Rebuilding Without Government Help or Insurance Monies, the Progress is Striking
By Steve Richards
One visit to Jul’s Coffee and Peace (formerly Jul’s Coffee and Wine) tells you about all you need to know about Bucha – and Ukraine’s – spirit, and the reality of its economics.
When I was here in April, this shop was virtually destroyed except for its walls. The windows were shattered from a tank that exploded across the street and its turret that came through the roof a couple of stores down. When we met Tonya and two of her co-workers, they were piling up glass and wondering what to do next. All they wanted to do was serve coffee for free to workers trying to restore power and others that just needed fellowship. With no power or water, it would be months before the shop could reopen with plywood windows. Tonya had no idea if the owners had funds to reopen. It didn’t really matter. They were ready to work for free.
Well, Jul’s is open! And it’s packed. Power by generator is the norm throughout the day with Wi-Fi provided to the customers like a Starbucks. Blues music plays and food is served. I was curious all these months and am so glad to see them thriving.
Julia (the owner), her husband, and their five kids went to Cypress via Budapest when the green light was provided back in March. They all returned as soon as it was practicable in the late spring and immediately began the rebuild with their savings. They wanted to come home and knew others returning too. And if you didn’t know it, you would think she was a suburban mom from Anywhere, USA. Raised in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, she is like any Christian mom who just wants to raise her family in her home and is busy building a business as well. She thanks God and is certain He is watching out for her with a kind of umbrella shield over her house where shells fell all around. She also speaks excellent English, one of four or five languages she speaks fluently, which is not unusual around here.
Having lived through Hurricane Andrew and its aftermath, I can attest that even with big insurance payouts, FEMA, and a government with resources, it takes a long time to recover from disasters. Same with my experience in Nepal in 2015 after the earthquakes. Add to this that Ukraine is still at war and missiles are still flying – albeit few and far between for most people, though sirens are still a reality and power is shaky. Also, like hurricanes and earthquakes, the damage is uneven. There are parts of Irpin that are almost totally wiped out still. Estimates are that 70% of its infrastructure was destroyed.
What is most striking to me as I compare now to before is that kids are coming back. Women are coming back. Schools have reopened and art classes for the kids are popular. These folks are living with devastation all around and making the best of it – just like we did with Andrew. Shops are open and many high-rise apartments/flats/condos appear to be habitable. Grocery stores are open and stocked.
Earlier in the week, I went to the cargo airport at Hostomel with my intrepid driver and saw another aspect of the devastation here. An initial target for Russian helicopters, missiles, and paratroopers on February 24th, we meandered into the deserted outskirts of the airport where the damage went as far as the eye could see. Repairs have yet to begin. There’s no money to do anything anyway, I suppose. It’s a big economic driver laying fallow, part of the estimated 40% drop in GDP Ukraine is suffering.
A scrap yard has popped up for burnt-out passenger vehicles and the wrecks are piling up. It seems there is nowhere to take the hulks as the foundry has also been attacked.
The wrecks – and cash flow – will have to wait. But Ukrainians are not.