The volunteer center, “Good Morning, We Are From Mariupol”, is a busy place in Dnipro. More than 200 families come here every day to receive humanitarian aid. Despite the fact that the center has been operating for a long time – since March 2022 – the demand for food packages and hygiene products is still high. Most internally displaced persons, or IDPs, are from Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Whereas IDPs in the early days of Russia’s war had to wait in a live queue, they can now complete an electronic form and arrive at an appointed time. The refugee center was established by the Eleos-Donetsk nongovernmental organization. Director Maryna Peretiatko says that “once posted, the e-queue form for a day is completed within minutes,” which demonstrates the center services are in high demand.
Thanks to the grant from the Spilnodiia Program, which is implemented by East Europe Foundation in partnership with the Ukrainian Independent Center for Political Research and the Together Against Corruption NGO with the EU funds, Eleos-Donetsk was able to purchase the necessary equipment and create a database to enable volunteers to perform the IDP registration without delay. “As part of this grant project, thanks to East Europe Foundation, we created a hotline for people with push-button phones, people with disabilities, and those who have no access to our Telegram channel, where we publish our e-queue form,” said Maryna Peretiatko.
The center is run by a team of 30 volunteers. All of them are IDPs driven out of their homes by Russian-initiated hostilities. Most of them are from Mariupol, like Ms. Peretiatko. That’s where the name of the Dnipro-based volunteer center originates. Most people joined the volunteer initiative in the early days of Russia’s invasion in the spring of 2022. What makes them come every day to help their fellow Ukrainians? Ms. Peretiatko cites an example when all the volunteers came to work during the first blackout last winter, despite Russian air raids, power outages and no possibility to continue daily operations. “We would warm tea on gas burners and would sit down to talk to each other. This is what keeps us together – a sense of family, unity. The fact that we can do something important together these days.”
And this community is expanding because every time those who come to be helped eventually begin helping others. Maryna says: “A man called and made an appointment for tomorrow. He said that he weaves camouflage nets and could weave some for us. He will bring it and show it. That’s how we are uniting with people.”
What makes assistance delivered by Eleos-Donetsk so special is that it is based on a peer-to-peer principle. IDPs help each other while promoting a culture of volunteering and charity. “We want to make sure that people at every level and in any circumstances feel useful and capable of doing something, making a difference,” says Ms. Peretiatko.
To take care of the mental health and volunteer recovery after their pro bono work, the Spilnodiia Program is now offering hippotherapy to both volunteers and their children. Ms. Peretiatko is receiving positive feedback. “We have done five hippotherapy sessions already. It is a lovely, spacious place, with more than 100 horses. You can ride horses or spend time caring about them. Baby horses are such fun! You want to play with them like kittens. Even though they are probably 150 times bigger.”
Contact with horses became a joy for volunteers. Volunteers enjoy horses and feel at ease with them. Some are eager to go to the stables on their own time to feed horses. They became so attached to their new pets that they need to be “driven away”, back to the group. Ms. Peretiatko says for volunteers who deal with people almost around the clock, this contact with animals has a healing and calming effect.
Ms. Peretiatko believes that every volunteer in their organization finds joy in being useful and helping others. “I think everyone here understands 100% that they didn’t live this day in vain.”
Operation “Come Back”
The Eleos-Donetsk team is tirelessly conducting its regular daily work to help hundreds of displaced families and is looking ahead to expand its activities. Thanks to support from East Europe Foundation, Eleos-Donetsk conducted a strategic and communication session to build a plan for the next five years. The organization’s objective is to help people return home to de-occupied territories. Volunteers consider taking on rehabilitation programs for both military veterans and civilians and opening shelters for victims of domestic violence. Ms. Peretiatko also talks about the historical memory preservation. “We want to carry out both humanitarian and cultural or educational projects.”
Flexibility and agility in responding to current needs will shape up the organization’s future development. Recently, the volunteers went to Lyman to examine the current needs of the community residents. It turned out that in the village of Yarova, more than 50 children get together in a dilapidated community center to take online classes. Although children are of different ages, they were jut crammed into one room. Even though the municipal building has the Internet connection, and children have the necessary gadgets, they do not have headphones, so for them it is difficult to focus on online classes and not to interfere with each other. So, the volunteers will address this issue and will supply them with the headsets.
Ms. Peretiatko, Eleos-Donetsk NGO Chaiperson, said that most people can hardly think of becoming volunteers. Yet, she says that there is a great demand for volunteerism in society. A lot of people turn to the organization daily just asking: “How can I be of help?.” Therefore, it is important to show that anyone can become a volunteer: “You have to be open and let people in who want to help. Even if you already have an established system of assistance and reliable people who know exactly what to do, it is still important to give this opportunity to those who want to try.”