Keyholder new cast in Ukraine at war

“Keyholder”, new cast in Ukraine at war

IRPINS | “One, two… 19 in total”: Yevguen Yelpitiforov counts the bunch of keys in his hands. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, the trained biologist has taken on a new job and looks after the apartments or houses of friends who have fled the war.

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At the wheel of his old blue car, Ievguen, who knows well these north-western Kyiv suburbs where he has lived for 10 years, now regularly drives the streets of Irpin and Boutcha to guard “his belongings”.

Russian forces withdrew from the region in late March after a particularly destructive occupation. It was shortly after that he was asked.

“Many friends who have left have asked me to check whether their building is intact, whether the windows and doors are still there,” says the 37-year-old with a blond goatee and a good-natured smile.


The key phrases began to arrive: some in the mail, others delivered by neighbors. Sometimes accompanied by coffee or chocolates as a thank you.

Ievguen regularly and voluntarily visits the properties he is responsible for to water the flowers, empty the fridges, send belongings to the owners or simply turn on the lights “to show someone’s there” and fend off looters . .

For those returning, Ievgen, who earns his living as a gardener, also leaves a small welcome gift: a bouquet of flowers or cherries to make them “happy”.


gas mask

“If I were in their place, they would help me too. I wish someone would water my flowers or clean my fridge,” he says.

“The hardest thing,” he says, are the refrigerators and freezers filled with spoiled food after weeks without electricity: “The smell is so bad you faint!”

Yevguen was even offered a Soviet gas mask, which he uses for particularly disgusting operations. Even after a full wash, you have to come back and air it out regularly, because “the smell lasts for a week or two.”


In Boutcha, a neighboring suburb of Irpin that has become a symbol of the crimes committed by the Russian occupation, he parks his car in front of a complex of brand new buildings, most of which have had their windows blown.

In the parking lot, a car is nothing more than a pile of metal. The body of another is riddled with shrapnel.

Yevguen doesn’t linger, he just waters a few plants. In the small apartment of one of her friends, nothing or almost nothing reminds of the war. Except for an inscription on a black felt wall, clearly left by Russian soldiers: “Sorry we broke the door”.


The latter, like most of the doors on this floor, had to be replaced.

“Keykeeper” is also a task Oleksandre Fourman, 31, performed frequently in April. He, who played an understudy on television before the war, set aside one day a week to tend to six apartments in Kyiv abandoned by friends.

His most unusual assignment at this time? Keep in a discreet place the sex toys his ex-girlfriend and new partner left lying around when they left their home at dawn on February 24 shortly after the start of the Russian invasion, he confides.


“do my duty”

“She told me I can’t even ask my mother to do it,” says Oleksandre, bursting out laughing. “I washed them and hid them well,” he continues, before suddenly becoming more serious.

“I was lucky. I wasn’t shot at, no missiles fell near me.” By helping others, “I’m only doing my duty to those who have suffered,” he says.


Back in Irpin, Yevguen heads for a building that has remained intact. In a semi-detached house whose bay windows overlook a school whose roof was blown off in a bombing raid, he films about twenty potted plants with his smartphone, a video destined for owners who have gone abroad.

“He’s alive, he’s too. And this one is “broken”, he lists.

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He stops again in front of a house of which only the charred walls are left. As workers erect a new roof, the young man examines a young thuja that has been severely damaged by the flames.

“He reminds me of the Ukrainian people,” Yevguen said thoughtfully. “On the one hand, it’s burned, on the other hand, it has the power to hold on, keep growing, and turn green again.”