On February 24, the life of every Ukrainian changed irreversibly. Everyone chose their front to defend Ukraine, and that’s how hundreds of thousands of people joined volunteering. Some in their hometown, some online from their homes, and others abroad.
The whole world united to help Ukrainians who were forced to leave their homes. Citizens of different countries equipped special shelters, helped with paperwork, and did everything to make Ukrainians feel comfortable in a new place.
And the Ukrainian volunteers found their own way to say «Thank you». The Ukrainian Volunteer Service shares the stories of people who chose to give thanks not only with words but also with their actions.
Sofiia, 19 years old
Sofiia moved to Austria a year ago after entering a foreign medical student training program. During a year of living in another country, the girl had time to get used to local customs, improve her language, and get to know the Ukrainian diaspora.
Sofia remembers February 24th only partially: “I remember waking up earlier than usual and checking the news. That was quite strange as I usually watch the news only in the evening. Then the long day of February 24 began, and it continues to this day”.
For the first few hours, Sofia tried to understand how to help, how to contact relatives, and what to do next. Later, she got to the local volunteer center, where other people brought humanitarian aid for Ukrainians — food, clothes, hygiene products. This is how her volunteering began.
“Over time, I realized that this war will not end soon, so it is important to think ahead. In addition to helping Ukraine, I started thinking about ways to say thank you on behalf of all the Ukrainians who received help. And I chose volunteering,“ — shares the Ukrainian girl.
Since then, Sofiia and her friends have organized clean-ups every Saturday: they cleaned parks and streets. In the small town of Graz, there were enough people to say their quiet but important “Thank you” every week.
“The idea of making cleanups was not spontaneous. I had thought about it even before February 24. However, now this volunteering has taken on a completely different meaning. I posted in several chats and Facebook groups, and in a matter of minutes I found like-minded people — says Sofia, and adds: I think those people were looking for support at first. They left their home, even though they had completely different plans a few weeks ago. But I believe that they came to understand that, in addition to communication, they can also thank those who supported them in a difficult moment.”
Ukrainians in Austria continue to thank for the help they got and also to help Ukraine — in addition to the cleanups, they help in cyberspace, volunteer at humanitarian centers, and transfer funds to charity. Everyone on their own front puts together the pieces of a small puzzle to bring victory closer every day and every hour.
Valeriia, 18 years old
Valeriia got to Poland during the first days of the war. Together with her little sister and her mother, they went to Gdansk, where one of the Polish families gave them temporary shelter.
“I was amazed that people could be so open and ready to help. They didn’t know us and had never seen us before, but they sheltered my family without a doubt. It’s probably hard to count how many times I have thanked them.”
For several weeks, Valeriia and her family tried to find the best way to say «Thank you», and eventually, the idea to help local residents with the landscaping in the city came up.
“We live in a small town near Gdansk, where people live in private houses, similar to the suburbs in Ukraine. I am really into landscape design, and I decided that my knowledge might be useful for others. Besides, it always reminds me of my native home, where I planted flowers at the entrance to my house every spring,” — says Valeriia.
In a few months, the family helped equip about 20 houses and got to know other Ukrainians in addition to local residents. Together with her mother and sister, Valeriia plants flowers and trees and helps to take care of the yards.
“I love the beauty of nature, and if I can bring it to the town where I live, then why not. This is my way of expressing my gratitude to all the Polish families who sheltered thousands of Ukrainians in the same way,” — the girl shares.
Valeriia’s mother used to live in Poland during her student days. That helps a family to communicate freely with residents and to help more effectively. In addition to volunteering, they also help Ukrainians learn Polish. They teach children basic vocabulary so that they can temporarily study in Polish schools and also teach their parents more advanced Polish needed to get a job in the town.
“I think we use our resources as much as possible. Any help we can provide is important. And it doesn’t matter if it’s one cleaned yard or one person who speaks Polish, thanks to our support.”
Andrii, 16 years old
“February 24 caught me in Italy, I had come here for a week to visit my grandmother. Unfortunately, this week turned into five long months. I love Italy and have always wanted to move here. But this February made me realize that my soul is always in Ukraine, and I will buy a ticket home at the first opportunity,” — Andrii describes the first days of the full-scale war.
After the first shock had passed, Andrii began considering options for helping Ukraine. He realized that he understood the area well enough, knew the features of the city, and was in contact with the locals. Then, together with others, he decided to hold master classes for displaced persons and collect funds for aid for the Armed Forces of Ukraine at the same time.
“We had a fairly simple plan: we conducted master classes for young Ukrainians, and everyone who could afford it might also donate to a virtual donations jar in a Ukrainian bank called Monobank — it was a fundraiser to help the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”
In a few months, dozens of Ukrainians joined the master classes, which, in addition to leisure, also helped them partially learn the Italian language to get used to a new place faster. At that time, Andriy and his team collected about 50 thousand hryvnias, which they redirected to help the army.
One of the volunteers shares: “I know the raised sum of money is small compared to some other fundraizing campaigns. But imagine: if you remove a certain color from a picture, for example, red, this picture will look strange and inferior. We are the red color that, combined with others, creates a picture. I believe this picture is called Victory.”
To thank the country that supported displaced persons, a team of volunteers started conducting master classes not only for Ukrainians but also for the locals. That’s how they ended up in kindergartens, elementary schools, and various preschool leisure facilities.
Andrii speaks Italian almost fluently, and that became a great advantage: he could quickly find common ground with the children. Volunteers conducted workshops for Italians every week for three months to show that Ukrainians sincerely thank everyone who helps them and supports Ukraine. Andrii organized about 20 master classes in less than four months, and another ten are planned for this summer.
“I saw that it was really important to the Italians. They don’t come to us because it’s free; they come because they believe in Ukrainians, they believe in Ukraine and our victory. They are doing everything possible for this, so we should do everything possible to thank them.”
Saying «Thank you» is important. Therefore, everyone who is abroad can do it. Here are some options:
- Organize cleanups in the local parks.
- Help local residents with manual labor.
- Conduct workshops or classes for adults and children.
- Post thank-you cards.
- Be polite and thankful.
The material was prepared by Viktoriia Nevynna, head of SMM of the Ukrainian Volunteer Service.