The youth of Chernihiv region is on the volunteer front

The Chernihiv region was among the first to feel the onslaught of the Russian army. Many territorial communities close to the Belarusian and Russian borders found themselves in the rear of Russian troops. Some were under full occupation, others, such as Snovska and Koriukivska, were more fortunate – their settlements became transit for Russians on the way to Chernihiv and Kyiv. One way or another, the locals found themselves in isolation. Despite no active hostilities occurring, there were acute problems with food shortages, lack of medicines, and necessities. Volunteers came to help locals in such a difficult situation. Young people actively participated in the volunteer movement. From the very beginning of the war, overcoming panic and fear, youth centers and organizations began to coordinate humanitarian aid.

Children quickly became adults

SAM (Ukr. “САМ”) stands for “Snovsk active youth”. This youth center at the city council has been operating for a long time. Many interesting things happened here: bicycle selfie quests, open-air movies, karaoke competitions, trainings, creation of entertainment videos, and much more. With the support of the international aid program and the city council, the center was reformatted into a youth space. This helped to create more opportunities for the implementation of new ideas, attracting active youth and good deeds.

SAM youth space temporarily became a volunteer headquarters, Snovska community

From the first days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the SAM youth space became a volunteer headquarters. Olha Havrylets, the head of the center, told us about its new activity.

‘The opening of the youth space took place shortly before the war, the first event was scheduled for February 24. Turning over the calendar, I see some events written for each day,’ Olha nostalgically says. ‘It is nothing. My young people will do it later.’

For Olha, the beginning of the war was not a surprise.

‘I always said there would be a war. My husband communicated with the military and said that it would start day by day. At half-past four on February 24, we woke up to explosions. We received a phone call from the border checkpoint and were told that the war had begun. We have already understood this ourselves. To be honest, I didn’t think it would be like that. Although we do not know what war is and what it looks like.

Russian soldiers were based in some villages of our community. They came to us once and took away the mayor, several guys, and the head of the village community. The fate of the latter and two other locals is still unknown.’

When the Russians were passing through Snovsk in tanks, people stopped them with a live convoy and asked them to give up the war. Among them was Olha’s husband, who offered to take Russian soldiers (almost all young people) back to the border. There were also stories that the locals would remember for a long time: how they confused Russian tanks, derailing them so that they got stuck in the swamp, how the equipment was dismantled, how modern-day guerrillas blew up vehicles with ammunition with a Molotov cocktail, and how residents became the eyes of the army and reported the movement of Russian troops. Everyone had their small front and contribution to the common victory.

Olha says that she got over it quickly. Probably, the teaching profession and the experience of activism became apparent, as she could not sit idle for long. After a phone call, the friends started collecting aid for the military – clothes, medicine, food. They are looking for sources of humanitarian aid. Snovsk mayor Oleksandr Medvediov always supports them, citizens say.

Presents for defenders gathered at the SAM Youth Center, Snovska community

Because of the war, many people seek refuge where the ground is not shaken by explosions. They often leave home without anything. Therefore, the next point of the center’s activity was assistance to internally displaced persons.

‘The city council took the lists of IDPs – the first 250 people – and called them, inviting them to come and get the necessary things. Later, low-income people began to come here. This work is underway.

Young mothers who have just given birth were not left unattended – they were given diapers, baby food, and personal hygiene products. Packages with the most necessary for women in labor in the maternity department were prepared.

Diapers and food were transferred to a nursing home. We have a boarding school, so we also sent products and hygiene products there. We are forming aid packages for families whose men are defending our Ukraine.

We hand over received medicine to the local hospital, paramedics, civilians, and wounded defenders.

Young people do not leave our center. I announce the meeting at 10 o’clock, and they are all in place at 9 o’clock. My children quickly became adults,’ Olha shares.

‘I have free time – I can help people’

Alyona Andrushko was not a member of the youth council before the war. She works in the Department of Education, Family, Youth, and Sports of the Snovsk City Council. Her job responsibilities include interacting with vulnerable groups in the community, so she is well aware of their needs. Her friend Olha Havrylets invited her to volunteer.

‘We have now established shifts at work. I have free time – I can help people,’ says Alyona. ‘We deliver, in particular by my car, packages with food and hygiene products to all villages of the community, because now it is difficult for them to get to the city. We have heard many stories that are difficult to comprehend. I will not forget how we once came to a single grandmother born in 1933. Small stature, in a handkerchief. Her home was clean and cozy. It seems to be from another era. She said ‘I’m not literate, I survived the war, the famine, and here it is again…’ Or talked to a family from Bucha. A woman with four children moved in with her parents, leaving a shattered house… What can you say here? I want to help these and other people.’

‘I can’t take up arms, but I’ll be a paramedic if I have to’

Oleksandr Honcharenko has been an active member of the Snovsk Youth Council since its first days. Professional occupation – individual entrepreneur, life position – public figure. As with everyone, his life was divided into before and after the start of the war. Before that, Oleksandr had plans for a new youth space and for writing projects to improve the city, one of which – to build a recreation area in the water park – he won. After the start of the war, he faced the difficult realities of life and volunteering.

‘It was difficult to realize that Russian troops were standing some 20 kilometers away from us. I sell building materials. When the occupation began, trade ceased. Instead, I used my own minibus to help deliver humanitarian aid. At first, we did not understand where to take it. Gradually we got contacts, and people began to know about us.

We went to different places for humanitarian aid – to Nizhyn and Kyiv, bypassing 600 km, despite the real distance of 220 km. We were on the road all the time. And you also need to download, upload, distribute everything, and answer numerous calls…

Now we are waiting for the new arrival of clothes and food. We will take all this to the villages of the neighboring Koriukivska community.

Many people are in difficult conditions now: no job or access to it, no salary, no housing… We just help. Good deeds love silence. We do everything necessary to win, everything we can. If I have to go to defend the country, I will go. However, I can’t take up arms, but I’ll be a paramedic if I have to,’ says Oleksandr.

Clothes and other necessary things can be picked up free at the SAM Youth Center, Snovska community

Where there is an active leader, there are active youth

‘The youth environment in Koriukivka is very active. Here we managed to consolidate our efforts and work together in a partnership triangle of business, government, and youth,’ says Volodymyr Onyschuk, director of the Koriukivka Youth Center KUB (Ukr. “КУБ”).

Volodymyr has long been involved in youth issues. At one time he initiated a civic organization and worked on various projects in it. As a result of the decentralization reform, a territorial community and a youth council were formed. Subsequently, the city authorities provided funding for the establishment of a permanent youth center. They received their own space, which they have long dreamed of. There were finances, understanding, and support from Mayor Ratan Akhmedov. It is difficult to count how many plans there were, but their implementation was hampered by the war.

‘There was no panic, it was just hard to understand that all this was happening to us. Of course, we could not work as before. What could be done? First, we asked the locals about providing housing for the displaced. Thus, a housing database was collected.

We organized the delivery of the necessary assistance to the community for those who are unable to receive it themselves. How? We saw that there were long queues for products. Some people are disabled or take care of small children – all of them cannot stand in such queues. Our volunteers did it for them.

A few weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, many residents of the Koriukivska community faced a problem with medicines. Then we started to make lists of necessary drugs and looked for them through friends and acquaintances all over Ukraine, bought and found ways of delivery. We have a headquarters for the issuance of free medicines for children with thyroid disease,’ says Volodymyr. 

Another initiative – collecting materials for sewing bulletproof vests

Currently, volunteers coordinate the receipt of international humanitarian aid, including medicines and hygiene products, and redistribute all this to the community. In this direction, they cooperate with various international foundations, philanthropists, local governments, and public organizations from Ukraine and abroad. The KUB Youth Center has created a database of people who receive humanitarian aid. This is to avoid unpleasant incidents because they once found out that a woman, who received baby diapers, tried to sell them. The database will be a safeguard against fraudsters.

“Mandarin Paradise” in Koriukivka Youth Center KUB

An aid collection point was organized for vulnerable groups (elderly people and families with children who are not registered in social services). Psychological assistance courses from a professional psychologist were opened.

One of the latest initiatives is for those who work on the land. Volunteers are preparing to distribute, first of all to the villages, seeds from friends from the West of Ukraine.

As part of cooperation with military volunteers, first aid courses are planned for all those who want to master the skills.

Volunteers have another goal in mind – a creative meeting for the Family Day, a bicycle trip, and a quest – for IDPs to acquaint them with the city and its history.

In both communities – Snovska and Koriukivska – activities were quickly adapted to new realities, and joint efforts were strongly intertwined for victory. People here are convinced that even a small amount of help is still important. After all, the slightest action can have a powerful effect. The main thing is that today Ukrainian youth shows that Ukraine is and will be!

Author: Olena Foksha 

Photos retrieved from the Koriukivka Youth Center KUB on Facebook and the SAM youth organization.