Monday, 24 September 2018

The kick off in Severodonetsk

For the upcoming six months the city of Severodonetsk, located in eastern Ukraine, will be my hometown. It did not take long before it felt like home. At thirty kilometres distance from the frontline we do not notice much from the ongoing conflict. At first sight life just goes on: children go to school, the harvest from the dacha gardens is to be sold on every corner of the street by the babushka’s (grandmothers) and the stray dogs lay in the warm late summer sun.

But when you look a bit further and talk with random people it never takes long before they
start to mention the conflict that affects them all in some way. Take for example Svetlana, a women
I met on the market. She is an educated 65-year old pensioner, but needs to supplement her small
pension by selling second hand clothes from Europe. She lives together with her husband in
Severodonetsk. Her parents are buried in the occupied Luhansk, her daughter lives in the occupied
city of Donetsk. Before it would take Svetlana three and half hours to reach her daughter, now it
takes her about a whole day. It especially takes a long time to cross the border. With tempertures
in summer of +40 and in winter of -20 this is not an easy job. This story is not an exception.
The border which is dividing many families does simply not excist in the minds of the people.
Our activities for the organisation Vostok-SOS (East-SOS) mainly concern the victims of the
conflict. Before the conflict the organization was located in the now occupied city of Lugansk and
was mainly working on protection of children. After the outbreak of the conflict, there was no
other option then moving the office to the area under Ukrainian authority. Also the focus of the
organization changed: since then Vostok-SOS helps victims of the conflict – internally dislaced
people (IDP’s), but also people living close or on the frontline by offering humanitarian, legal and
psychological aid. Next to this in the Severodonetsk office events (that are open to everyone) are
organized to contribute to one’s education and development, but also to support contact between
IDP’s and local residents. And this is why I am here: to contribute to an extensive programme of
cultural, educational and social events by using my exerience as an event organizer.
I was lucky to arrive in a very exciting time as the annual Festival Mneniya (Opinion festival)
was going to take place. This festival, organized in cooperation with my Estonian sending
organization MTU Mondo, provides ground for sharing knowledge and discuss diverse topics.
There was a children’s playground where I provided a hedgehog workshop. It was great to see
that children in Ukraine get as excited about it as in the Netherlands. In no-time the books were
finished. For now many things are on the agenda, starting off with English conversation clubs, global
education on local schools and different childrens’ activities that I will write about in my next blog!

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