In 2018, a young woman from Kharkiv learned about an orphaned baby boy suffering from an unknown disease at one of the public hospitals. Both of his parents died. All he had left was hospital staff and an IV in his little arm.
The young woman’s heart broke looking at that tiny 1-year-old boy weighing just about 9 pounds. She decided to do whatever it took to save his life. Joined by a close friend and a few other wholeheartedly caring people, they sought the best doctors, medicines, and resources. They went all out to give this boy the life he deserved.
The boy’s health slowly improved, but the bureaucratic red tape created many challenges. After fighting the adoption battle for almost a year, the young woman eventually found the boy’s aunt – somewhere deep in russian Siberia. Thankfully, the aunt took him in.
Today the boy is happy and healthy, and his new family is still in touch with the rescue team who saved his life. Today, this rescue team is trying to protect Ukrainian children from those who called themselves our “older brothers.”
That young woman’s name is Iryna Stroeva, and her close friend is Anna Vovk. Together these two extraordinary women founded an NGO called “Ordinary People” (ukr. Zvichayni Ludi) that’s been helping orphaned and disadvantaged children since July 2019.
The Razom Relief team (prev. Razom Grants) first learned about this NGO in May 2022. “Ordinary People” was amongst the first volunteer groups to organize the procurement and delivery of humanitarian aid in the Kharkiv region. Dictated by the brutal, inhumane war, volunteer initiatives were initially frantic and disjointed, but now the Ukrainian volunteer movement has become stronger than ever. Furthermore, it is growing into a powerful civil society with tremendous potential for rebuilding the country.
In the summer of 2022, Razom Relief granted “Ordinary People” $30,000 to aid Kharkiv residents. With these funds, volunteers provided food, water, medicines, and hygiene products to those who needed them most but had no access to any resources. All humanitarian packages were delivered hand-to-hand by over 250 volunteers.
Later, Razom provided a $17,000 grant for the residents of the recently liberated territories in the Kharkiv region. Once again, “Ordinary People” volunteers were the first to reach the remote areas and help people devastated by the russian occupation.
Another $8,000 granted by Razom went to give the children from these areas happy holiday memories – Christmas and New Year’s celebrations and gifts.
Since February 24, 2022, russian soldiers damaged over 3300 Ukrainian schools. Due to significant destruction, some towns and villages have no places for children to socialize or continue their education. Even the fields and forests, where children used to play and run free, are now covered in landmines.
The relentless violence and instability have forced parents to prioritize the safety and well-being of their children above all else. Many families sought refuge in safer regions or fled the country altogether. A lot of them want to come back home and move on with their lives, but the destruction of infrastructure makes it especially challenging.
One of Razom Relief’s current goals is assisting Ukrainian NGOs and charitable organizations in rebuilding spaces for children, creating new ones, and ensuring they have bomb shelters with all necessary equipment.
Having been helping children for many years, NGO “Ordinary People” developed a new project called “The Space of Ukrainian Invincibility” – a physical club dedicated to education, rehabilitation, and comprehensive support of children and teenagers who survived the russian occupation.
One such club has already been renovated in the town of Balakliya. There, “Ordinary People” bring a group of psychologists who work with children and their parents as a part of another project called “The Psychology of Invincibility.”
Another Space of Ukrainian Invincibility will be located in the town of Tsyrkuny. Technical surveys, renovations, window and door installation, electrical work, and finishing touches have been completed thanks to benefactors and microgrants. This club will provide a safe, secure, and engaging space for children of all ages and interests. The bomb shelter is also being renovated and is only 80 feet away from the club.
So far, Razom Relief has allocated close to $12,000 for this club in the Tsyrkunivska community. The grant aims to involve professional psychologists, teachers, musicians, athletes, and rehabilitation specialists who can provide children with a fulfilling life, including opportunities to socialize with peers, actively learn new skills, engage in sports activities, and grow into happy young adults. The funds will also cover the gas costs to transport children from the six nearby settlements to attend classes and workshops.
The first tour of the space happened just a few days ago. However, some work still has to be done, and the program’s long-term success will depend on the completion of repairs, the involvement of local residents, government agencies, and continued support from donors.
Once “The Space of Ukrainian Invincibility” in Tsyrkuny is fully operational it will provide:
Safe and secure space for 200 children;
The psychological support of licensed professionals and the physical protection of the bomb shelter;
Access to classes and workshops, extracurricular education, learning new skills, exploring and improving their talents, and simply being kids who are entertained and enjoying themselves;
Opportunities for local professionals to get employed and contribute to the well-being of their community.
by Yelena Ivlieva