BUCHA, Ukraine (AP) — Retired Ukrainian construction worker Borys Markovnikov is on the move again: This time, just a few steps from his home in the town of Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, to seek shelter and warmth at a “Point of Invincibility” — a government-built help station that serves food, drinks, warmth and ultimately, resilience, in the face of Russia’s military onslaught.
In recent weeks, Ukraine has rolled out hundreds of such help stations, christened with a name of defiance as places where residents facing outages of power, heating and water can warm up, charge their phones, enjoy snacks and hot drinks, and even be entertained.
Markovnikov, 78, has had to move a few times. He recalled how he was driven from his home in the eastern Donbas region after Russian-backed separatists seized territory there in 2014. Earlier this year, he fled his adopted town of Bucha — now infamous for massacres during a brief occupation by Russian forces — on foot, across the front line, to Kyiv. Later. he was able to return home, but home is not always an easy place to live.
“My neighbors told me there was a tent with electricity and a TV, and I came to have a look,” said Markovnikov, ogling Monday’s soccer World Cup match between Ghana and South Korea, adding he had no power at home. “We still believe. Without belief, you can’t survive.”
Ukraine’s State Emergencies Service said Friday nearly 1,000 such centers have been erected across the country since the program was first launched on Nov. 18. Its website features a handy online map to show beleaguered citizens where they are located.
As of Friday, over 67,000 people had gotten help in them — and more could pour in if, as many experts and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have warned, more Russian strikes lie ahead.
Such centers — often consisting of small, insulated tents no larger than a classroom — were rolled out just in time as a string of massive airstrikes by Russian forces deprived many Ukrainians of basics of life at home.
The centers are in essence a stopgap while utility crews scramble to fix cut power lines and put water mains back into operation, so basic services can be restored to homes and businesses.
Power company DTEK said controlled outages continued Monday in Kyiv as a necessary step to balance the hobbled power system and avoid other breakdowns, while ensuring electricity to hospitals and heat-pumping stations.
Only 42 percent of power was available to household customers in the city, and “we do our best to provide light to each customer for 2 to 3 hours twice a day,” the company said.
Outside the “Point of Invincibility” on an esplanade in front of a sports center in Bucha, teens had a snowball fight and a guitarist strummed his instrument outside an inflatable tent.
Inside, kids crouched over games of Roblox on mobile phones as young adults tapped away at laptops and elderly women sat quietly to while away the time. A young girl clutched her dog as staffers poured cups of hot tea and sweetened it with honey.
The “Points of Invincibility” offer a public-service — and free — alternative to the many coffee shops and restaurants that have become hubs for internet access and warmth of Ukrainians seeking refuge from the cold and dark in their own homes.
“When the electricity went out, I had to look for a place with a connection,” said Bucha resident Mykola Pestikov, 26, crouched over his computer. “These can be cafes that take energy from other places, or I look for a ‘point’ — like now.”
Yuri Mikhailovskiy, a firefighter who helps run the site, showed a ledger that indicated more than 1,000 people had come through the center since it was first put up 10 days ago in Bucha, where electricity is spotty or nonexistent in most homes.
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