The Response Podcast: The Response: Wartime Mutual Aid in Ukraine

For the 10th audio documentary episode of The Response, we’re focusing on wartime mutual aid in Ukraine.

In February, after a month’s long prelude which many never believed would come to fruition, Russian troops landed in Mariupol and Odessa along the Azov and Black sea coasts, and Russian tanks rolled in through the Belarussian border crossing of Senkivka in the north. The Russian invasion of Ukraine had officially begun. A lot has happened since then, and what started as an anticipated speedy “decapitation” of the Ukrainian government, to quote the Kremin, has now revealed itself to be a war with no immediate end in sight. The impacts have been devastating to Ukraine and its effects have rippled out globally. And as the carnage continues, it’s difficult to say just how devastating this invasion will be on the Ukrainian people in the months, years, and decades to come.

In the face of this horror, the Ukrainian people are not just fighting back against an imperial war of aggression, they’re also coming together to take care of each other. Millions of people have been displaced by the war, both within Ukraine and as refugees to other countries — it’s a humanitarian crisis on a scale much larger than the other disasters we’ve covered on The Response. In this episode, we’re highlighting stories of Ukrainian resistance and solidarity. A small but significant glimpse into how the Ukrainian people have come together to survive the war, to strengthen their communities, and to fight for each other and their autonomy.

“Wartime Mutual Aid in Ukraine” Episode credits:

This episode features:

  • Yaroslav Minkin – Chairman of the Board of the NGO Youth organization STAN
  • Romeo Kokriatski – Managing Editor at the New Voice of Ukraine and Co-host of the podcast Ukraine Without Hype
  • Yosh – Head of the NGO Feminist Workshop
  • Joseph Bednarek – Senior Director for Global Grantmaking at Global Fund for Children.
  • Ruslan Stanga – Senior Advisor at The Institute for Rural Initiatives in Moldova

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For a full list of episodes, resources to cultivate resilience in your community, or to share your experiences of disaster collectivism, visit www.theresponsepodcast.org.

Below is a transcript of “Wartime Mutual Aid in Ukraine,” modified for your reading pleasure.

[Air raid siren sounds]

Tom Llewellyn: What you’re hearing are home video recordings of air raid sirens in the town of Ivano-Frankivsk – about 80 miles south of the city of Lviv in Western Ukraine .

On February 24th, 2022, explosions were reported all over Ukraine — in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa, and the Donbas as families hid in their houses, terrified.

[Shelling sounds]

On that day, Russian troops landed in Mariupol (meh·ree·oo·paul) and Odessa along the Azov and Black sea coasts, and Russian tanks rolled in through the Belarussian border crossing of Senkivka in the north.

[Tank sounds]

After a month’s long prelude, which many never believed would come to fruition, the Russian invasion of Ukraine had officially begun.

[News clips]

A lot has happened since the invasion began, and what started as an anticipated speedy “decapitation” of the Ukrainian government, to quote the Kremin, has now revealed itself to be a war with no immediate end in sight.

The acute impacts are horrifying, and the long term impacts, well, it’s hard to say just how devastating this invasion will be on the Ukrainian people in the months, years, and decades to come.

[Music: Death Pill – Die for Vietnam]

In the face of this horror, the Ukrainian people are not just fighting back against an imperial war of aggression, they’re also coming together to take care of each other.

Millions of people have been displaced by the war, both within Ukraine and as refugees to other countries — it’s a humanitarian crisis on a scale much larger than the other disasters we’ve covered on The Response.

In this episode, we’re highlighting stories of Ukrainian resistance and solidarity. A small but significant glimpse into how the Ukrainian people have come together to survive the war, to strengthen their communities, and to fight for each other and their autonomy.

Yaroslav Minkin: There are really different situations in different regions. In eastern parts of Ukraine lots of cities just doesn’t exist anymore. They’re destroyed and lots of people died because of the war, of the attack. And the same in north and south part of the country. So people who were living in this areas, they tried to flee, but also some decided to stay and just to to defend their homes, to defend their relatives, to defend their animals…

Tom Llewellyn: Yaroslav Minkin grew up in Crimea and Lugansk, which is in the Donbas region of Ukraine — on the border with Russia. He fled to the west, however, in 2014, after the Euromaidan uprising, which was a wave of protests and civil unrest against government corruption. This led to ex-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who had deep ties with the Kremlin, to flee to Russia. Soon after, Russia annexed Crimea by force and an armed conflict with Russian-backed separatist groups began in the Donbas.

Yaroslav Minkin: In 2014, when pro-Russian troops came to our city, it was a question should we stay or should we leave? And I was the first person who left the city, the region. And I received quite big amount of criticism about myself that like I am leaving everyone. But in a few weeks, lots of my friends also left the city because it was just dangerous to stay and some of them were put in jail or just were kidnapped. And yeah, after that I moved to Western Ukraine.

Tom Llewellyn: After he moved, Yaroslav launched a youth organization, named STAN, which is a grassroots NGO building activist networks in Ukraine, developing intercultural dialogue, and increasing civic engagement. Fast forward eight years, and the war in the Donbas which drove Yaroslav from the region has now escalated to, well, everything we’re seeing today: a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Like many others, when Russian troops first invaded, Yaroslav was faced with a difficult choice of whether to stay put or to flee from the country. Yaroslav decided to take a third path: to move to the mountains, to Ivano-Frankivsk.

Yaroslav Minkin: We are working in Carpathian region which is the most and the safest region in Ukraine. We have no border with Russia and we have not so big cities. And one of the suggestions I received from our military expert who is a part of our team he said that if the big war started, you should be outside the big cities. Because it will be immediately lack of water, lack of gas, lack of electricity, food, etc. So for the plan, if Putin will attack our region and all Ukraine, we created the plan that we will go to Carpathian Mountains. So we prepared two cars. We gathered all necessary stuff like documents, cash, money, some, I dunno, food, basic food and of course sleeping bags and ski costumes. You know, because this is very useful to be [inaudible] it will keep warm person for a long period of time.

Tom Llewellyn: Like many other organizations and institutions in the country, after the Russian invasion, STAN dramatically shifted its focus to doing work related to the war.

[Nevhamovni shelter clip]

Tom Llewellyn: What you’re hearing are the sounds of several men loading mattresses out of a truck to put into a refugee shelter located in Ivano-Frankivsk. Before the war, this particular shelter was an alternative school for children. The shelter was opened one day after the invasion, on February 25th, and that very evening the first group of refugees arrived from Kyiv.

One-hundred and twenty-one people passed through this shelter, with three cats and four dogs as well, coming from places like Kyiv, Kharkiv, Irpen, Brovary, Zaporizhia, and Vinnytsia. The shelter has since closed since all of the refugees have actually been settled into more permanent homes.

Yaroslav Minkin: We created six shelters on the base of different educational and cultural institutions. For example, we have quite small alternative school, and they immediately. from the first day of the war, they created a shelter in their school. Why they were so fast? Because they originally are also from Lugansk, as me. So they already experienced this displacement, experienced the war once. So they were the first probably shelter in our region.

Also our partners, NGOs from Trans Carpathia region, from [inaudible] region, they transformed their offices but also public schools to the shelters. Nowadays we have a shelter for LGBT+ people, we have a shelter with people who are carrying pets, we have shelters with structured peacebuilding, educational system. In all our shelters people receive support from lawyers from psychologists. This is the idea that shelter is not only for living, but also for — our shelter is helping person to stay not only safe but also try to develop and to defend their emotional system.

Tom Llewellyn: The emotional impact of war, of fleeing from your home, of losing loved ones — these are horrors that most of us can only imagine. And the shelters that STAN has set up are acutely aware of this.

Yaroslav Minkin: The challenge is that when a person is coming from this war zone, the person is usually frustrated, stressed, and even traumatized because of the war. People saw killed people, people saw lots of very bad things. Some of them lost their families or their relatives, their friends. And when they are coming to our shelters, they want to stay just doing nothing. This is, you know, like this traumatized reaction to the reality. But different experts mentions that the earlier the person will go to work — I mean, it’s not about the money, but about the any kind of activity — the better the person will feel. And this is a kind of the first step to fight the trauma.

And that [is] because we want to create a system where people in the shelters are doing some social enterprises, are doing something like, I don’t know, if in the shelter there are a few people who know how to cook — they can cook and provide this food to other shelters or to local people. If there are some people who know how to. I don’t know, to knit or to clean or to do something — anything — they just should do this, in volunteer based or paid base. The shelter shouldn’t be the place where people just stay in and doing nothing.

What we’re asking them to start from self cooking, not to wait for the breakfast, dinner, lunch. You need to have clean clothes. Don’t wait that someone will give you another one. Just go. This is a washing machine. Please use it. Please go to some meetings, please, I don’t know, read books, discuss, whatever. Don’t stay on the phone. Don’t follow all news about your city. You can’t change the situation. You can’t change the reality, but you can change your role in the reality.

Tom Llewellyn: Another added benefit of staying active and contributing to the shelter community is that many hands make lighter work. In previous episodes of The Response, we’ve documented how many relief efforts have only been possible when those in need are also able to find a sense of purpose through providing help to others. The flattening of hierarchies and the dissolution of the victim/savior dynamic is what makes mutual aid work so efficient and effective — especially in situations like this one, where there are literally millions of people being displaced.

The initial surge of people fleeing has reduced over time, but at its peak, so many people were coming into cities like Ivano-Frankivsk that there became an obvious and immediate need for relief work at the railway stations themselves, where most people were arriving.

Yaroslav Minkin: You need to understand that Ukraine is very well developed country in terms of railways. From Soviet past, we have hundreds and thousands of different directions. And I need to say that railway is much developed than even roads in Ukraine. And from first days, people tried to go out by cars and it was collapse of the system. And lots of people stayed in their cars at winter for 24, 48 and 72 hours trying to go to western Ukraine from east and north and south. But trains are something that is working very well.

And from the third day of the war, we decided to create a kind of welcome point. First, we only share some tea and coffee for people who are coming, but then we decided to also to have some soup, some other food, baby food, because usually at night, a train like two, three, four trains with up to 5000 people on the trains were coming and people were not able to leave the train station till the end of this special time, like till 7 a.m. — it’s forbidden now in Ukraine to go out because only military representatives can go out during night time and to patrol the city.

And people were staying on the train station, they were very frustrated. And in fact, we were the first team, the first people who they saw after this terrible, terrible situation, terrible flee from their homes.

Tom Llewellyn: Yaroslav and others would meet folks when they arrived at the train station to give them food, water, and, again, encourage them to do little things for themselves to take back some power and autonomy, even if it meant something as simple as making their own tea.

Yaroslav Minkin: And also, I want to mention one group, a kind of covert heroes. In Ukraine in every wagon, you have a person who is responsible for this wagon. So in one train, you will have a team of people and the majority of them, in these evacuation trains, are from eastern part of Ukraine and they just can’t go back. What we know now is that they’re traveling in these trains already for more than 30 days. Some of them invited their relatives and their cats to stay with them.

They have no home anymore because some of them are from [inaudible] region which is totally destroyed. Some of them are from Kharkiv region, which is totally destroyed. And they are traveling in the trains, helping people, helping hundreds of people in every wagon to survive. But also they have no place to stay, no place to take a shower, no place to cook. And we decided that we will also share with them food. And now when the train is coming, they call our project manager and ask him, please give us 20 portions of warm food because we didn’t eat for I don’t know, for one day.

So there are lots of heroes. And I can say that all these people who are staying in the war zones, they are like ordinary heroes who are doing their best every day.

[Music break: Oh, Deer — Je Suis la Guerre]

Romeo Kokriatski: I’m Romeo Kokriatski. I’m a managing editor at the New Voice of Ukraine, which is an independent English language news website here in Ukraine. And I’m also the co-host of the podcast Ukraine Without Hype. I was born in Ukraine, but I grew up in New York and I moved back to Ukraine in about 2014 after the annexation of Crimea in order to take care of my grandmother, who still lives here. And I stayed.

This war is a really good example of, I’ll say specifically kind of Ukrainian solidarity. And despite the high levels of corruption that Ukraine has historically had and the nineties shock therapy that the country went through, people still have a pretty high level of trust in one another. And they feel kind of a responsibility to each other and to the nation as a whole. So this kind of all started in 2014 when the Russians invaded for the first time. Ukraine’s military had at that point been basically zeroed out by corruption. Everything was sold off, the army was literally just a place you went to sit in a box for 30 years and get a pension, an apartment, if you were lucky. There is no concept of necessary sacrifice or duty for the country or anything like that. It was incredibly demoralized, disarmed institution.

Tom Llewellyn: This is why, when Russians first invaded in 2014, they were able to seize places like Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas. But volunteer militias formed really quickly, along with a widespread, informal volunteer network that made sure these militias were equipped and armed, and that they had food, vests, and other supplies.

Romeo Kokriatski: And that network basically stays in place, unchanged up until the full scale invasion. It lost quite a bit of significance once the military itself began to receive funding again and was being rebuilt. But when the full scale invasion started, all of these networks kind of reactivated and all these activists who had experience of organizing these logistics in 2014 sprung into action to do the same. Now, to get guys equipped to organize humanitarian convoys, to evacuate civilians, to organize aid, food kitchens and so on.

And this is, I think, a very stark example of Ukrainian resilience — you don’t hear sentiments like, oh, this is something far away or this is the other side of the country, what do I care? Or what is Ukraine anyway? Even relatively apolitical people feel this responsibility to chip in.

Tom Llewellyn: Over the course of this show we’ve talked a lot about the importance of pre-existing networks of organized communities, the significance of a sort of social infrastructure already being in place when it comes to the success of disaster relief efforts — and the same is true in Ukraine.

Romeo Kokriatski: So when the full scale invasion happened, you had his already experienced, pre-prepared cadre of volunteers and activists across the country who very quickly set up supply lines to the fronts at the time, who helped people, especially evacuees, find shelter, organized medical aid stations throughout the country. And of course, like none of this was perfect, none of this was completely all encompassing. But it was enough that evacuees were not left to kind of starve in the streets, especially in a lot of places where cities and settlements couldn’t get together that quickly to provide the evacuees with the same level of, I don’t know, sustenance, I guess.

Tom Llewellyn: And it wasn’t just shelters and medical stations.

News Anchor: The people of Kyiv are mobilizing, across the capital volunteers are pouring in building the city’s defenses with whatever they can. Women bring in empty bottles to be made into Molotov cocktails. [Inaudible] is a grandmother and a retired economist. Now, she spends her days preparing for battle.

[Ukrainian dialogue]

Tom Llewellyn: You might have heard about the Molotov cocktail training sessions and how-to videos coming out of Ukraine during the start of the war — it was all part of a much broader push for a sort of grassroots defense militia that even had grandmas making weapons of war.

News Anchor: Let those Russian shits come here, she says. We are ready to greet them.

Romeo Kokriatski: One of the major focuses of volunteer initiatives in the first days of the war was centered around the territorial defense forces, which were these kind of home guard, basically, of anyone could join and take a rifle and defend your territory — defend wherever you live. But obviously, these guys are a lot less well equipped than the military. They won’t always be issued modern weapons or bulletproof vests.

So basically every community gathered to sew camo nets, to buy vests for these guys, to buy them modern rifles. Even my wife used to go basically like a couple of times a week to a volunteer center to sew camo netting for checkpoints. People donated bottles to make Molotov cocktails. And lots of, like, small acts like this. It’s not — from my side it didn’t look so much like a coordinated effort as more as people themselves generally realized that they need to chip in. No one was calling them or asking them to do this. People just looked at their own supplies and said, ‘Well, I can afford to sacrifice this, this and this for the cause.’ And it was that sort of solidarity that was pretty inspiring, to be honest.

[Music: Oh, Deer! — In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower]

[Feminst Workshop sounds]

Yosh: My name is Yosh. I am the head of the non-governmental organization Feminist Workshop based in Lviv, was founded in 2014 and with the beginning of the war I fled firstly in Germany and now I’m in London. But almost all other members of [the] organization is still in Lviv.

Tom Llewellyn: The Feminst Workshop is an NGO with a mission to create spaces for the development of the feminist community in the western city of Lviv, and across other regions of  Ukriane.

Yosh: So on the first day of the war we had a meeting at our office and we was just thinking that we should gather people and ask about the feelings, about the strategy to cope with the situation. And we just spent maybe 15 minutes discussing our emotions and then we started to make a plan and everybody was willing to do something, something to help other.

Tom Llewellyn: Yosh and her colleagues began by helping to find and provide housing for people fleeing to Lviv. At first they simply shared their apartments and offices with people, but they soon graduated to renting out apartments for women activists who wanted to continue their work and also for women with children who’d been displaced.

Yosh: Other things we are doing now is assistance with childcare. We have volunteers who can spend time with children and the other is psychological support. We organize groups and this form of group therapy online and also offline in more individual format. Also, we continue to organize meetings for our community. It was one of our direction — before the war we was doing this and we continue to do this because it’s important to have a normal life and also to have community to share what’s going on and how the life change and so on.

And we have club and meeting for teenage girls and non-binary people and we made one material about teenage girls and we ask them about how their life changed. What’s going on with school? Because they continue to go to the school and maybe mostly I think online, but still. And we made a material about this because also we think it’s important to share the information about the needs and the feelings of teenage audience.

Tom Llewellyn: The Feminst Workshop emphasizes a horizontal organizing structure in their work — especially with the young teens that Yosh just mentioned.

Yosh: We are challenging hierarchies and we believe that that’s a way how can we involve more people in mutual aid and in activism for a longer period of time, not just reproduce this common schemes of involving volunteers and they just do something little, and after this they might be burned out or demotivated. We are trying to support activists in longer period and also to discuss with other organizations and partners and among philanthropy also, how can we support this structure? And often it’s about flexible funds and about paying people — not just buying some products, but also paying people money for their work.

Joseph Bednarek: My name is Joseph Bednarek. I’m the senior director for Global Grantmaking at Global Fund for Children.

Joseph Bednarek: What Global Fund for Children does is give small grants to grassroots community-based organizations around the world that are working with children and youth.

Tom Llewellyn: For years, Global Fund for Children, or GFC, has been working with a number of organizations in Ukraine providing both operational and programmatic grants. When the war began, they rapidly shifted their focus to emergency grant support for these organizations.

Joseph Bednarek: You can imagine in an emergency like this, sometimes people just need food, water, shelter, clothing, medicine. And we’re not there to buy those supplies for them. We’re there to provide the resources to send them immediate aid in order for them to acquire and get what they need on the ground, because they’re the ones that are best suited and best positioned to find that need and know who needs it in the community because they live and work there. And that’s the approach that we’ve used.

We’ve never seen something like this before though. In my 12 years at GFC we’ve raised money for the Nepal earthquake, Haiti earthquake, various other mostly natural disaster emergencies, but nothing like this — this scale and outrage that has surrounded this war. We’ve never seen an effort and the number of grants increase this quickly in any period.

Tom Llewellyn: To give some perspective, in just the first three weeks of the war, GFC surpassed the total amount of funding they’d raised for their partners during an entire two year period of COVID emergency relief.

Joseph Bednarek: That shows you the amount of people that are in-tune, connected to what’s going on there and that want to help somehow. And we’re well positioned because of our previous connections to grassroots NGOs to give money there directly and not have to go through any intermediaries. They write me a small budget, a narrative description of what’s going on, and we invite them to submit a grant for a small amount, and that money gets transferred to them sometimes within days, sometimes within a few weeks, and it’s put to immediate use. And that’s extremely necessary and critical, especially when conditions in the city and prices are rising and changing so rapidly.

Tom Llewellyn: The Feminist Workshop and STAN have both recieved support from the Global Fund for Children.

Joseph Bednarek: What I’ve been trying to do is do what anybody connected to international assistance or aid or international grantmaking like we are, is to educate them about what’s needed because people are volunteering to house Ukrainian refugees. They want to give donations at their schools. They want to give food and supplies at their schools. That’s all great. But what organizations really need is cash, and they really need people to be sending support to organizations like ourselves that are providing that direct grants to those organizations without strings attached. The strings are minor. They are a simple report and a documentation of how they’re spending the funds. I’m not asking them how much apples cost at the market and for receipt from the supermarket. None of that is standing in the way of getting aid to those who need it. And nor, in my opinion, should it.

[Sounds of Institute for Rural Initiatives work]

Tom Llewellyn: We’re in Palanca, a Moldovan village near the border of Ukraine. This was the point through which most Ukrainian refugees crossed into Moldova during the first days of the war.

The voice you’re hearing is that of Ruslan Stanga, senior advisor at The Institute for Rural Initiatives in Moldova. The Institute for Rural Initiatives facilitates development processes in disadvantaged and marginalized communities in the Republic of Moldova — which is a mostly rural country bordering Ukraine to the southwest. Just like STAN and the Feminist Workshop, the organization has pivoted towards war relief. We spoke with Ruslan in April, about 6 weeks after the Russian invasion.

Ruslan Stanga: Unlike other Balkan countries, unlike other Eastern European countries, Moldova has no experience in coping with refugees at all. That’s because of our geography. And also that’s because of our economic standing, frankly, not very attractive for refugees to come to Moldova.

Tom Llewellyn: Despite the fact that Moldova is not particularly well situated to receive refugees, over half a million Ukrainians – mostly women, children and older people – have crossed into the country since the start of the conflict. In fact, with a population smaller than Los Angeles, Moldova is accepting more Ukrainian refugees per capita than any other country.

And many of the refugees who stay are being hosted by Moldovan families. It’s estimated that it could cost Moldova up to $378 million a year to host as many refugees as there are now, about 3% of the country’s GDP, during a time when the government is already having to increase subsidies to its poorest residents in response to soaring inflation. But, according to Ruslan, Moldovans are eager to help.

Ruslan Stanga: An awakening happened in Moldova. I’m very critical of my nation, and as a civic activist, you may understand something. I’m critical government of institutions, entities. But now something happened. 90% of the accommodated Ukrainians were accommodated in individual houses, or in the small hotels you have only 10% were taking care of government. You know, something happened here in the minds of Moldovan people — that I thought was not so nice — for the first time in many years I was very, very proud of being Moldovan. People share their food. People share their small houses. Moldova is not a very rich country. So I was really, really, you know, I was touched by that.

Tom Llewellyn: Just like many everyday Moldovans, as soon as the war began, Ruslan knew that he had to do something to help.

Ruslan Stanga: So I was driving one day, one evening I was driving, you know, upset, praying and just thinking for directions. What we could do with my wife and three daughters just, you know, driving around. So what can I do? What can I do?

So I wanted to make a difference. So I called the governmental, phones, you know, and I received a very timid answer, like, oh, we don’t know what to do. You know, the government, you know, didn’t even know. What was the situation like at the border? Oh, we don’t know. We don’t know. Those poor people, you know, they were trying to help, but not very much. So as an organization, we waited a bit to hear more from government. We wanted to make a strategy, but there was a problem. There was no time. So we had to act without having a strategy. We just had to do something. So we decided to work on our own. We visited two refugees centers, three border crossings, spoke with officials and other people. And then we acted.

Tom Llewellyn: Ruslan initially started helping by driving refugees from the Ukrainian border to Chișinău, Moldova’s capital.

Ruslan Stanga: When I first reached the border, Ukrainian border, you know, government wasn’t able to tell me any any information. They didn’t know what was the on line, the life situation at the border. So I said, I took my car and we went there just to see. So, what I saw, I saw, you know, frightened people, you know, people that didn’t know what to do. And what I had identified the first need, you know, the directing people to get into the buses, you may think it’s not important, but it was a big, big, big deal because people, you know, were afraid of not being left behind. And sometimes to be kind of, you know, really, really clashes and, you know, so I said, guys, okay, I’m going to direct you. And what I really enjoyed about that looking in people’s eyes and say, I said, ‘Welcome to Moldova. You are safe. You are going to make it. Everything is going to be fine.’ Kind of the same, repeating the same, you know, like a parrot, repeating the same things all the time.

But that made a big difference because people’s eyes would change. And people would smile and said, whoa, that was a big, big, you know, people, you know, I noticed people, you know, refused food. Moldovans would come with cheese and food and hot drinks and everything from Moldovans, not from government in the first weeks. Nothing from government, from people, from individuals. Something pushed a button here in Moldovan conscience and thee people start sharing with — you know I remember one story one one old woman about eighty years — old — with a crutch, you know, walking towards the border because the border was very close to the city of [unintelligible], it’s right there, and she brought some biscuits, you know, it was so touching, it was so moving, you know, it’s just she wanted to share with the little she had.

Tom Llewellyn: Integrating Ukrainian refugees into Moldovan society hasn’t been easy. As the war grinds on, it’s becoming clear that many of these refugees are not going to be able to return home anytime soon, and are now in search of work. Children need to be integrated into the education system as well. And, as Ruslan was quick to point out, there’s no Department or Ministry of Refugees in Moldova, so most of this work is community-driven.

Ruslan Stanga: War is something that in a way scares. But when the scare is to that such extent that it opens up a new dimension of compassion, of solidarity, of human solidarity. But this is what I see, what I witnessed in the first days and even now, what I see, you know, lots of Ukrainian people living in Moldovan’s houses. That’s something that really touched my heart.

I’m encouraged and I’m grateful that people offer their hearts, their resources, and they show compassion. That’s something really deep to think about. Compassion. It’s nothing return, just helping with no expectation to have something in return. Just helping people. Just just help. Just something that I don’t know if can be explained.

Joseph Bednarek: People feel like they’re on the right side. They’ve got a community. They feel connected. They don’t feel disconnected. They feel super connected to their towns and homes and families and neighbors. People are giving each other, sharing things. It’s not all roses and rainbows, obviously, but the stories coming out are communities really pulling together and standing up to Russia, either with protests or military force and or with just food — providing food and medicine and shelter to soldiers or families that need it.

Romeo Kokriatski: Disasters may occur once and often, they’re over quickly — not wars, of course, but natural disasters, for example, can stretch for a week or a month. But their effects last much, much longer. And this is directly applicable to war. Wars always last longer than one hopes, and will leave after effects for years and years. And people need to not view disaster relief and solidarity as this kind of once and done event, but as a mindset in the way people view themselves and their relationship to their communities and the relationship to people who come from outside of their communities to join them — like refugees. Because otherwise what you get is a lot of good PR noise, but then people lacking the resources that they really need as time goes on.

Joseph Bednarek: I think that people should continue to remember that the repercussions will be decades-long. We’re talking about trauma of individuals and families. We’re talking about devastated cities that will need to be rebuilt. One of the things that — again, I don’t want to use the word positive, but makes me less pessimistic about the future is that if you’ve been in Ukraine, you know that almost all of the main cities were destroyed in World War Two. Nearly all of them were blown to bits and they all came back. They came back and they had their own character and they had their own culture. And that’s what gives me a somewhat positive outlook for the future. And I think Ukrainians, too, who understand their own history are like, look, we survived World War Two, the famine, World War One. What else you got to throw at us? We’re going to be back and we’re going to build back even better.

Yaroslav Minkin: I like to say that we are not victims of the war, we’re a reason of the war, Ukrainian society is the reason of this war because we are really pro-democratic. We did great transformations during the last eight years. We fight our corruption. We fight our authoritarian past. And that because Putin attacked us, not because we are also speaking Russian or Ukrainian or we have the same roots or the same religion, blah, blah, blah. No, they’re afraid of us because we are independent and that we are free to choose.

If you will see Ukranians, don’t see them as victims, see them as a potential development of your city, of your country. And you can not only care of these people, but also to involve them as a real partner, as a real potential change makers in your city as well.

 

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