Salvador alongside Reconstruction: the project building housing modules in Ukraine

12 | 06 | 2024

Towards the end of last year we received a special order: a Supercut 500 is needed in Ukraine. The request comes from Pascal and Martin Huber, our long-time customers and owners of the Swiss company Huber Fenster. We thus find out that, soon after the outbreak of war, they helped start a production of wooden housing modules in their partner company Divario Ukraine GmbH. Houses, then, for all those who no longer have them.

The project is called “Reconstruction.” It is ambitious and completely self-financed, but in two years it has already brought important results: over a hundred new houses have been delivered to as many families. Because of this and to help spread the word about the idea, we decided to interview Martin and have him tell us all about it, from the beginning.

Tell us about the “Reconstruction” project and how it came about?

It is 5 a.m. on February 24, 2022, when my phone rings. It is our partner and director Sergei Medvedchuk: war has started in Ukraine. A munitions depot in the vicinity of our company’s Ukrainian headquarters is bombed. There are deaths and injuries, and thousands of Ukrainian refugees begin to arrive all over Europe. In Herisau, Switzerland alone, 48 refugees arrive in the first two weeks. We need apartments, furniture, clothes, food, everything. The municipality and the canton are not prepared, so we decide to move on our own and self-finance by founding the association Verein Ukraine Hilfe to help incoming women and children. 

Within a few weeks, employees of our partner company Divario Ukraine GmbH email me photos: houses in the Ukrainian countryside are completely destroyed. I am shocked and keep wondering where will these people live next winter and what can we do for them from here. Woodworking, of course. After all, that is what we have been doing for 20 years, making laminated window joists from oak.

This time, however, we have to learn how to build housing modules out of wood. And fast. Coincidentally, when war broke out four Divario employees were in Switzerland for training. So Enrico Uffer, of the wood construction company Uffer AG, began to train our employees in modular wood construction. Before long, they built a first house in Savognin and soon set it up in Zurich’s central station to promote the initiative and fundraise. After the exhibition, the housing module was transported directly by truck to Ukraine, where only three and a half months after our idea to build housing modules, the first family began living there. 

How is a wooden house produced and how long does it take?

After building the first residential module in Switzerland, we started the production in Ukraine. First we cleared part of our lumber warehouse: although it was not heated, it was a shelter from the rain. Here a working platform was built for the production of the housing module. We moved all the materials with our Manitou, which is also usually used for normal production of laminated joists. There wasn’t even a crane to move the loads, and we were working even at -20°C. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The numerous power outages were catastrophic. We had electricity for 3-4 hours around midnight and another 1-2 hours in the morning and afternoon. Under these conditions, it took almost two weeks to produce residential modules.

In the spring, electricity supplies returned to normal and we were able to increase our production. To do this, we disassembled one of the three cranes of Huber Fenster AG in Herisau, sent the parts to Ukraine, and there assembled the new Divario GmbH shed dedicated to wooden residential modules. Thus our production became much faster: the assembly of a 19-square-meter residential module began to take about two days, that of a 36-square-meter residential module about three.  

Since then, however, the speed of building new modules was no longer dictated by production time, but by our association’s finances. To this day we are self-financing, and the cost of a 19-square-meter housing module is 23,500 Francs (about 24,000 Euros). We deliver it ready to be inhabited, served with a kitchen, bathroom, shower, beds, mattresses, table, chairs and all the essentials. These modular wooden constructions are also sustainable and provide excellent insulation and a lifespan of several decades.

Last December, Divario began using Salvador’s Supercut 500 optimizing machine. Has it improved processes? How?

The production capacity previously used for the production of laminated oak window joists has been fully employed for residential modules. Our Supercut 100, which is exactly 10 years old, is still working at its best and has processed nearly 4 million linear meters of oak slats without any downtime. However, we needed more cross-cutting capacity for making the post structure. A Supercut 500 would have been ideal. Said, done: we contacted you, and thanks to Salvador’s lightning-fast delivery time and support for our project, the machine could be integrated into production only four weeks after the order was placed.

How have the housing modules been received by people?

As founders of the association Verein Ukraine Hilfe, we witnessed the delivery of a new house several times. It was emotional to see the joy and tears on the faces of people who finally had a place to stay. Delivery is always a special moment for Divario installers and to date we have had this honor more than 100 times. And as a thank you for the wooden module, the new owners used to cook and bake many delicious delicacies that we always gladly accept.

And now how will the project continue?

The Ivankiv hospital, located between Kiev and the Belarusian border, is in urgent need of specialized personnel. But it cannot offer any housing. So we would like to build the first two-story wooden house for four families right next to the hospital.

Can we support the project?

Of course. Ukraine needs hundreds of thousands of new houses. The country cannot tackle this task alone, and we are aware that only new houses will give people a chance to stay in their country and thus grow a hope. We are therefore grateful for any support we receive. All the work of Verein Ukraine Hilfe is done on a voluntary basis, with every donation going entirely to the construction of the housing modules, which are produced at cost.

To contribute to “Reconstruction” visit and make a donation:

Raiffeisen Bank Appenzeller Hinterland

CH02 8080 8004 6705 5472 4