They search for weapons, order tactical gloves, deliver humanitarian supplies, fight — you name it, they do anything to bring victory closer. During the five months of a full-scale invasion, many female volunteers have already turned into founders of NGOs and businesses.
hromadske spoke with female experts from various fields and internally displaced persons to find out what needs young women had during the war and how they defend their rights. The project was implemented in cooperation with the NGO Internews-Ukraine with the support of the UN program Women Ukraine.
In response to hromadske’s request, the National Service of Ukraine reported that according to the Unified Information Database of Internally Displaced Persons, as of 22nd June, there are almost 4.3 million internally displaced persons registered in Ukraine. 2.6 million of them are women. In March-April 2022, the UN program Women Ukraine surveyed young women in Ukraine to find out what needs they had during the war. More than half of respondents, who left their homes because of Russian missiles, said they did not feel safe and often felt discriminated because of the language or region they came from. Almost half of these women lost their income. At the same time, few of them sought the help of a psychologist — they did not consider it a primary need. 70% of the surveyed young women said that they volunteered to help people affected by the war. Moreover, 36% of female volunteers organized and headed these initiatives.
“You’re like an ant. You carry packages under fire”
“The war has given many women a new experience and competence: volunteering. If it comes from a genuine inner need, volunteering destroys a whole bunch of stereotypes you might have. And I did have them. For example, that you are a girl and there are things you can’t do, or there are things not suitable for your gender,” argues a 36-year-old volunteer Liya Shyrkina. During the war, she moved from Luhansk Oblast to Dnipro.
Liya has already stopped worrying about the red nose in a random photo, and her own experience refutes stories about girls’ weak nerves or excessive emotionality. She says that when she decided to volunteer, she felt a burst of energy, “You’re like an ant. You pick up boxes, crates, and packages, carry them under fire through the streets of an empty city and enjoy the fact that you managed to bring them to those who would be lost without them.”
“For eight years, Ukraine has been investing heavily in women’s leadership,” Halyna Skipalska
The Gender in Detail resource collects stories of women who help bring victory closer. According to Halyna Skipalska (director of HealthRight International in Ukraine and expert on countering gender-based violence and providing psychosocial services to vulnerable population groups), there are a lot of such stories. “Not only because this is our second lesson, but also because, for the last eight years, Ukraine has been investing heavily in women’s leadership,” Halyna says.
The expert believes that today, our state is at the stage of war when community leaders should help displaced women make the right decision. Women are now facing a choice: either to return home (where everything can still be dangerous) or to stay in the community where they fled from the war. “In fact, people who left everything and started life anew are very strong. This should be emphasized. They will definitely be a good resource for communities and Ukraine,” Halyna Skipalska believes.
However, this depends not only on the female IDPs themselves but also on communities’ willingness to hear and accept them. Everyone benefits if there is a favorable atmosphere and no judgment. “I believe that the role of community is crucial here. We should not sit and wait for women to be ready and start integrating. The community and local authorities should help them,” says Khrystyna Kit, a lawyer and a founder of the Association of Women Lawyers of Ukraine "JurFem."
Also, local authorities should not only think about successful and independent women but also about those who suffer from domestic violence in their families. For example, if a man used to beat a woman at home, he would not stop doing it in a new place. “And this is a challenge for local authorities: to provide shelters not only for IDPs but also for victims of domestic violence. It is important to ensure timely payment of social assistance to female IDPs at the state level. Otherwise, they will think about how to go abroad, which is the risk of becoming a victim of human trafficking and labor exploitation. The state should take this into account,” Khrystyna Kit believes.
“I understand the feelings of those who lost everything”
Until February 24th, Yuliya Simachova, an IDP from Mariupol, was a volunteer, and then she became a person who needed help herself. Because of the war, she had to leave her home and move to Kyiv.
“I took only one suitcase with me as I was leaving, I hoped that they would shoot for some time, and the next day everything would be over. And then, the days were passing by, and I realized that I didn’t have the things I needed. And here I am, getting everything from volunteers, and I cannot accept the fact that I used to help myself, and now I am the one who gets the help. And I feel kind of ashamed. And I understand the feelings of those who lost everything,” says the girl.
Human rights activist Khrystyna Kit emphasizes that displaced persons should know how to protect themselves: “Regardless of the city or oblast of Ukraine women moved to, there are the same social protection agencies and the system of free legal aid as the ones that worked in the oblast where they lived before. If you are a victim of domestic or sexual violence, free legal aid centers have to provide you with the same services of a free of charge lawyer.”
Now Yuliya Simachova is helping others again — but in a new place. She is well versed in military terms, communicates with foreigners, and convinces them that they have to help Ukraine. “We can’t all take the weapons, but we can do everything to facilitate somehow the work of the people who protect us on the front line,” the woman says.
Women don’t want to accept psychological support
Anna Ryasna, a 30-year-old volunteer from Luhansk Oblast, begins every day by texting her husband — he is at the front. Then, the woman takes care of her son and works at the volunteer headquarters at the same time. When asked why she helps others, she answers simply, “My parents stayed in Luhansk Oblast, they refuse to leave. So, I help them first of all. There are a lot of close friends left there. My heart aches when I think that they can be there without medicine, food.” Dnipro has now become a refuge for her.
Sometimes women get too involved in volunteer work to forget about their personal pains and fears. Anna Karpechenkova, an expert of the NGO “Lady and Patroness”, says: “We can deny ourselves a lot now, show patience. However, I see how many young women who have children do not want to accept psychological help. We offer it, but they refuse, not realizing that they need it”.
And yet, Halyna Skipalska says that over the past eight years, people’s attitude to psychological help has changed for the better. Before it was often not taken seriously, people did not understand its importance. Now, women are more willing to turn to psychologists, but it still happens that it’s too late: “When they start having trouble sleeping, experiencing panic attacks, when there are already some physiological symptoms or diseases, and they cannot recover. Or when their children show these symptoms”, adds Halyna.
The main thing is to ask for help
39-year-old Olena Holoshchapova believes that the war broke many stereotypes about women.
Olena herself is from Donetsk oblast. At the beginning of the invasion, she helped civilians in her home oblast, and then she organized a Centre for Displaced Persons. “About a month later, we managed to get a grant to set up a Centre for Displaced Persons in the premises of a school. We bought microwaves, electric stoves, a washing machine, kitchen furniture, water boilers, dishes, pillows, bed linen, blankets,” tells the woman.
Later, Olena became an IDP herself: she moved to Lviv Oblast but did not stop helping others. Now, the woman works in a call center for those affected by the war.
“Every day, each of us does what we can, where we are. The greater the participation of women at all levels of decision-making within national, regional and international institutions, the more sustainable our society becomes and the closer is peace in Ukraine,” emphasizes Olena.
Human rights activist Dariya Pylo says that there are enough call centers, hotlines, legal and psychological consultations for internally displaced persons. We just need to have communication between government agencies and NGOs that work in the same field. But when people come to a new place, they will easily find a number to call and can definitely count on help — this is ironclad. “The main thing is to contact those who can provide professional assistance and the most comprehensive information,” the specialist adds.
To get the status of an internally displaced person, you should contact local self-government bodies and social protection bodies. You can also get all the necessary information about social payments there (you can find an updated list of oblasts the residents of which are entitled to payments here), legal and psychological assistance free of charge, addresses of hospitals and polyclinics, a list of volunteer organizations and NGOs, and so on.
This information is also available on the website of the Ministry of Social Policy in the “Information for displaced persons” tab, as well as in “Citizens’ appeals.”
In addition, you can get information and advisory support in the “Diia” app and on the hotline. 0 800 331 834.
As to the assistance specifically to women, it is provided by the following NGOs:
- Association of Women Lawyers “JurFem” — 068 145 55 90 (+ Viber, Telegram)
- Initiative of Active Women Organisations of Dnipro “Lady and Patroness” — 099 632 7701 (+ Facebook)
- “La Strada-Ukraine” NGO — 0 800 500 335 (for victims of domestic violence) and 0 800 500 225 (for children and young people)
- International humanitarian, human rights, and medical organization HealthRight International in Ukraine — 044 223 7165 and 093 743 7833.
In addition, internally displaced persons can also receive free psychological support in the following organizations: Psychological Support Service for Ukrainians, online consultation company Teenergizer, Psychological Initiative Centre “Obiymy” and other similar organizations.
The story was sponsored by Internews Ukraine and supported by UN Women in the frame of the project "Strengthening the capacities of young women from Donetsk and Luhansk regions to advance the Women, Peace and Security Agenda at the local level."
The United Nations Recovery and Peacebuilding Programme is implemented by four UN agencies: the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UN framework for gender equality and women's empowerment (UN Women Ukraine), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).
The program is supported by twelve international partners: the European Union (EU), the European Investment Bank (EIB), the US Embassy in Ukraine, as well as the governments of Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, and Poland, Switzerland, Sweden and Japan.
The partner material is published as an advertisement. The project was implemented in cooperation with the NGO Internews-Ukraine with the support of the program UN Women Ukraine. Journalist Lesya Pinyak, editor Khrystia Kotsira, designer Tetiana Kostik, creative producers Tata Kryvenko and Anna Sokha worked on the material.