Don’t stay away

There is a Latin expression: “Et qui amisit adjuvat”. It literally translates as: “He who has lost helps.”

In the modern sense, this saying can be translated as an expression describing a separate branch of volunteering. Not a generalized movement or a social stratum as a whole, but describing volunteers who became such not “thanks to”, but “despite the fact that…”

It is about people who once lived in the now occupied territories. About people who became volunteers after losing their homes, streets, entire cities in the war…

And very often, these are young people with almost half of their lives marked by the seal of war – from 2014 to the present.

One of these volunteers is Yulia Kanzeba. She is from Popasna, the Luhansk region. Since 15, the girl has known what war is like. It came to her home in 2014. After the full-scale invasion began, Yulia activated her resources and contacts as a journalist, in order not only to describe the war, but also to volunteer: to ‘close’ a large number of monthly fundraisings for our defenders.

Read Yulia’s story written by Maryna Tereshchenko, a journalist from the Luhansk region.

From war to war

When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, Yulia, a schoolgirl from Popasna, a small but very comfortable town that can be walked around in an hour, was 15.

“Popasna is my heart…” says Yulia. “In 2014, when the war started, I quickly learned what “hit”, “strike”, “hail”, “shelling”, “200”, “300” meant, and began to take an interest in military and war-related topics. When the Russians shelled my town, it was scary… Residential buildings, the whole town were simply razed to the ground.”

The girl recalls how the city recovered after 2014: roads were quickly built, murals and a fountain appeared; square, parks, and gardens were arranged, “I love Popasna” and “I love Ukraine” signs were installed, new establishments opened…

“The war was present in the town over the last few years, because every day we heard something flying to the positions. But despite this, Popasna tried to develop and flourish. In Popasna, they cared about people’s comfort. That’s why my place of strength, so to speak, is the whole town and not something in particular,” says the volunteer. “I loved going to the forest or sitting on the bank of the pond in Zaliznychnyky Park, or walking in the ravine near Gymnasium No. 25, where I used to study. There are such beautiful views! And what delicious coffee they had in Kava Plus! Dropping in there was a tradition for me.”

Yulia recalls how she started volunteering at school. She says it was participation in a school event in support of the soldiers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

“Today it may seem such a trifle. I wove bracelets with my own hands from blue and yellow ribbons and small angels as amulets for soldiers. But then it seemed quite important. First of all, for me,” says Yulia. “And that’s when I realized that I wanted to do something more for our defenders… I met soldiers, helped them with basic household items that I could get. And they began to tell me about their needs and gradually brought me up to speed. I involved my friends in this aid and we succeeded! And so, step by step, first we processed the orders of the fighters we knew, and then their comrades… The circle grew, everything started spinning.”

Gradually, despite her young age, Yulia became a well-known volunteer in Popasna. Soldiers trusted her and advised their comrades to contact Yulia. Civilians also trusted her and donated. And while the first fundraising was for household equipment for the positions, today the volunteer raises money for everything used on the front line.

In 2015, Yuliya moved to Zaporizhzhia, where she entered college to study journalism. But she did not give up volunteer work.

“I visited Popasna about 2 weeks before the full-scale Russian invasion. At that time, I couldn’t even think that a few months later the Russians would turn my hometown into a complete ruin and occupy it, “ Yuliya shares her memories. “I still remember my apartment, the arrangement of things in the rooms. Now the house is pierced with shells, the entrances are destroyed – the Russians dropped an aerial bomb… I lived in a five-story building on Myru (Peace) Street, where there is no more peace.”

The volunteer says that when she looks at the photo of Popasna devastated by the occupiers, comparisons of “before” and “after” pop up, and fragments of memories come to mind.

“It hurts to think about my grandma’s home and the house where I spent a lot of time. In 2022, when the fighting was going on, I saw a video where a representative of the so-called “people’s militia of the LPR” was talking about the “situation”. And in that video, a neighboring house was burning against the background of my grandma’s gate, and I could see a sign with the street name and house number…” says the volunteer. “But the worst thing is to see something that you couldn’t even imagine. These are shots of my destroyed and burned hometown taken by a drone from a height. The town that was everything to me. The East is my heart, my life, my place of strength, my home.”

Volunteering since 2022

The girl says that when in 2022 the needs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine for volunteers rose to a new, higher level, she already knew what and how to do, because she had experience, knowledge and understanding of the problems. And most importantly, she had contacts in the units she regularly helped. So, with the full-scale invasion, Yulia continued to support them and fulfill their requests. The area was the same — Luhansk and Donetsk.

Over time, the number of units and groups that turned to the girl with requests only increased. Soldiers were looking for trusted volunteers who could really help efficiently and promptly.

“Honestly, the hardest part was to find what the fighters asked for. Military stores were empty… And as soon as something appeared in the stores selling military equipment, it was sold out instantly,” says Yulia. “What was the way out in such a situation? Take risks, look for suppliers abroad, and establish cooperation with people we didn’t know. Believe in the honesty and integrity of those who could help, buy, bring. I managed …”

And Yulia did all this despite tough personal challenges: moving, losing home, town, job, occupation, settling in a new place, worries, and constant difficulties.

“But my responsibility to my soldiers is above all!” says the volunteer, smiling.

Now Yuliya Kanzeba is in the official Volunteer Register.

“People trust me because I do everything transparently,” says Yulia. “There is a clear request, a fundraising, a report with receipts, expenses, and photos of soldiers with the volunteer. This is important because people can see what, where and for whom they donate. This is how people come to donate and cooperate. This is work for results.”

According to her, she applied to the Volunteer Register on purpose, because since 2022 she has mostly been involved in fundraising and wanted her activities to be official.

“It is important for me, for those who cooperate with me and for our soldiers too. So I submitted the documents to the State Tax Service and received an extract confirming that I am in the Volunteers Register. Each volunteer must be officially registered. This is financial responsibility,” says the girl, adding that it is a 24/7 job and she always has to be in touch with her “wards”.

Yulia says she tries to do her best so that “her units/groups” have everything they need. And the military have a lot of needs. Because a battle or a shelling turns anything into a waste item. And these things must be renewed.

“Charging stations, cars, drones, electronic warfare devices, ammunition and equipment are the “base”, they are always needed. There are also needs to equip positions and technical stuff,” says the volunteer.

Don’t stay away

Volunteering and other work, which Julia does not consider her main job, require strict self-organization. To put it mildly, her every days is carefully planned and scheduled. However, according to the volunteer, she likes such dynamism and maximum engagement.

“This is what I need in work and volunteering. Of course, there was a period of psychological burnout. Probably, because I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve seen a lot. That’s why I “let everything go through me”. Indeed, volunteering is a very big responsibility. It’s also a lot of stress, a lot of efforts and a lot of time. But I’ve never wanted to quit,” Yulia says with a smile. “I know for whom and why I am doing it. I cannot let my units down, because they are relying on me, waiting for help. And who else if not me? Now, in fact, many volunteers are stepping away from their work for various reasons. But this work cannot be quit. The war is ongoing, there are needs, soldiers are fighting and we have to work.”

When asked what and who keeps her going in difficult moments, the volunteer answers that gratitude and support of soldiers, relatives, friends and colleagues help he keep her balance.

And recently, the girl’s old dream has come true – she adopted a kitten.

“Due to various circumstances, I couldn’t do it before, but then I decided to do it. I was determined that it should be a cat from Donbas. I immediately decided on a name – Donbasik. My soldiers found the cat for me. It grew up with them. I decided right away – mine is the gray one. I liked it at once, on seeing the first photos sent by the soldiers. As soon as I could take it away, I went on my own to the Donetsk region, a little further than Kramatorsk,” says Yuliya happily. “This is something that will be with me forever from our regions. Playful, with character, so dear!”

Summarizing the conversation, we ask what else we, Ukrainians, must do to bring victory closer, and hear the following answer:

“Donate! Constantly! Don’t stay away! Unite, delve deeper, and take an interest in what is happening at the front. Listen to what soldiers from the front line are saying. Honor, remember, appreciate,” says a young volunteer from Donbas.

*All photos provided by the author

Supported by the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Government.