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    Posted December 6, 2014 by
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    International Volunteer Day


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     Maia Mikhaluk has been traveling to eastern Ukraine every few weeks for the past couple of months to help people living in the war-torn area. In honor of International Volunteer Day, which was on December 5, Mikhaluk shared photos of some of the volunteer efforts she’s taken part in.

    “It has been very difficult 12 months for my country and a lot of things are discouraging, but rise of volunteer movement is the most encouraging and hopeful thing,” Mikhaluk said. “I think volunteers help not only individual soldiers and civilians, but they really change the heart of Ukraine.”
    - zdan, CNN iReport producer

    In 1985 United Nations General Assembly established December 5th as International Volunteer Day. It's a day to celebrate volunteerism in all its different facets, to pay special tribute to people’s participation in making difference locally, nationally and globally.

    This year probably for the first time ever Volunteer Day has been truly celebrated in Ukraine. Facebook timeline was full of people congratulating each other! It seems half of my friends are now a part of volunteer movement in Ukraine! Just a year ago the concept of volunteerism was totally foreign to Ukrainians!

    Since the beginning of conflict with Russia that started with annexation of Crimea in March followed by destabilization of Eastern regions of Ukraine volunteers have played crucial role in helping refugees who are fleeing the areas of conflict, civilians stuck in the war zone and especially Ukrainian Army that initially was totally unprepared to face well-armed and well-trained aggressors.

    Volunteers’ contribution has been so significant that more than once President of Ukraine has awarded volunteers with the highest state awards and medals.

    Ukrainian volunteers started with initiative of a few individuals, not coordinated between each other, taking up one of the areas of need that resonated with them the most. They each grew teams of like-minded people around themselves, taking on tasks and accomplishing them using Facebook as a platform of coordination. Most of those individuals have high professionals skills in management and no wonder the work of volunteer groups is quite efficient.

    Twenty of the largest volunteer groups have established an association to capitalize on synergy and coordination of their efforts. There are hundreds of other volunteer groups around the country.

    Volunteers gather supplies for the Army, they raise funds, they take care of wounded soldiers in the hospitals, they deliver humanitarian aid to refugees, civilians in war zone and orphanages. The work is enormous!

    I had several chances to participate in activities of Support Army of Ukraine volunteer group started by Anna Sandalova, in their trips to war zone in particular. As they bring supplies and warm clothes to soldiers on checkpoints and frontlines they are received with warmth, deep respect and appreciation.

    The growth of volunteer movement in Ukraine that involves more and more people with every week is not only helping army and refugees but it’s helping all of us to change Ukraine, to change our society by changing ourselves, coming out of our selfishness and indifference; becoming more responsible citizens, proactively looking for ways to help others. This is a huge internal national potential that has never been tapped in before!
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