...do not give up and do not despair, do what you think is the right thing to do. Russia will definitely be free.
Elena is a person with an interesting story. Until the age of 17, she lived in Uzbekistan, from 17 to 30—in the city of Tula, Russia, and now she has been living in Prague for 10 years.
Please tell us about your project. Why do you think participating in it is important?
Iniciativa Hlavák. We are the first line of support for people who have just arrived in the Czech Republic. It often happens that even now people travel for 4–5 days, as they get out of the occupied territories in a roundabout way. After such a journey, many do not understand anything and find it difficult even to buy a ticket. Many people need an overnight stay for at least one night, just to catch their breath and start thinking more or less rationally. And of course, the language barrier is also a big problem.
What is the purpose of this project and yours personally?
The goal of the project is to provide initial help to people, who have just arrived: to analyze the routes, choose the most rational and cheap options, find where to spend the night, advise bunkhouses, hostels, hotels, etc. My personal goal is to keep my head busy, to do something useful in order to distract myself from the flow of terrible news.
Have you had volunteer experience before?
No, this is my first experience. Before it seemed to me that I would not be able to influence the situation in any way, but when the war began, there was no time to think, I had to do something.
What motivates you?
Understanding that I am doing something useful. This is my way of protesting against what the Russian Federation is doing in Ukraine.
What difficulties do you face and how do you solve them?
Often you have to deal with alcohol-drinking men who regularly lose belongings, phones, and documents. As a rule, this is all stolen while they are sleeping drunk in the park. They come regularly with different questions. This is very demotivating, because until they themselves stop drinking alcohol, you can’t help them at all. I have decided for myself, that I would do what I could without getting psychologically involved in their problems, because they would not listen to me anyway.
How do you deal with mental stress?
I regularly buy a ticket anywhere and leave to clear my head. I already clearly understand when this state is approaching, and I simply plan a trip, whether it's for two days or a week.
What do you remember most about these months of volunteer work?
The most memorable moments were at the very beginning. For example, a pensioner from Mariupol, who was forced to leave the Ukraine by her former daughter-in-law, who at that time was living in Munich. She had not lived with her son for 10 years, but still called her “mum”. This old woman literally left with a bunch of photos and that was it. Her son was blown up in front of her eyes by a land mine. A woman from Kyiv who looked into my eyes and chattered non-stop: “We were doing well, we had a great life. We don't want Yanick (translator's note - Yanukovich, the former Ukrainian president). We have stood two Maidans (translator's note - Ukrainian revolution) and will still stand.” Pensioners from Kharkiv, when there were still free tickets, came as for parade, beautifully dressed and made up: “We were thinking that perhaps there would never be such a chance. We really want to go to the Cote d'Azur.” I began to clarify where exactly, because Cote d'Azur is long. They said they didn't care, so I suggested Menton and went to the information desk to ask for a printout of their route with 6 or 7 connections. I think, it was at March 8, 2022: a young woman from Kharkiv with two cats, crazy after 4 or 5 days of travel. She was waiting for the train to the Netherlands and kept asking if the cats would be hurt when they were marked with a microchip for receiving documents. I repeated about 5 times that no, that we marked the cat with a microchip ourselves, and it didn’t even notice it.
Have you experienced aggression at work?
With pronounced aggression, fortunately, no. Although sometimes Czechs or Slovaks come up and ask why we help Ukrainians, but don’t help them.
Was there a moment when you wanted to quit everything? How did you overcome it?
Yes, it was, when we were either shut down at the station, or moved somewhere, or reorganized in some other way. Each time I had to get used to a new reality. The only thing that kept me going was the understanding that people still needed help.
When the war is over, will you continue to participate in various volunteer initiatives? If yes, what areas are you interested in?
I think that I shall do something. And I think that my skills in the field of social assistance would be useful, such as: translating in various municipal institutions, assistance with the submission of some documents, etc.
What can you wish other volunteers and activists?
Carefully monitor your condition to see when it is time to pause and pull yourself together. It's still a marathon, not a hundred-meter race, and your burnout will only make things worse.
...No one could ever imagine that literally tomorrow you would have to turn your life around 180 degrees and leave for a foreign country.
I still believe that someday the LGBT parades during Pride Month will be celebrated on the same level as Labour Day parades in May.
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Our stand on the Russian invasion to Ukraine
Russia started the war against Ukraine. This war is happening from 2014. It has only intensified on February 24th 2022. Milions of Ukrainians are suffering. The perpetrators of this must be brought to justice for their crimes.
Russian regime tries to silence its liberal voices. Russian people against the war exist - and the Russian regime tries its best to silence them. We want to prevent that and make their voices heard.
Connection is crucial. The Russian liberal initiatives are hard to read for European public at times. The legal, social and historical context of Russia is not always clear. We want to share information, build bridges and connect the liberal Russia with The West.
We believe in dialogue, not isolation. The oppositional powers in Russia will not be able to change anything without the support of the democratic world. We also believe that the dialogue should go both ways.
The choice is yours. We understand the anger for the Russian crimes. It is up to you whether you want to listen to the Russian people standing against this.