Ukraine has expanded its volunteer movement in recent years from focusing mainly on aid to vulnerable groups, to support to Internally-Displaced Persons (IDPs) and the Ukrainian army. Volunteers are usually active young people aspiring to create positive changes. This stereotype vanishes with a visit to one of the centres run by the Ukrainian charity organisation, “Turbota pro Litnih v Ukraini” (TLU, Care for Elderly in Ukraine). Its youngest volunteer just turned 60!
One of the organisation’s most interesting projects is implemented with EU support.
Zhytomyr city, 1 Travnya Str. There is a basket for plastic bottle caps. “We collect these for artificial limbs for veterans,” says Halyna Polyakova, head of TLU.
“Our volunteers are engaged in various activities,” says Polyakova. “They monitor local authorities, advocate for elderly people and prevention of abuse, make social visits to pensioners, distribute humanitarian aid for the elderly in territories outside of Ukrainian control, and support soldiers with the anti-terrorist operation. Volunteering can completely change a person.”
Polyakova recounts the story of a frail pensioner who had difficulty speaking. Despite this, he wanted to join the effort to monitor public services provided by local authorities. “I was surprised when I saw him,” Polyakova says. “He stuttered and could barely walk. How could I send him to meet with officials? But after a while, I could hardly recognise him! The man became active and self-confident. All his awkwardness vanished.”
The volunteers managed to launch the project on monitoring of state authorities thanks to an EU grant. Elderly volunteers with the TLU cooperate with local and central authorities to improve the quality of public services. “We are not criticising, but proposing solutions to existing problems,” says Polyakova of the efforts of TLU and its volunteers.
Through this project, volunteers helped implement longer pedestrian green lights because pensioners often complained of not having enough time to cross the road. Volunteers also monitor attitudes towards the elderly in public transport and write letters to management in cases of mistreatment. Volunteers developed an agreement with local bus drivers in Ivano-Frankivsk to provide free transportation for the elderly between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
“We can achieve effective results only when local authorities, NGOs and the media work in partnership,” says Viktoria Krasnopir, head of the municipal Department of Labor and Social Protection in Zhytomyr.
TLU volunteers do not limit their activities to issues that concern pensioners. They also send humanitarian aid to veterans of the Second World War and victims of Nazism. “We started sending food when we found out that the elderly are dying of hunger in the occupied territories,” Polyakova says.
“The legendary ‘Grandmother’s Battalion’ is well-known by soldiers of the anti-terrorist operation. The elderly ladies give moral support to our soldiers,” says Oleg Boyko of the TLU volunteers, who sew gloves and underwear for soldiers. He is a representative of the German charity organisation, “Euromaidan” and a volunteer with the 95th separate airborne brigade. Elderly women in Zhytomyr started sewing underwear when they learned that soldiers miss it on the frontline.
“We choose bright fabric to sew with, not because we’re crazy, but because we want our handicrafts to bring joy to the soldiers,” says Taisia Voitsekhovska, head of the Zhytomyr office of the TLU. She smiles, saying that the soldiers,“fought for underpants with daisy patterns.”
So far, volunteers have managed to sew 1560 pairs of underwear. The volunteers also make gloves, pillows, socks, and even camouflage nets for soldiers of the anti-terrorist operation.
“We as elderly people want to feel like full-fledged citizens of their country with all the associated rights and obligations. We want to be useful for our country,” say the volunteers.
Background information: The Ukrainian Charity Organisation, “Turbota pro Litnih v Ukraini” (Care for Elderly in Ukraine) is a not-for-profit non-governmental voluntary organisation built upon the principles of mutual- and self-help for elderly people.
Since 2012, the NGO has been implementing the EU-funded project, “Improving Government Accountability Through Older Citizens’ Monitoring in Ukraine.” The project’s aim is to improve the ability of Ukraine’s civil society to monitor government reform commitments. Elderly TLU volunteers cooperate with local and central authorities to analyse local and national policies relevant to older people and help to direct local priorities.
More information on the project is available on the official website: http://www.tlu.org.ua/?page_id=299
TLU Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/tlu.org.ua/?fref=ts