Ukrainian volunteer award honors ordinary people doing extraordinary things

The winners of the Volunteer Awards received a symbolic angel. Photo: ccl.org.ua 

Civil Society

The word “volunteer” has a special meaning in Ukraine after the Euromaidan revolution. One of its lasting and ongoing benefits is the incredible rise of civic engagement and volunteerism across the country. The Euromaidan revolution was driven by volunteers. Volunteer soldiers stepped in to defend their land from a hybrid Russian war in eastern Ukraine. Now, volunteers are often those who move Ukraine forward, sometimes performing much better than governmental institutions. Last year’s poll shows that volunteers are one of the most trusted groups in Ukraine. Only the Church and the Armed Forces enjoy such a high level of trust among all Ukrainians. 

On the seventh anniversary of the Revolution of Dignity, one of the largest Euromaidan initiatives Euromaidan SOS honored those who make Ukraine a better place every day in its annual volunteer award.

The seventh ceremony of the Euromaidan SOS 2020 Volunteer Award took place online in Kyiv on November 30. It has already become a tradition to have a large number of nominees with incredible stories, making it difficult for the jury to choose. The jury designated five winners from among 170 nominees – volunteers from Ukraine and abroad — but the award is not about choosing the best. It is about showing that anyone can make a difference.

“Seven years ago, on November 30, a new countdown began for millions of Ukrainians. At the national level, we have received a powerful push that has gone down in history as the Revolution of Dignity. In 2014, we decided to launch a volunteer award to celebrate people who work in self-organizing volunteer initiatives, who do this work individually, who perform government functions in various fields. They help orphans, take care of the environment, support the wounded, and move the country forward. Dramatic times allow us to reveal our best qualities, give us the opportunity to become a better version of ourselves. Pride overfills me when I realize I had the opportunity to live with such people in one historical period,” Oleksandra Matviychuk, head of the Center for Civil Liberties that launched the Euromaidan SOS initiative during the Euromaidan revolution, said during the award ceremony.

Winners of Euromaidan SOS 2020 Volunteer Award

The winners of this years’ Euromaidan SOS Volunteer Award were Irina Vashchuk-Discipio, founder of Revived Soldiers Ukraine, Yuriy Vdovtsov, director of AngelS Volunteer Group, Yuliya Aleksandrova, coordinator of the Ukrainian Preemie Parent Association Early Birds,  Kateryna Nozhevnikova, head of the Monster Corporation, and Serhiy Brushnitskyi, sports and physical trainer for the disabled.

Rehab & hope for wounded soldiers

Irina Vashchuk-Discipio lives with her family in the USA. When the protests began in Kyiv in 2013-14, she organized a volunteer group in San Francisco, which first collected funds for the Maidan, and later organized the treatment and rehabilitation of dozens of wounded Maidan activists.

In November 2015, Irina and her group launched Revived Soldiers Ukraine (RSU), a non-profit organization dedicated to providing medical aid and sustainable living standards to Ukrainian soldiers and members of their families, as well as to people who suffered and were affected by the war in eastern Ukraine. In 2018, she opened a rehabilitation center – Next Step Ukraine  – in Irpin, Kyiv Oblast.

Thanks to Irina’s foundation, dozens of Ukrainian servicemen have undergone surgery in the United States, been fitted with prosthetics and received financial aid. Volunteers continue supporting the war veterans during the rehabilitation process, and organize flights for the Ukrainian soldiers, as well as hospitalization, rehab and return home.

“In almost five years, we’ve brought 45 Ukrainian servicemen to the United States for surgery, prosthetics and rehabilitation. Thirteen of them were paralyzed from the chest down and were flown to Next Step Fitness in Los Angeles and Chicago for rehab. We could send only two soldiers for six months so that they could be transported safely, and enjoy a comfortable stay and an appropriate rehab program. I’m motivated, because I know that we’re changing a person’s life for the better!” says Irina.

Fighting the pandemic

Kateryna Nozhevnikova is the co-founder and director of the Monster Corporation, a charitable foundation that brings together dozens of volunteers from Odesa and Odesa Oblast. They provide medical, social and humanitarian aid to children, the elderly and internally displaced persons (IDPs). With the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Monster Corporation began gathering protective gear for doctors and medical workers, purchasing much-needed equipment, renovating hospitals and helping covid patients at home. At one point, “monster” volunteers raised three million hryvnias in five days in Odesa Oblast, thus making it possible to deliver oxygen concentrators to local hospitals.

Photo: Two ventilators were delivered to a hospital sponsored by the Monster Corporation. Monster Corporation FB

Since August 2020, Kateryna and several volunteer doctors have been caring for covid patients. They collect information about the patients’ condition, test results and decide whether hospitalization is required or whether the patient can be treated at home. Kateryna’s “monsters” collect, purchase and distribute “coronavirus sets” to 54 sponsored hospitals in Odesa and the region: respirators, protective suits, shoe covers, goggles, face shields, masks, aprons, gloves, disinfectants, tests, ventilators, oxygen concentrators, etc. Led by tireless Kateryna, the Monster Corporation has indeed saved thousands of lives.

Working with orphans and vulnerable children

Yuriy Vdovtsov started working as a volunteer in 2008, when he and his friends visited the Vilnianska orphanage and boarding school (internat). He joined different volunteer groups, working with them on various social projects in Zaporizhzhia and Zaporizhzhia Oblast. In 2012, he founded AngelS, a volunteer group of like-minded people focused on helping orphans and vulnerable children.

AngelS supports more than fifteen orphanages and boarding schools. Its mission is to assist, communicate and make friends with the children. Volunteers conduct thematic classes to develop the children’s mental and physical abilities and build up their daily living skills, which will be useful when the children leave the institution. They continue monitoring the children when they leave the school-internat as adults and help them adapt to new living conditions. Since 2012, AngelS has organized over 345 trips to different orphanages in the region.

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In 2012, Yuriy launched the Harmony of Hearts Festival, which aims to develop the children’s social skills, help them overcome psychological trauma and find new families for orphans. Famous performers from Zaporizhzhia and Ukraine have appeared on the same stage together with these talented children.

Supporting preemie parents and helping families cope with child loss

The Ukrainian Preemie Parent Association Early Birds (Ранні пташки) was created to support families, restore hope and the will to live in parents who experienced the loss of a premature baby, and provide psychological support and counseling for mothers. The volunteer movement was launched by psychologist Yuliya Aleksandrova in 2016.

A traumatic personal experience encouraged Yuliya to create this organization. She has three children; one preemie is now four years old, but her other preterm baby did not survive. Yuliya decided to share her experience with other mothers so that they would not be left alone with their pain and grief.

“It happened in our family. We lost our son. I’ve been through all the stages and difficulties that families with premature babies or families who have lost a child experience before, during and after. Support is very important. We try to help mothers and families, let them know that they’re not alone, that there are many others who’ve been up this path. We must listen to them, reassure them, tell them that losing a child does not mean the end,” says Yuliya.

Coaching and motivating the disabled

In 2013, Serhiy Brushnitskyi started working as a volunteer with people suffering from musculoskeletal disorders, engaging them in sports and physical exercises, as well as teaching taekwondo to young children and teens with special needs.

Thanks to his dedication and hours of training, Serhiy gradually moved into the field of professional sports. “Sensei”, as he is familiarly known, studied and developed individual training programs, motivating and encouraging disabled youngsters to take up sports and lead a healthy lifestyle.

When his students began achieving world-class results, Serhiy searched for sponsors so that his athletes could participate in international competitions. On his initiative, the first open international tournaments and championships of Ukraine in para taekwondo were held in Vinnytsia Oblast.

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Serhiy has coached five world champions and many winners of international events. In addition to social work, Serhiy’s team regularly helps Ukrainian soldiers fighting the Russian aggressor in the Donbas and he himself often travels to the war zone to deliver much-needed equipment.

“Personally, my volunteer activities have given me the opportunity to support our soldiers. This applies to different groups: their children, the parents and the wounded. I strongly believe that it’s essential and important to help the men and women defending the present and the future of my country,” says Serhiy.

Euromaidan SOS was established on November 30, 2013, on the night of the beating of students during the Maidan protests. Its mission is to document all law violations committed by the previous Ukrainian regime and by Russian forces on occupied Ukrainian territories. It also publicizes them, provides legal assistance to prisoners held by the Kremlin, informs about all mistreatment, torture, and illegal sentences in Ukraine and in the OSCE regions. In addition, Euromaidan SOS provides aid and advice to IDPs, soldiers, and civilians and has developed quickly into a powerful volunteer organization to protect human rights.

The Volunteer Award was established in 2014 to support ordinary people doing extraordinary things. It aims to celebrate volunteers working in various fields.

Read about the nominees of the previous years:

More about Ukrainian volunteers:

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