Volunteers working with civilians from near-front area: only through neighborly charity can we show that Ukraine is different from what adversary mass media depict


Kyiv, February 24, 2016. Gaining the victory by arms only, liberating the territory, is not enough in circumstances of the hybrid war – the new unprecedented type of warfare. Information front is equally important, the front living in conscience of people, especially those residing in the conflict zone and are most influenced by propaganda and disinformation. “The war takes place in minds, for people’s conscience. It’s most important not to leave there a permanent opposition area among dissatisfied people who will always reject anything Ukrainian,” said chaplain Ihor Ubiy-Vovk, pastor of the Glamour God’s Glory church, member of the civil council of  Poltava regional council, at a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. Volunteers believe it can be achieved not so much through logic argument, but rather with the help of peacemaking – everyday help by essentials and communication “from heart to heart”. “Peace will come to Ukraine only when it sets in hearts of people from the east of Ukraine and all the other territory Ukraine […] We can destroy barriers in people’s mind only through neighborly charity. It’s the only way to show that real Ukraine is different from Ukraine depicted by adversary mass media,” said Ihor Prus, coordinator of volunteer group #LoveHasNoBoundaries

Volunteers started helping civilians from the near-front area right after the beginning of the conflict. “When I say “our fellows”, they say “Ukrainian army”, when I say “separatists”, they say “rebels”.  This means they do not associate themselves with Ukraine,” said Ubiy-Vovk. “We are trying to show them Ukraine […], that people from Poltava, Khust, Lviv, Rakhiv spend their money and time to come here and help them, and these are “horrible Banderites” who came to repair roofing in their buildings”. People’s attitude starts changing with time. “They start thinking: “How is it possible? People, who came from other parts of Ukraine, are helping us, though we thought they were coming to kill us”, said Valeriy Ionov, volunteer of Salym NGO.  According to Ionov, Ukrainian troops who interact with local inhabitants closer than anybody else, tell the same story. People come to them first of all to get the essentials. “Soldiers say local people keep asking “protect us, don’t leave us”, though earlier they were received negatively,” he said. “Some changes are possible only if we show we can be citizens of one country”.

One of the charity projects of NGO #LoveHasNoBoundaries is a so-called SmartHelp project: people from near-from area are given seeds to grow vegetables on their land. “We give people aid worth less than 10 USD, or 200 UAH, but at the same time we give them hope: they grow these vegetables and gather harvest worth more than 100 USD,” explained Prus. He emphasized that the smart-element lies in giving people the instrument, not the ready-made aid. “A kind of “labour therapy” takes place. If we just gave aid, we would form consumers, but in our case they themselves become producers,” he said. Next year, in addition, volunteers plan to give spring chicken to multiple children families in villages.

He drew attention to the fact that these are civilians who need more help now, as opposed to the beginning of the conflict when it was necessary to supply the army. Considering this, Prus appealed to volunteer organizations to shit the center of their activity, as efforts of one organization only are not enough to solve many problems. “Our experience of humanitarian aid proves that people’s minds are affected by enormous post traumatic stress disorder. Due to this, people are unable to perceive any information and are not ready to accept changes; any change is stressful for them. […]. They are afraid to be left without help, food or medicine. It is impossible to handle this fear through general approach. We need work with every person individually,” said Prus. There is another problem which did not receive sufficient attention so ar. Many pregnant women from the occupied and near-front territories are trying to move to the Ukraine-controlled territory prior to childbirth, so that their children receive Ukrainian birth certificates without problems. Taking into consideration the situation in the near-front area, such a trip is a real challenge, so volunteers help would be extremely opportune.