Thursday, 28 February 2019

Those little things that count in Severodonetsk

It was still warm when I arrived in September in Severodonetsk, eastern Ukraine. In this small city located on 30 kilometers from the contact line I would assist the local NGO Postup in awareness raising on human rights and conducting different educational activities. Though as a volunteer I was not allowed to come any close the contact line then 5 kilometers, I would ‘see’ the conflict on a daily basis through our contact with the locals and IDP’s, or seeing the soldiers and army tanks heading to the front.

As the autumn arrived, temperature dropped below zero and white snow covered this grey Soviet city, daily life was taking place inside most of my stay. On a weekly basis I would conduct different weekly activities: my local English speaking clubs for teenagers and for adults, a psychosocial creative activity for children on the Saturday morning, weekly teaching on a local school. We would visit schools in the region and talk about different issues.

On Thursday nights it was time for women issues. As I am convinced that there are many women intimate subjects that deserve more attention and less taboo feelings, I started together with my colleague volunteer a Women circle. We talked about issues like menstruation, PMS, sexual consent, vulnerability of woman, but also practiced self-defense. We even found a gynecologist that would talk about different ways of contraception and would any answer any question about health. After some months we created a little group of women that would regularly visit our group in an atmosphere of trust.

No big mountains were moved by me, but it are those little things, that were very rewarding and made this all worth it. The happy faces of people that really appreciated the activities we organized, or the students in my weekly class that in the last lesson all would thank me in English.

Friday, 8 February 2019

New year, new volunteer

Here I am, the third curious volunteer in Severodonetsk, with her package of dreams, well installed in this corner of Ukraine. As probably all of the foreigners before arriving here, I thought it might be a little bit dangerous living more or less 30km from the contact line, from an unfortunate brotherly war with irreversible consequences. 

Yet, you get an entirely different feeling by arriving here. People go on with their lives – of course, with many  more hardships –, the snow falls smoothly and the challenges of the hearts beating here only push them for the best. 

In other words, I have to say I was touched by their resilience and willingness to help each other. It is basically what the organizations I volunteer for do; they have done humanitarian aid and development, as well as Human Rights projects. Hearing how different individuals suddenly decided to get involved and volunteer in their endeavors has also made me confident that I am in the right place.

Talking about the right place… I could say it is also a right one for its cultural and social richness. You really feel at ease among friendly people, by tasting great food (among which I’m definitely in for many different vareniki and salo) and interesting stories.

After a tour of Severodonetsk, you get intrigued about the tank being covered by tones of concrete, which is part of the foundation of the town’s Theater, the story of the buildings limiting the most beautiful boulevard in the city center, where the buildings are three-floored and tell the story of the architect who decided to spend his life in this ethnically diverse town some century ago.

Still, it is an industrial town, whose industry has greatly suffered due to the conflict and whose people don’t know if this mess will ever end. But by now I feel like home, and I am eager to discover more and more.