The full-scale Russian invasion became a challenge for every Ukrainian. Since its outbreak, civil society has become more active to do everything possible for the Victory and restore the Ukrainian state.
During the temporary Russian occupation in February-April 2022, the premises of the Center for Social Initiatives in the Trostyanets Territorial Community, Sumy region, were badly damaged.
Yet, the management and local authorities succeeded in raising funds to restore the damaged building.
In a few months after the renovation, the Invincible (Nezlamni) hub was opened – a co-working space for public organizations and community residents.
“Before the war, they dealt with specific issues, such as helping people to apply for social benefits or unemployment aid. At that time, the focus was different, nothing like psychological or adaptive work, or classes with children. We would gather in a non-refurbished room, with almost no heating. It wasn’t comfortable for the people. During the occupation, there was no opportunity to continue our activity… The Russian army entered the city on February 24, at 11 am. Two days later, all shops and pharmacies were looted.”
“Luckily, we managed to quickly remove all the signs inside the building. If the enemy saw the inscription Ukrainian ATO Soldier Office, they might have blown up the building,” said Tetiana Zhohlo, head of the Public Union Center for Social Initiatives of the Trostyanets Territorial Community, in her interview to Gazeta.ua.
“We used power generators, there was no electricity in the city back then.”
The Invincible (Nezlamni) Hub in the city of Trostyanets, Sumy region, began to function from mid-January 2023. Work in the renovated premises was resumed thanks to the grant from East Europe Foundation. Overall under the Stiykist’ Programme, which is implemented by the Foundation within a consortium of nongovernmental organizations led by ERIM and funded by the European Union, grants were provided to 15 public organizations to create new opportunities for IDPs and local residents.
The Public Union Center for Social Initiatives of the Trostyanets Territorial Community won a grant in the amount of UAH 825,000. In September, 2022, this nongovernmental organization applied to participate in the grant competition and in early December, 2022, they became one of the winners. On December 15, 2022, they already began the project of the building renovation.
Immediately after the de-occupation, the organization took actions to address the psychological needs of the community residents to help them cope with fear. However, at that time, there was simply no space where the families and individuals could get together.
“The union building needed repair. The Russians damaged the heating system, doors and windows, and the bathrooms were out of order. Floor was further damaged by rain and snow. We applied to East Europe Foundation for a grant, and we managed to get funding to renovate our premises and create the Invincible (Nezlamni) Hub,” said Tetiana Zhohlo.
For most public unions and charitable organization, the main activity focus has become to help the army and civilians who suffered during the war. In general, from February 24 to June 30, 2022, 4,365 new public organizations were registered in Ukraine, according to data from the Ministry of Justice.
Unfortunately, organizations are not immune to the risks of war. Those who are located close to the front line and in the temporarily occupied territories suffer the most. For example, the Public Union Center for Social Initiatives of the Trostyanets Territorial Community began its activities in early 2021. The Union brought together other organizations: the local branches of the Organization of Veterans of Ukraine, Union of Chornobyl of Ukraine, Union of Anti-Terrorist Operation Veterans Warrior, SICH Association, and the Family Circle of Trostyanets.
According to Tetiana, the greatest challenge in the project implementation was to find a contractor to perform quality renovation work in the premises at affordable price. By the way, the premises were granted to the Public Union by the local authorities.
“We are the border region. The border with Russia is 28 kilometers away. At that time, private entrepreneurs had not yet returned home. Many of our men joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine to defend their families and the country. We had to hire a contractor from another city. But the guys did a great job, they finished in a month. They worked from morning to evening. We used power generators because there was no electricity in the city at the time. The heating system and the floor were replaced; new plumbing systems and energy-saving windows were installed,” said Tetiana Zhohlo.
At the hub, you can get psychological and legal assistance.
Since the commencement of the project, the Invincible (Nezlamni) Hub managed to engage all segments of the population, including local community, IDPs, socially vulnerable people, people with disabilities, children, and veterans.
“Thanks to the grant, we were able to unite people in difficult times. Now we have events almost every day: psychological support trainings and free legal aid. For example, experts explain where to go to get social assistance or renew documents. Many of our guys are now prisoners of war or are considered missing. That’s why lawyers and volunteers explain to their relatives what to do,” says Tetiana, the head of the Public Union.
“We also hold master classes for children. Before Easter, we painted gingerbread and made Easter eggs. The children created handmade postcards and wax pictures as gifts for their mothers. There were also psychological activities for children, such as art therapy and music therapy, both group and individual sessions,” said Tetiana Zhohlo.
The local Employment Center helps internally displaced people find jobs. The heads of the Primary Health Care establishments are reaching out to the residents to inform them where they can get free medicines or diapers for babies, how to get a new medical card, make a doctor appointment or get a prescription for medicines.
Local resident Nataliia Oleshchenko was one of the first to take part in the events held in the renovated premises of the Public Union. She came to the Invincible hub with her sons, aged 8 and 12.
She says that the opening of the hub was a salvation for the city. After experiencing the horror of the occupation, they came to a bright and warm renovated room. New comfortable chairs were put in the hall to replace the old Soviet ones. People were provided with psychological and legal aid. For children, master classes were held.
“My sons were delighted with the art therapy sessions. The classes helped educators to understand the psychological state of the kids. The same classes were held for adults. I attended several psychological trainings. We talked and even sang together. These events really helped people to relax and forget about the stress associated with the war and occupation,” said Nataliia Oleshchenko.
“They taught me how to calm myself and my child, and what to do in case of panic attacks.”
The Invincible (Nezlamni) Hub premises may be used by other socially focused groups to hold their events. For instance, the Red Cross Society plans to hold six- and three-hour first aid training sessions for city residents. Nataliia Martyniuk, Trostyanets resident and mother of a child with disability, has already signed up for the training.
“Several times a month, chaplains from Sumy and psychologists would come to us. They conducted trainings, taught us how to calm ourselves and our children, what to do in case of panic attacks. There were many creative workshops for children. We made craftwork, staged fairy tales, and played musical instruments,” said Nataliia Martyniuk.
According to Ms. Martynyuk, live communication with other children and adults is extremely important for a child, especially considering that they study online remotely. For children with disabilities, classes at the Health Center are also individual. So, Natalia follows the announcements and attends such events with her child. In March, the Red Cross took the children to Okhtyrka to see the World of Turtles exhibition. This was followed by a drawing workshop. After that, the children received gift sets with sweets, a board game, soft and anti-stress toys, and a massage ball for children with special needs. They also received a backpack with personal care products.
“We are open to everyone, there are no restrictions. At the beginning, people were reluctant to participate in the events – they were embarrassed to talk about their problems and had an unstable emotional state. After the first psychological trainings, there were many more requests. There were cases when people asked psychologists to divide people into two groups. After all, our assembly hall can accommodate up to 20 people. And there were many more people who wanted to attend. During the project implementation, 37 meetings were held. Instead of the expected 300 participants, 650 persons turned up for the events. This is the main result of our daily work,” said Tetiana Zhohlo.
The Public Union team works hard to help IDPs find new jobs and start their own businesses.
Ms. Tetiana, the head of the Center for Social Initiatives of the Trostyanets Territorial Community mentioned the first psychological training, when participants were so emotional that they would burst into tears.
“At the beginning of our group session, the psychologists would lay out a lot of paper handkerchiefs on the table. They were quickly used up because people were constantly crying while telling their stories. After about a month, they started using fewer tissues. At the last psychological support training, we noticed that all the paper napkins remained in place. This means that people were able to speak out and their emotional state stabilized. Children smile now at art therapy classes. IDPs find new friends and solve legal issues after attending our meetings,” said Tetiana Zhohlo.
The Invincible (Nezlamni) Hub events are also attended and assisted by the local leaders – heads of the nongovernmental organizations that are members of the Public Union. Among them is Volodymyr Sumchenko, head of the nongovernmental organization of people with disabilities Chornobyl Union of Ukraine.
“Together with the Chornobyl victims and people with disabilities, we made trench candles. We also raised funds on our own to send pastries or cookies to our Army for Easter, to buy long-term storage products and instant cereals,” said Volodymyr Sumchenko.
Today, almost 1300 displaced persons are registered in the Trostyanets community. Most of them have already been provided with all the essentials. Now the Public Union is engaging specialists to help people reskill. It cooperates with local authorities on options for IDPs to start their own businesses. It does everything it can to ensure that people have an income.
“Funds for events, including workshops, were partially raised through a grant. We also managed to allocate money for coffee breaks during the first psychological trainings after the de-occupation. People opened up and made contact with each other over a cup of hot drink or snacks. Today, the Trostianets City Council is helping the Public Union. They have already allocated 200 thousand hryvnias for the operation of the hub. We are also looking for volunteer organizations. For example, psychologists from Poltava and Sumy work with us for free. The Free Legal Aid organization also initiates many events. The Red Cross Society helps us partially with office supplies and gifts for children with disabilities and children of internally displaced persons,” said Tetiana Zhohlo.
The leadership of the Center for Social Initiatives of the Trostyanets Territorial Community is doing everything to ensure the smooth functioning of the Invincible (Nezlamni) Hub.
The Public Union continues to prepare new project applications to receive funding to keep the Hub going. It is very much needed for both Trostyanets residents and IDPs. According to Ms. Tetiana, they all show a great interest for the Center activities.
“You don’t have to be shy to ask for help.”
Today, all residents of Trostyanets are trying to help the Armed Forces of Ukraine as much as possible.
“After what we went through, we realized how important it is to unite and work for a common cause – Victory. When our city was occupied, people informed the military of the enemy’s location. Now they weave camouflage nets, deliver food supplies, medicine, and hygiene products to the front. Children draw postcards with words of gratitude to the military. It is good to have places where you can come and do useful work together. In our city, the Invincible (Nezlamni) Hub is such a place,” says Yurii Bova, mayor of Trostyanets, Sumy region.
The mayor noted that after the occupation, it was not easy for local NGOs to work. They must look for funds on their own and participate in grant competitions. Thanks to the cooperation with East Europe Foundation, they were able to become more active and hold events in their own renovated premises. These are organizations that care for people with disabilities, veterans, and Anti-Terrorist Operation combatants. The Hub hosts psychological trainings and provides legal aid due to involvement of professional lawyers. The team organizes workshops for children and adults.
“This is a great support for both the local population and internally displaced persons who have taken refuge in Trostyanets. The Invincible (Nezlamni) Hub serves an example of how to bounce back after life adversities thanks to the support of those who care. The main thing is not to be afraid or ashamed to ask for help,” said Yurii Bova.
The material was prepared within the framework of the special project Post-War Reconstruction with the support of the Stiykist’ Programme which is implemented by East Europe Foundation as part of a consortium of nongovernmental organizations led by ERIM (France) in partnership with Human Rights House Foundation, Human Rights House Tbilisi, the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation, and funded by the European Union.
The opinions and statements expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the partner organizations of the consortium and the European Union.
Translated from the original article on Gazeta.ua