still wear hats. Here is a woman who has recently come from Kharkiv. I understand her,” says Madam Claudia in a tired voice. Fourteen unbearable days in the cold basement are now being signaled. Constant cold and fear for every extra sound, reminiscent of a siren or bombing. Today, in a spacious gym, where a dozen people live, a woman feels safe. But thoughts about the house do not leave for a moment.
Home for everyone
Shelter in the village of Bakosh is a place that is open to absolutely everyone. Not only Ukrainians live here, but also Roma, who, like others, have lost their homes due to the war. Together with the Ukrainians, the residents of the shelter are arranging their new life. Klavdia Storozhko from Okhtyrka says that she feels strong support and care in the common house. Recently, the woman sewed a new robe from men’s shirts, now she has it instead of all the ones she left in her native Okhtyrka.
On the eve of Easter, the residents of the shelter celebrated Easter together. Klavdia Storozhko and her daughter Tatiana initiated Easter baskets. They agreed with local activists on the supply of food and the possibility of blessing Easter bread in the local church. Feeling the atmosphere of Easter during the war is one of the most important for those who are left homeless today.
“Roma activists helped us with Easter baskets. Roma activist Tatiana and her mother are in the shelter. After the conversation, an idea was born that was very well received by people. Everyone was happy to be able to visit the church and bless Easter bread this year. Everyone went to church service with these Easter baskets, which contained everything that is traditionally placed in Transcarpathia,” says Anzhelika, a volunteer of the shelter in the village of Bakosh.
Klavdia Storozhko, like all other thousands of Ukrainians, dreams most of all of returning home and opening the door of her room. She wants to enjoy the quiet mornings again and instead of the rocket sound to hear the song of the first returning birds. Meanwhile, her orphaned house is inhabited by cat Tom, who is being fed by neighbors. He is also waiting for the day when he will be able to see his masters again and stop hiding from missiles.
photos: provided by the heroes of the text