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    Posted April 1, 2014 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Ukraine unrest

    MaiaKiev and 14 other iReporters contributed to Open Story: Ukraine crisis as it unfolds
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    Choices We Make


    The times of trials test the core essence of each person – who you really are, what you value, how authentic you are, how your words match your actions. In the past few months each Ukrainian has made a lot of important decisions. When the crisis hits a country each person has to make choices: to stand up or to hide, to overcome fear or to justify it, to help others or to focus on own needs. It made me proud to see how many people in Ukraine chose to stand up for freedom, to face danger with courage, to come out of selfish mode and to strengthen each other by shouldering burdens together.


    A few days ago I became a member of a Facebook group “Evacuation of Kids from Crimea” (facebook.com/groups/crimeakids/). I wanted to learn more about the initiator(s) of the group and had a chance to meet for coffee with Anna Sandalova who had started this initiative. I had the most inspiring and encouraging hour listening to Anna’s story!


    I asked Anna what had prompted her to start this group on Facebook. She said that Maidan (recent revolution) taught us to do important things without waiting for somebody else to call on us. “When we see a need the most natural thing is to respond to that need. It happened the same way in this case. When in the beginning of March our government didn’t seem to have any clear plans to help people evacuate from Crimea, watching news as a mother, I was concerned about kids there. On March 8th (Women’s Day in Ukraine) I woke up with realization that we needed to help mothers in Crimea who wanted to take their kids out of harms way. I started a Facebook group and in four days we had 160 families volunteering to take in kids or families with kids. We started matching families on mainland with evacuating families from Crimea. We tried to do our best to take into account special situations, to respond to the needs in the best way.


    There were families coming from Crimea with very small kids, with many kids, with pregnant women. There was one family that had a child with special needs, epileptic with development delay. We were looking for a special family in Kiev who either had experience in that area or some medical training and would be willing to take this responsibility and we found it.


    The most open to receive refugees and larger families were villages in the Western Ukraine. I was very moved when people from Western Ukraine would call me and try very hard to speak Russian (their native language being Ukrainian), to show that they will be able to communicate with Russian speakers coming from Crimea. People willing to host refugees never differentiated between Russian Ukrainian or Tatars, they were happy to take any family. People from Crimea were especially moved by hospitality and openness of western regions. Russian propaganda tries to show that people in western regions are nationalists and hate Russians, but Lviv, Ivano Frankivsk, Ternopil are the most open to refugees.


    There was one family of 4 adults (with a pregnant woman in the last days of pregnancy) and 3 kids that I had hard time finding a home for. They were already on a train when I got a call from Zakarpatie region; a man offered a house with 6 bedrooms. It turned out that the man was also an obstetrician. So the family was well taken care of - the house was stocked up with food, things were bought for children and for new baby, arrangements were made for men to find work and for kids to go to school. So it’s not just providing housing, but meeting people’s needs in a more complex way.”


    Now there are number of volunteers who are participating in this initiative, they coordinate different regions. Anna personally helped to find homes for 30 families (average 5 people in each) in the past 3 weeks. There were many more families who were helped by other volunteers.


    “It’s been amazing how eager people have been to help! We recently organized a wedding for three marines who after a few weeks in Russian blockade were relocated to Kiev. We learned that they were planning to just go with their fiancées and register their marriage. We decided to at least help find wedding dresses for this special day. I wrote about it in our Facebook page. A lot of women offered their own wedding dresses, but then one wedding salon gave new dresses as gifts to these couples! It was a special treat for the girls to go and try on different dresses and choose the ones perfect just for them! But then participants of Facebook group decided to do more than just dresses. Somebody sponsored buying flowers, somebody bought wedding rings, people volunteered their cars, and Champaign was sent from Odessa and from Kiev! There was a banquet, photographer, and videographer. (See the video of the wedding - youtube.com/watch?v=VApCbCT5ypo). It turned into quite a big events with many TV channels reporting about it! Everything was orchestrated in just two days!


    Very often we announce a need on Facebook page and 3 minutes later that need is already met. Facebook has been really instrumental in this rise of volunteer movement in Ukraine.”


    Anna is a PR manager, in the end of the summer she has taken a few months off work to spend more time with her kids, to help them transition to a new school. A few months later protests started on Maidan and Anna together with her husband has been actively involved both by being on Maidan and by supporting Maidan with food, clothing, medications, taking injured into her own home, participating in cleaning of the streets after revolution was over. During the coldest months she had a Facebook group “Warm up Maidan” where she coordinated gathering of warm clothing and boots for protesters. Anna and her husband were in Trade Union building helping evacuate the injured minutes before the building was set on fire by riot police.


    She says that the past few months have been a time of reevaluating what really was important in life. She realized that a lot of things that she had thought she couldn’t do without were really very secondary. “Like going to an expensive restaurant or to a concert or buying a new coat for myself seemed very unimportant when I knew I could spend the money buying a ticket for somebody in Crimea to evacuate their kids or to buy food for Maidan. I discovered that after all, we don’t need that much in life! We should simplify our life and enjoy living each day with a purpose.”


    Anna and I talked some more about the amazing volunteer movement that we had seen rising up in Ukraine over the past 4 months. This is so unusual for our culture! I asked Anna if she believed that it would continue when we get through these hard times or we would just go back into our small selfish worlds. Anna and I have agreed that during Maidan people have tasted pleasure of serving each other. They are hooked now! They will not want to stop. There are always going to be some needs that could be met. Just as in the beginning of our conversation Anna said, “we shouldn’t wait for somebody to call on us, we should just respond to the needs we see around us.” This is our country; we are all responsible for its future!

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