Defending Ukraine: Repair Together volunteer group

Ukrainians are taking bold steps to preserve their nation’s sovereignty. A ShareAmerica series, Defending Ukraine, profiles some of the extraordinary people in Ukraine who exemplify that spirit.

For the young volunteers in the group Repair Together, cleaning up the destruction that Russia’s military strikes are causing doesn’t have to be a grim process.

Repair Together accompanies its cleanup and rebuilding work with music and dance.

Volunteering must be partly joyful besides being useful,” said Dima Kyrpa, the founder of Repair Together.

Artist performing while volunteers watch in damaged building (© Vladislav Musienko/Reuters)
An artist performs in July 2022 while Repair Together volunteers remove debris from the House of Culture in Yahidne, Ukraine, which Russia’s forces had damaged in an earlier attack. (© Vladislav Musienko/Reuters)

The group began working a few months after Russia’s February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Volunteers take bus trips to small towns, surveying villages where damage is extensive and local resources are limited.

Besides equipment, the teams bring music to the sites. Deejays perform for crews who dance during cleanup operations. Kyrpa said he seeks to create a rave atmosphere.

Thousands of volunteers have participated in rebuilding homes and public structures, such as libraries and theaters. The group partners with supply companies to provide construction materials.

Volunteers honor a local tradition called “toloka,” which refers to a gathering of people working together to address an urgent community need.

Silhouette of person shoveling debris (© Vladislav Musienko/Reuters)
A volunteer in September 2022 removes debris from the House of Culture in Ivanivka, Ukraine, which Russia’s forces had damaged. (© Vladislav Musienko/Reuters)

Before the war, Tetiana Burianova organized parties and trips for young people. Today, she helps organize Repair Together trips. “We are making a new Ukraine,” she told The Guardian.

Most volunteers are from larger cities such as Kyiv and Lviv. Residents of large cities now meet with people in smaller towns during projects, exchanges that Burianova said happened infrequently before the war.

The group also has attracted volunteers from Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia and the United States.

“Some people say, come on, you can’t have fun, it’s a war! But I say, we’re doing something good. Why can’t we also have fun?” Marina Hrebinna, one of the group’s organizers, told NPR.

Volunteers dancing during cleanup of damaged building (© Vladislav Musienko/Reuters)
Volunteers take a break from cleaning up and dance in September 2022 during Repair Together’s cleanup of the House of Culture in Ivanivka, Ukraine. (© Vladislav Musienko/Reuters)

“These are all young people that still have a passion for life, but they feel pain and are very sad and angry because of the war,” Oleksandr Buchinskiy, a deejay, told The Associated Press. “But they feel a need to take part in this historical moment, and help people, and make Ukraine a better place with a smile on their faces.”

Repair Together’s exuberant spirit of volunteerism is catching. Village residents bring food and drink for the volunteers. Musicians agree to play for free because they want to be involved.

“I think it’s not only repairing houses, it’s also repairing ourselves,” Oksana Huz, a volunteer organizer, told The Washington Post.