Kyiv’s defences turned into Christmas decorations
Some of the heroes of the Ukraine conflict have carried guns and fought battles others have used their resourcefulness to defend their country.
At 5am on February 24, 2022, Sergii and Olga Pylypenko were woken up in their Kyiv apartment by the sound of loud explosions outside.
“We knew immediately that it was not normal,” Sergii explained to Express.co.uk in an exclusive interview.
In fact, the noise was the opening salvos of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We had heard lots of talk about an invasion,” Sergii said. “But we never really believed it until that moment.”
Sergii and Olga are the owners of Ukraine’s biggest building and manufacturing company Kovalska and are now playing a pivotal role in rebuilding their country.
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But in the opening hours of the war with the country’s military rapidly mobilising and a massive Russian tank column threatening to sweep into Kyiv, the husband and wife team were needed in a different way.
Sergii said: “We were the only ones who had large concrete blocks available.
“We had them because of the different building projects we were working on but our country needed them to create barriers in the roads.”
So, in the opening days of the war, the Kovalska company was shipping 11,000 large concrete blocks to stop the Russian tanks and other military vehicles and provide protection for the defenders of Kyiv.
Thanks to their efforts and those of Kyiv’s defenders, the capital was saved.
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The blocks were a donation to Ukraine from the firm which put its resources into the national war effort.
But the story of the blocks does not end there.
After Vladimir Putin’s attempts to overwhelm and take Kyiv ended in failure, the concrete blocks were moved to the side of the streets.
Olga Pylypenko, the company’s executive director, also runs social projects through the company.
One of these was to turn the blocks – still ready for another Russian military push – into holiday decorations “to bring the Christmas mood back to our children” (see video above).
The project became an international sensation and won awards with each block containing a code for people to find and win holiday presents.
Olga said: “It was such a difficult time. We wanted to provide some joy for people in Kyiv.
“The blocks looked so ugly before and we wanted to create something beautiful and fun.”
The couple had already been working overtime to keep their business going during the war and help their 5,200 employees who were reduced to 2,000 in the war with 391 called up to serve on the front fighting.
Sergii himself is a reservist tank commander.
They allowed employees to bring their children to work and provided kindergarten and school facilities.
For many months some of their employees had been forced to shelter in a former nuclear bunker because they had been unable to escape the fighting.
But now Sergii and Olga are joining the international effort to rebuild their country.
They were at the recent international conference in London called by the UK to start the discussions on rebuilding Ukraine where $5billion was allocated for the start.
Cities like Mariupol will need massive reconstruction.
Sergii, who is the company’s chief executive, said that energy facilities will need to be the top priority followed by transport, schools and homes.
One issue they are keen to push is “economic transparency” and “anti-corruption”.
Sergii said: “We want the international community to know we can be trusted”.
The company started its operations in 1956 and has completed 26 real estate projects.
Sergii said: “Behind our backs is a history of 66 years of successful development. A family of founders leads our team.
“We manage the business according to our values to benefit our country and our community.
We can assure you of our strong belief in the future postwar recovery of Ukraine from these industrial projects that are incremental to Ukraine’s post-war recovery and the region’s social welfare.”
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