Since 2015, Andrii Hrudkin and Olena Shevchuk have been working as part of the team of the «Sylni Hromady» non-governmental organization in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. It all started with teaching local residents to control the authorities and explaining what advocacy is. However, after a full-scale invasion, they changed the format of their work and are helping their home region together with the «On the Collision Line» Coalition.
Our mission is to make people proactive, to unite them in communities
«Our mission is to make people proactive, to unite them in communities. These are not material goods like a playground or a mural, but it has an effect on the mind. In recent years, our „On the Collision Line“ Coalition has been doing a very important thing — we told the government, regional and local authorities what needs to be done for the development of communities on the contact line,» Andrii Hrudkin says about the last years of activity in the region.
Residents of front-line communities such as Popasna or Toretsk were united by simple things. If the state could not create certain conditions for their development, then they could turn into an analog of the occupied territories. Fortunately, the authorities listened to the activists and began to work with them, perceiving them as partners.
Andrii says that if the economic development strategy of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, the creation of which activists participated in, would fully work, then in 5−7 years the region would transform and be similar to European countries.
«And the Russians saw this, they started an open war in many ways and because they saw what schools were opening in Toretsk and Avdiivka, how powerfully local business was developing. They could not allow the so-called „russkiy mir“ in occupied territories lost to the Ukrainian world. So, everything was going well until February 23,» Andrii recalls.
I felt the big war coming because had confidence in Western intelligence
Andrii lived near the demarcation line for a long time of his life, and felt the coming of a big war because he trusted Western intelligence. But not only because of the news, the man thought about a possible invasion of Russian troops:
«Two days before the invasion, I spoke with Samantha Power, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, a person who is an entrée to Biden. She looked at us, the public figures of the East, with reproach — run away from there, Russia is going with war against you. But the human psyche works very strangely. Especially for us, the people who lived in the front-line territories since 2014, were under shelling, experienced the occupation,» Andrii explains his anxiety.
In the first weeks of the war, Andrii thought only of the possibility of taking his relatives to safe places. That is why the man took his wife and children to Lviv, and he ended up in Ivano-Frankivsk. Here, his friends Tim Boze and Denys Bihunov organized an aid headquarters for Donetsk oblast. Almost immediately, Andrii identified priorities for activities:
«The first thoughts were that the humanitarian aspect is now the number one problem. Children from New York were killed near Izyum, several more people were injured. Funds were needed for burial and treatment. The first fundraising was announced, and people started donating. Then everything went by itself, as it always happens when you organize a certain process,» Andrii recalls.
«Horizontal connections are the best»
Over time, Andrii and his team at the new location contacted friends from the «On the Collision Line» Coalition. As it turned out, almost all of them were able to leave Donetsk oblast and started volunteering or went to the military. However, part of them remained in the uncontrolled territory. Andrii says that individual members of their Coalition in Lviv hold master classes for children of internally displaced persons, in Poltava oblast, they solve the problems of IDPs in a local hostel.
«The most valuable thing is that we kept our structure, did not fall apart. During this time, thanks to the support of donors, we provided humanitarian aid in 12 communities of Donetsk oblast. These are Svitlodarsk, Toretsk, Krasnohorivka, Mariinka, New York, Selydove, Kurakhove, Vugledar, Ukrainsk, Kramatorsk, Sloviansk, Ocheretine. I think horizontal connections are the best. This means that the civil society of Donetsk oblasts sometimes works better than the local government at a critical moment. I feel proud of each member of the „On the Collision Line“ Coalition», the man says.
In June, Andrii came to native Toretsk and did not recognize his hometown. The absence of people on the grassy streets was very noticeable. A huge queue of people waiting for humanitarian aid was near the local Center for the provision of administrative services. Andrii noticed among them mothers with children and elderly people.
Ordinary conversations with people about the need to evacuate do not give the desired effect, because they find many arguments to stay in dangerous regions. However, the man continues to help his native community, because he feels that he has already become a hostage to this cause:
«As a result, you find yourself in a situation of a classic crossroad: bringing humanitarian aid motivates people to stay, not bringing it — a particular child may die of hunger. We in the team understand that we need to move away from humanitarian aid because our natural activity is reforms and strategic development,» Andrii explains
The man hopes that they will return to this very soon because they already have experience in analyzing front-line communities. Now almost half of the country has become such, so there will be enough work. The team of the «On the Collision Line» Coalition is located in many cities of Ukraine, from Kyiv to Ivano-Frankivsk and from Myrhorod to Dnipro.
Andrii sees overcoming chaos and creating an ecosystem in which the government and the public do not engage in delusions and do not compete with each other. And in the future, it will be possible to form new strategic decisions and gradually implement them. It does not matter whether it concerns the integration of IDPs or local development.
Earlier, Andrii's team was very happy with the passed law, which was driven by them, but now the victories have become less grandiose, but no less important.
«Now it's a banal story about a woman from the remote village of Dyliivka, who for 4 months didn’t receive humanitarian aid, but we brought it. Or 200 electric stoves, which will allow not to cook porridge on the fire. This should not be the case in the 21st century, the Russian state and its people must stand trial for their crimes against humanity,» Andrii concludes.
Among the plans is to restore contact with public organizations, which also hastily left Donetsk oblast
Olena also works in the same team together with Andrii. Her flurry of activity started in 2015 in the «Sylni Hromady» non-governmental organization. Before the full-scale invasion began, the plans were grandiose and Olena had patronage over Sartana, New York, and Toretsk. Almost immediately after the full-scale invasion, Olena and her family began to focus on the Dnipro, because there were relatives there who would help settle down. She misses her native home, but there is not enough time to despair, because as part of the team she continues to deal with the humanitarian problems of those who remained in Donetsk oblast:
«Now our team works in the humanitarian direction from different cities of the country. We are trying to help communities in Donetsk oblast. Solve the most pressing issues. Thanks to the support of various international organizations, we are sending food, construction materials, household chemicals, water, etc., for the partial restoration of destroyed housing and social facilities, to Donetsk oblast,» Olena says.
In the future, she plans to restore proper contact with public organizations, which also hastily left Donetsk oblast. She believes that such communities faced great challenges, because in recent years they have been dealing with their communities, and some of them are already occupied.
Being in a temporary evacuation, the activist does not waste time and starts doing what she always put off for later:
«I was given the opportunity to attend a driving school for free. A local private driving school decided to support displaced women and provide an opportunity to learn traffic rules on a preferential basis. I filled out the application and got into the first group. It was a very unexpected and joyful event. I'm sure this skill will be very useful in life»
Olena continues to get used to her new place, restore the circle of like-minded people already in the new community, and work on helping her native Donetsk oblast. One of the last shipments, the girl was preparing a humanitarian shipment to New York together with the head of the «Studio of Public Women's Initiatives» organization Tetyana Krasko and says that it will definitely not be the last and the «On the Collision Line» Coalition will continue to help.