Our third playground is in a neighborhood called Milirativny. A bit farther out towards the edge of town, it’s the neighborhood where we lived during our first month in Sofievka. We chose a nice spot in a grassy area near some chestnut trees in front of the apartment buildings.
The timeline for this playground paralleled the one in Molodyozhny. We painted the fence here in early May theday after we finished the fence at Molodyozhny, and we waited the same two weeks for the carpenters to build the rest before we could paint it in another marathon volunteer day. The residents really came through for us and helped, though, and the results are something to be proud of.
As we held the final opening ceremony here and watched kids running around, we felt a great deal of pride at what we managed to do for our beloved hometown in Ukraine. Thank you again to everyone who supported us and made this possible. The people of Sofievka won’t soon forget your generosity!
The second of our little parks is located in a neighborhood called Molodyozhny, surrounded by several apartments and a preschool. This part of town is just behind the secondary school, so a lot of teachers and young families live in the apartments.
The carpenters didn’t get started on this playground until the end of April – well late enough to make us nervous about our timeline. First, they cleared a couple trees for space, and put up the fence, bench, and trash can. We organized a community work day right away to paint what was finished. We had a lot of help from residents that day, and it was fun to see neighbors coming together and volunteering – something that doesn’t happen very often here.
Once we painted the fence and bench, we had to push for nearly two weeks before the carpenters finally finished the playground on the very day of our grant deadline (which we had already extended). We were frustrated by the delays, needless to say, but we organized a work day for the next day to get it painted. This time, with such short notice, only a few very dedicated neighbors were able to help. Nevertheless, after five or six hours of sloshing on red, yellow, and blue paint, we managed to mostly finish. We returned a couple evenings later with a ladder to get the high parts and some other details, and then prepared for an opening ceremony a couple days after that.
When the time finally came to hang balloons, take photos, make speeches, and cut the red ribbon, we enjoyed the moment. Kids ran around and had a blast, parents sat on the bench and chatted, and we gave off a big sigh of relief!
It was really fun to watch the transformation at the first playground, since we can actually see this one from our apartment windows! The first step for this site was to clean up the area, which was no easy task. The neighborhood dumpsters were located about 10 meters from the site, and although the dumpsters themselves were regularly emptied, a huge buildup of trash formed around them throughout the winter. Additionally, people nearby decided to put their yard waste there last fall, which turned into a giant pile of branches and leaves.
Alex and I were a little skeptical that the area could actually be cleaned up, but everything turned out great. First, the town council arranged for the branches to be hauled away. Then, they had the dumpsters moved around the corner, near an abandoned building. Finally, the last bits of trash and yard waste were cleaned up. We immediately noticed an increase in the number of kids playing on the old, worn out equipment. There were a couple of teetering, rusty slides (which were later removed), a swing, and a butterfly-shaped jungle gym. What a difference a little clean-up can make!
So, the site was clean and dry! Our carpenters first installed the perimeter picket fence, then the bench, trash can, sandbox, and play structure. Once the basics were all ready to go, we held a neighborhood work day to paint. Alex and I printed up flyers and put them on all the apartment building doors in the neighborhood – about 12 buildings and 20 doors in all. We weren’t sure what kind of turnout we would get, and were pleasantly surprised when at least 20 folks came out to paint. Most of them were young parents, plus our partners Tanya and the mayor (also a neighborhood resident), a few school students, and even a babushka or two. We finished the majority of the painting that day, although Alex and I had to go back a few additional days to finish off some of the detail work.
For reasons unknown to us, the playground sat mostly-finished for about a month. Finally, the carpenters finished off the details on the play structure (steps, climbing wall, slide, and swing), town workers moved the sand into the sandbox and play structure, and we painted the last little bits. The town hauled away the old, rusty slides, and we were good to go!
Last Thursday, we held the official opening ceremony for the playground, even though kids had already been playing in and around it for a month or more! The mayor, Alex, and I gave some short speeches, some kids from the nearby preschool recited some poems and gave us flowers, and a little boy cut the red ribbon hanging across the gate! The kids in attendance rushed into the playground and began swinging, sliding, climbing, and playing in the sand. We passed out some drinks and cookies and took some pictures. Overall, a very successful opening!
Everyday, we look outside and see all kinds of people—small children with their parents, babushkas, teenagers, school kids, random passers-by—playing and sitting and enjoying the space that was previously filled with trash and completely unused. Thanks again to everyone who helped make this project a success!