Ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Devoted to Ukrainian volunteers

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2015/12/05 • News, Volunteers

Article by: Olena Makarenko

The awards took place for the second year in a row. It has already became a tradition to have a large number of nominees with incredible stories, making it difficult for the jury to choose. This time there were over 80 nominees, but the event itself is not about choosing who is best.

“We wanted to honor small, ordinary people who do incredible things. We have seen that if they are provided with information support and connected to journalists, they will be able to do so much more,” told Marichka Ivanyk, a Euromaidan SOS volunteer responsible for holding the awards.

Marichka recollects: usually the nominees are shy people who would rather suggest to nominate their neighbors or friends instead of them. Some paid for volunteering with their lives – Volodymyr Zadorozhniy, Volodymyr Yurichk, Ruslan Stoyan were nominated posthumously last year. There are many volunteers at the front in the Donbas, delivering supplies to Ukraine’s army.

This year the jury awarded four laureates.

For showing a personal example

Oleksandr Chalapchiy‘s peaceful life changed radically when war knocked on Ukraine’s door. A vocational school teacher started visiting the Anti-Terrorist-Operation (ATO) zone as a volunteer – to deliver military shoes and equipment to soldiers. But very soon the state called himself to the army as a man with a military background. He has no inner resistance. Every normal man has to defend his Fatherland, Oleksandr’s wife quotes his words. One September morning has changed his life even more. When he and his comrade saw a column with civilians, they hurried to remove trip wires which were set there every night in case of an enemy approach. At this very moment an artillery attack started. Oleksandr lost both his legs. In the hospital, he was afraid that his wife will be angry, but she supported him entirely. Now, Oleksandr, the father of two girls, uses mechanical prostheses and devotes more time to his family. Another one of Oleksandr’s missions is supporting injured soldiers – the words of a person with the same experience means a lot to them. Oleksandr had a life-affirming attitude to his situation from the first days in the hospital:

“The hoses and tubes were sticking out from me, and I still put my body in a wheelchair and went to the toilet. One guy was always complaining, “I have no legs. Who will need me?” I told him: “Ok, and who needs me without both legs? But life goes on. We will invent something and learn how to live with it.”

For doing what others can’t

The mission of volunteer is not always romantic. Sometimes it is a hard choice to do what nobody else will. Yaroslav Zhilkin is a coordinator of the mission “Chornyiy tyulpan” [Black Tulip] which finds bodies of soldiers killed in the ATO zone and bring them home. During the year, the mission found and exhumed 627 bodies of soldiers. The volunteers of the mission often risk their lives working on the occupied territory – there is always a chance to not come back home alive. Despite the fact that a lot of people know about the initiative, volunteers can hardly find money for their work. Once they even asked Euromaidan SOS to help with procuring body bags. Despite this, Yaroslav and colleagues are not closing the mission and risking that nobody would do this work:

For us there is no difference who was killed and for what side he was fighting. If we find dead bodies on the opposite side, we take them to forensic investigators in Donetsk. How can it be that a soldier was known while he was dying, but is unkown after death?It is not humane, not Christian-like.”

For providing a salvific vision

Vision can save and change a life. This is the central idea of the Center of Air Intelligence created by a student of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy Mariya Berlinska. The young woman served as a volunteer soldier in the ranks of Aidar battalion, within which she took part in battles where she was responsible for Air Intelligence. “Today we fight using people, not technologies,” says Mariya. She created the Center of Air Intelligence to change this situation and to teach skills she learned to others. Also Maria is active in covering the role of women in the war in the East of Ukraine. Her speech during the convocation in Kyiv-Mohyla Academy was recognized the best among Ukrainian students. In it she pointed out that the system against which we are standing against controlls with our own fears, but when there is no fear, the system is helpless.

To fight fears, stereotypes, phobias, to make this country better, civilized, and brave is the work of our life, because our country became our personal matter.”

For writing down the real history

Yevheniya Zakrevska is an attorney of families of “Heavenly Hundred”. She observes the  investigation of murders of activists committed by government forces during 18-20 February 2014 at the Euromaidan protests. She also defends the rights of activists and journalists affected by the actions of the regime of disgraced ex-president Yanukovych and is trying to release people from captivity the self-proclaimed “Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics.” After Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, Yevheniya managed to release a pro-Ukrainian activist, a teacher Stanislav Yermakov, who had been kidnapped and taken to court. Had she not done that, it’s very likely that he would be now sentenced to decades of Russian prison in a show trial like the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov and activist Oleksandr Kolchenko.  Yevheniya speaks about the cases of murders during the Euromaidan revolution:

In fact, it’s not just an investigation, not just the process of finding the perpetrators and restoring justice, but also it is about establishing the truth, reconstructing very important events for Ukraine and its history. Investigators are now writing down our history. If we stop caring or define things incorrectly, if we have a formal attitude. like some investigators that carry out interrogations in such a way, the story will be deformed and misrepresented in textbooks.”

Everybody can make a difference

The jury of the awards is not that much different from the nominees. Some members of the jury were volunteers that were nominated last year.

“Involving stars in the awards wouldn’t be difficult, but we wanted jury members  to know what volunteering is about,” says Marichka. “These awards are called to show that everybody can make a difference, despite the circumstances, that there can’t be inner excuses like ‘I probably won’t be able to.’”

The Volunteer Award organizers also wanted to demonstrate that, contrary to a notion that is popular nowadays,Ukrainians aren’t becoming more passive and that volunteers are starting to work more systematically. The organization Euromaidan SOS itself serves as proof. During the revolution the initiative was created to defend the rights of activists, but in fact its volunteers were also managing logistics and providing psychological help.

Read more: Human rights activists need to fight on two fronts – Euromaidan SOS coordinator

Now there are around 20 active volunteers in Euromaidan SOS who are dealing with cases of human rights violations in Donbas, most of which are committed to Ukrainain citizens by Russian hybrid forces.

“They are Ukrainian citizens, but nobody in the government cares about them. They are not heroes – often they are just common rural people. We try to find lawyers for them and money for these lawyers, because Russian lawyers are expensive and those who take such cases are even more expensive,” says Marichka.

Euromaidan SOS tries to collaborate with the state institutions to provide them with facts. Not always this collaboration is successful. They also put together documents about murders committed during the Euromaidan revolution, organize press-conferences, and attend court hearings devoted to the topic.

Edited by: Alya Shandra

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