Singapore couple build bomb-proof houses in Ukraine

SINGAPORE — On his second trip to Ukraine in August, architect Rudy Taslim, 38, nearly wandered through a pine forest, only to be stopped by his collar by his local guide.

Pointing to a nondescript sign with “mine” in Ukrainian written in black paint, barely visible amid the foliage and rubble of the war-torn countryside, Mr Taslim realized he had nearly lose your life by venturing into a field of landmines.

“Although I could have lost my life that day, it is part of the daily landscape of Ukrainians,” he said.

He and his wife, Ms. Lam Bao Yan, also 38, are two Singaporeans working in Ukraine to build new bomb-proof emergency homes for the millions of citizens affected by the war with Russia.

To date, the couple have built 200 homes with local partners in the area since the war began in February.

The couple visited the country twice, in May and August, to assess the situation on the ground and build houses for a few weeks each time. They expect to deploy a total of 500 homes by winter in November.

As winters in Ukraine turn as cold as minus 20 degrees Celsius or lower, Mr Taslim said: “If those houses aren’t up in the winter, the cold could kill those people before a bullet even does. “

Ms Lam, who works with Mr Taslim at their firm Genesis Architects, said: ‘When the war broke out, we knew that only a fraction of the population comprising able-bodied women and children were allowed to leave… This means that men, people in rural villages, and those with serious mental health problems and physical disabilities would likely have escaped these shortcomings.”

During one of their trips, the couple had heard of three children living alone in a devastated house in the village. The trio were without parents and the youngest – a five-year-old girl – suffered from cerebral palsy and was cared for by her brother, who was just 15.

The middle child, a girl who was only eight years old, was vulnerable to the risk of sexual exploitation by opportunistic predators.

Ms Lam said: ‘These are the people left without support, who have become invisible as the world has moved away from the war in Ukraine.’

While the trio have since been funded by the couple to go to school and directed to local aid, Ms Lam said most houses had also been completely destroyed, forcing residents to live in bomb shelters. bombs or makeshift tarpaulin tents.

Ms Lam added: “A lot of these people only live for weeks in bomb shelters and only go outside to get food. But that’s really not a way to live – it’s is dark, damp, dusty and windowless… It’s like they’re not even human.”

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