Alla and Victor P’yankivski from Irpen: “No matter how hard it is, we will build a new house!”
A huge hole gapes in the middle of the P’yankivski family’s yard. You don’t even immediately realize that a house used to stand here. But this was a year ago. It was wonderful, made out of red brick. Now there’s no sign of it; even the foundation is gone. “This was our house, take a look,” Oleksandr, the son of the owners, says as he shows a photo of the elegant building on his phone. “My parents bought this plot when I was still in preschool. Back then, there was just an old cottage with a wood-burning stove on the property.”
The family erected and improved on their house for 34 years – “all our lives,” as the P’yankivskis say themselves. “Our parents helped us build it, and we finished after they passed. Later our son and daughter-in-law remodeled the interior. Turns out that three generations built this house,” says Alla.
She and her husband, Victor, have lived in Irpen all their lives. Their parents are from this area. They worked in factories, and now they’re both retired. Their son, Oleksandr, got married in Irpen; a granddaughter was born. The newlyweds had also settled in their parents’ home. A separate entrance was built for Oleksandr’s family, and there was enough room for everybody.
When the war started
Then came February 24, 2022. “We were called in at 4 o’clock in the morning,” remembers Oleksandr, a firefighter and head of the guard in Irpen’s fire department. “In the evening, they let those who had been on shift all day go home so we could get our families out. I arrived and told my parents and wife to pack their bags and drive to the village in Cherkasy region where my mother-in-law lived.”
Nobody wanted to leave, but an “argument” for evacuation appeared very quickly. “I pulled the drapes from the window and right in front of my eyes a fighter jet flew by. In front of the window! I got so scared!” remembers Alla. “Then [Victor] runs in with darkened eyes and says, ‘That’s it; we’re going!’ He saw that fighter jet launch missiles,” recalls Oleksandr. There were only a few minutes to get ready. No one grabbed anything valuable – they weren’t thinking of that then. They got in their car with the clothes on their backs and headed towards Cherkasy region.
Meanwhile, Oleksandr stayed in Irpen. He helped put out numerous fires and evacuate people, arranging for 16 of his neighbors to settle in his mother-in-law’s village. Later, journalists filmed a news story about Oleksandr and his fellow firefighters, and they were awarded with medals for bravery. “Every 2-3 days the boys and I would go to my house to shower, eat something, and sleep,” tells Oleksandr. “The rest of the time we were either in the fire station or on call.”
On March 22, a neighbor (retired military who had stayed home in his basement) called Oleksandr to share worrying news: something had landed in the P’yankivski house. “Some guys I knew sent me a video from a drone where you could see that our house had been damaged,” says Oleksandr.
“My son arrived and said, ‘Dad, we have to go look at the house,’” recalls Victor. “And so the two of us drove together. I didn’t know the scope of destruction [in Irpen]. I thought maybe something had survived. But when I walked into the yard, I took one look and told my son: ‘I can’t go any further. Let’s get out of here,’ because nothing had survived.” Even now it hurts Victor to talk about it, and his eyes fill with tears.
Alla, not knowing about the tragedy, asked to be driven to Irpen, to her familiar house. “I kept hounding them: home, home, home. Until finally my son couldn’t take it anymore and said, ‘There is no more home!’” shares Alla.
Later they would ask eyewitnesses and piece together what happened. “The first missile landed on our neighbor’s roof. It smoked, but didn’t ignite. But the second missile landed right in my bedroom. It was phosphorus, or something like that, because the entire house burned down in 10 minutes,” says Oleksandr. “Nothing survived.”
Do you want to see what my gold jewelry looked like after the fire?” asks Alla as she searches for a photo on her phone. Turns out that Oleksandr, back when the house was standing, buried cash and his mother’s gold jewelry in the basement to keep looters and occupiers from stealing it. What we see in the photo doesn’t look like gold – it looks like a lump of black coal. The money burned, too. “Can you imagine the temperature in the house if even the gold burned?!” says Alla.
“Can you imagine the temperature in the house if even the gold burned?!”
At first the family lived with friends, moving from house to house. They cleaned up their yard by themselves, hauling away pieces of brick left from the hit. And it was just in time that Realis Christian Center offered the family help and installed a cozy wooden mobile home in the yard. “We dug the sewer, wired electricity, installed plumbing. I just bought some varnish so I can finish the interior,” shares Victor. “It’s such a help to us! And so timely! Winter is coming; where would we have gone? Now we have somewhere to spend the winter. We bought firewood. See how warm it is inside?”
Victor asked Realis for a small house, even though he could have requested a bigger one. He’s thinking ahead: “First of all, there’s plenty of room for us. But second of all, when we start work on our new house, how will the construction vehicles get into the yard? There wouldn’t be room to turn around!”
Right now the family is raising funds for simple furniture, since the mobile home is empty. But they have firmly decided that they will build a new house. Victor is convinced: “It doesn’t matter how hard it is, we will build! Not for us, but for our children, so that our granddaughter has somewhere to return.”