A family forced to move from ORDLO finds shelter in the Makarovka village. Photo: courtesy
Article by: Olena Makarenko
For the second year in a row, Ukraine is adapting to living in a state of war. The government struggles to provide aid to over a million internally displaced persons (IDPs), combatants, and families of fallen soldiers. However, there are non-standard situations, when people who drastically need help are left without support. Vaidotas and Virginia Sankalas, a family from Lituania, volunteered to help such children and families, whose life changed dramatically after the war.
Completing the procedures to receive state aid takes a lot of time and effort. Soldiers who come back from the frontline face cumbersome bureaucracy to receive documents proving their status of a combatant. Moreover, there are a number of cases when it is difficult to identify killed soldiers. Often, families of missing or killed soldiers are left alone without any help from the state.
When home is not friendly
Before the war, Violeta Yuldashewa and her family lived in Luhansk. The woman became a widow after her husband Temur joined the volunteer armed forces to fight Russian-backed militants. He was killed near Saur-Mohyla on 24 August 2014. The family didn’t know anything about him for 9 months. His body was identified with the help of DNA analysis. Violeta together with her 5 children, one of whom is disabled, was forced to move from Luhansk, now occupied by Russian-backed separatists, to Kharkiv. The woman is not able to work because caring for children takes all of her time. Although the family receives small amounts of social benefits, it would not be able to survive without the help of the European Hope for Ukrainian Children of War, the initiative organized by Virginia and Vaidotas.
Over one year, the family together with their European friends provided aid to 45 children from 26 families who suffered because of the war, distributing € 27,000.
The motivation to help
Before recent times, Vaidotas and Virginia did not want public attention to the project. First of all, because of sensitive stories of families whom they help to recover from the impact of war. However, going public also helps Vaidotas and Virginia to fundraise for the initiative and to involve their friends from other countries.
Viadotas is a Honorary Consul of Iceland in Lithuania. His wife Virginia Sankalas is a co-founder of the Lithuanian magazine for parents “Mamos žurnalas”.
“As a family, we decided that instead of watching TV and worrying we should do something real,” Vaidotas explains.
They found an example of how to help by looking at Ukrainian volunteers:
“We should be proud of people who have been at Maidan. And the whole volunteer movement which exists now showed to Europe that changes can happen if people really want them and are ready to even sacrifice their lives.”
At first, the family donated only their own money, but later their friends from different countries joined in:
“It was hard to ask. In Lithuania, people are not used to sharing,” says Virginia. “For our Soviet generation, it always seemed that we do not have enough. So we worked with people, saying: so what, some other time you will not go to a restaurant, or will not buy some clothes, but here in Ukraine this money is very needed. As a mother, when seeing images of warfare, I was wondering how families live, especially children. My husband and I wondered: what if it were our children? Our children are already mature and went to study abroad, but we were thinking: what if Lithuania didn’t experience these changes, and we would have to live in a Soviet regime or in a similar society? Would our children be happy?”
Ukrainian side of the project
EuropeHope4UA is a private initiative which cooperates with Ukrainian NGO’s and volunteers who search for affected families, visit them personally, and evaluate the situation in order to determine real needs.
“We are not going to stop. The situation is changing. Ukraine has fallen out of the news. But I think that the situation in Ukraine is key to Europe’s future. That is very important. However, what’s most important is that children can be happy because at least of some little thing,” says Vaidotas.
Ukrainian coordinator of EuropeHope4UA Natalia Tymoshenko did not expect that this project would be a long term initiative. “Often, people help the initiative a few times and then stop. But these people continue to help not only with their own money, but involve people from other countries.”
Natalia can’t talk about the people she helps without tears. She told about non-standard situations, which happen quite often:
“We look for cases where the situation is really difficult. There is help from the state. This help is unified enough. However, 2014 was very hard, when an enormous number of volunteer soldiers were in a tough situation. Their wifes faced an even more difficult situation, because when volunteer battalions were formed, men took everything from their homes. At home, a wife was left with all the loans. Then, a soldier from a volunteer battalion could have not receive a status of a combatant if he went missing. In legal terms, the situation is very complicated. Everybody knows that you face a lot of bureaucratic procedures to receive help from the state. And here the help from Vaidotas and Virginia is very important.”
However, doing charity in Ukraine is not easy.
“We need to move from short-term to long-term planning of projects and understand that our war and struggle will last for a long time. The state should reduce taxation of funds received by charity organizations, so that children will be able to receive the maximum from what was raised by European Friends of Ukraine. Now the tax is 18%. It is too much,” says Larysa Artiugina, head of New Donbas, the NGO which collaborate with Vaidotas and Virginia.
EuropeHope4UA is one out of several Ukrainian-Lithuanian initiatives in Ukraine which received positive feedback from Marius Yanukonis, Ambassador of Lithuania to Ukraine:
“It’s one of those stories that clearly reflect solidarity of Lithuanians towards Ukrainians and show their indifference to this situation,” said Mr. Ambassador.
During last two years, Lithuania has allocated to various projects in Ukraine about 4.5 million euros.