Being their own state: What do volunteers lack?
New realities give rise to new phenomena and new words. Do you say we have never had so many volunteers? The war has never happened to us, too.
The people, who do the impossible things, have again received the volunteer award from the Euromaidan SOS public initiative. The awardees of this year are Oleksandr Chalapchy, who lost both legs during the fighting, has learned how to move on artificial limbs, and now helps the army and the wounded soldiers; Yaroslav Zhylkin, the coordinator of the Black Tulip mission engaging in the search for the dead fighters, – the mission has succeeded in finding and exhuming the bodies of 627 fighters during the year of its activities; Maria Berlinska, the former Aidar battalion volunteer, who set up the air reconnaissance support center after return from the conflict zone, and already nine groups of professionals have undergone training there; Yevhenia Zakrevska, the lawyer of the Heavenly Hundred families, who monitors the investigation into the murders of the Maidan activists on February 18-20, 2014.
They are only few people out of the army, or the social service, or the separate state, formed when the “official” army, the social service, and the state were at a loss.
The award is a symbolic gratitude, an attempt to somehow honor everything they have done. So, the living and the dead soldiers, the doctors who saved the lives are honored… Many of the volunteers would, probably, prefer specific assistance in funds or hands to the award, but they would get much assistance due to the award, too, among other things. The award is a kind of promotion, which is also necessary, as the volunteer activity is based on trust. People will help those, they know. The same thing is with protection. Moreover, there are things the volunteers should be protected against.
Last winter, five young people in balaclavas burst into the humanitarian aid issuing point of the NGO “Kharkiv Station” late in the evening. They demanded that the volunteers explained their political stance. It didn’t come to fight, having got away with quarrels. Several arson attacks have occurred in the volunteer centers, where the aid is provided to the displaced persons and the servicemen, throughout Ukraine this year. The last such incident took place in Odesa at the end of November. There were about ten offices of organizations, which moved to one building after they had survived several terrorist attacks in previous locations.
The government agencies also begin to show a morbid interest. Some people want to take advantage of the imaginary “super-profits” of the volunteers. They called volunteers on their informal activity, where the tax violations, smuggling, and espionage may be found if desired.
In late October, the officers of the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Security Service of Ukraine searched the volunteers of the Dnipropetrovsk organization “Foundation of the Country’s Defense.” Prior to that, the Security Service press office claimed that the organization was involved in theft of the funds intended for the military needs. The volunteers say they have not been audited, there have been no complaints against them, and they want to know who could order the searches.
Organization’s volunteer Natalia Khazan comes to Kyiv to receive the Euromaidan SOS award for participation in the arrangement of the point of rest for the soldiers at the Dnipropetrovsk railway station, to speak about the searches at the press conferences, and to go to the interrogations then. She has such a diverse life. She says that there are grounds for such prosecutions, as, among other things, the volunteers actually checked what necessary things had been at the military warehouses of the Ukraine’s Defense Ministry and demanded that those things were given.
Other volunteers have been searched and exerted pressure on, too, and it seems more like a systematic crackdown on the active part of society.
The Euromaidan SOS initiative made the statement about the volunteers on the eve of the award ceremony. In particular, the interest of the security forces in such volunteer groups as the People’s Project, the Army SOS and the ArmyHelp, and the searches at the “Foundation of the Country’s Defense” were mentioned. The activists warned that they would leave their current activities and would help the volunteers to defend their rights. Otherwise, the times when public activity was dangerous might creepingly return.
By the way, there has been one illustrative case, which came to nothing. The Court of Appeal of Kharkiv region freed Kharkiv volunteer and drone designer Dmytro Yavdoshenko from punishment. The guy faced two years in prison for evading military service. He only asked for the postponement of the call to complete the design of the engines, needed at the front. However, the formal approach worked, and no one considered when a person would be more useful, no one paid attention to the fact that intelligence was, perhaps, the most important thing at the front now as it saved hundreds of lives.
It is worth remembering what a word “volunteer” meant before. The volunteers were mainly schoolchildren and students who helped during the public holidays by handing out leaflets and assisting the foreign guests. There were particularly many of them during Euro 2012 in Ukraine.
And then a dozen friends and hundreds of strangers have somehow abandoned or left less time for their business at once and have scattered in all directions: to weave masking nets, to feed, settle, and educate IDPs, to deliver medicines, warm clothes, and spare parts for the army. By the way, the girls from Kharkiv were engaged in finding the spare parts although they had nothing to do with that before. They were surprised when they actually repaired the first tank by themselves.
There was the time when the volunteers were looked narrowly at. The officials could not understand where all those people emerged from. It happened that they were asked in informal conversations, “So who does guide you, volunteers? No, I do not believe that nobody does. Tell me, I won’t make this information public...”
Then, they have been used sometimes. It’s not so bad if it takes place during the election campaign. It is a classic story, after all, which may be ended only with amendments in the election law, when there is a political will. But here’s the situation: a sponsor provides a minibus at first, which is used by the Kharkiv volunteers to transfer the IDPs to temporary housing throughout the region. Later, when pretty much time is still left before elections, the sponsor tries to make a political party from the volunteer initiative. As soon as the sponsor fails, the minibus is taken away. Whom this sponsor has revenged to, I wonder?
Later it comes the period when the authorities get used to the volunteer activities. It has become commonplace for the top leadership of the state to demonstrate some facilities during the official visits and proudly state that they have been equipped with the help of the volunteers. It would be better for such an official to keep silence and look for a piece of paper to write a letter of resignation, because it is actually a verdict…
Now the volunteers do not criticize, they just have no time for that. They do not ask for help from the state, asking only not to disturb them at least. An adult do not needs help in moving, even more so in teaching how to do this, no obstacles are enough. However, the authorities are still not okay with the volunteers as the volunteers are able to cope by themselves, without officials. Hence, they ask with all their existence, “Why do we need you, the state?”