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29.02.2020

The team of Mariupol Women’s Association “Berehynia” is gratefully remembered by thousands of rural people, hundreds of displaced persons, pensioners, mothers of many children. The organization has over 600 cases won in courts of all instances, returned pensions and real estate, assistance to teenagers, creation of public organizations in settlements of the “gray zone”, trainings in microbusiness planning and organization, legal and economic support of rural entrepreneurs… More than 30 thousand of people received help from “Berehynia”.

The head of the organization – Maryna PUHACHOVA, a lawyer, historian, political scientist and sociologist has repeatedly advised readers of our newspaper. So let us be closer to each other.

Tell us, Maryna, how did “Berehynia” start and what is it now?

– It started with volunteering in August 2014. Initially, there were two of us – Anzhela Zinchenko and I. Then there were six people, then more and more. As a registered organization, we started our existence in 2016. At present time, 18 specialists of different profile work in “Berehynia”. More than 30 people I consider associated members of the organization. They live in different parts of Ukraine, but this does not prevent us from cooperating. 80% of our organization are displaced persons, most of them are women. There are also men, where are we without them?

Lawyers prevail in our team, because we provide legal services. There are economists, psychologists, doctors, social workers. Having such specialists allows us to take a holistic approach to solving specific problems of specific people.

We started with free assistance to the displaced persons. I am a displaced person too; in 2014 I was forced to leave Donetsk. It was a little easier for me than the others were because I returned, in fact, home. I belong here, my parents live here, I have many friends in Mariupol. So there was no vacuum felt by those who came to the empty place. But I know their problems, which still have not been resolved for 6 years. Nowadays, IDPs are not a priority for the state, but we are still engaged in their problems and will be engaged.

And how did you and your team start working in the villages on the demarcation line?

– I am selfish, my team is selfish and we want everyone to get sick with this “disease”. As we begin to love ourselves, it becomes important to us who surrounds us, how our neighbors live. We do not want our neighbor to live badly, whether he/she is a displaced person or a resident of the “gray” zone. Because it will be bad for us too. Creating comfort for ourselves, we begin to control everything around us and make our surroundings better. So our work with people living in the villages of the “gray”, “red” zone is an effort not only to help them cope with their troubles, but also to teach them to love themselves.

There are 58 such villages we work with. And a village is not a city, it is much harder to work there. Because we all want to live normally and comfortably in a normal society, we want as many people as possible to feel better.

Are there results?

– I am sure that there are, and in the last two years especially. Many efforts have been put into creating women’s civic organizations in frontline villages, and there are already results. You can see changes in people, in their desire to organize their lives, to unite, to feel their strength in solving any problems. I am proud of at least nine of such organizations.

We have about 80 women in the micro-business, and this has changed their lives. Some have made bold to a large business, participated in “Kurkul” (grant program “Ukrainian Donetsk Kurkul” – author), have received money for their business. The workshops we hold have taught people communication and gained skills have become a source of income for many. In short, we find a person’s strong suit and develop it, help grow.

And much more, to be honest. There are villages where I go with pleasure, there are people whom I believe and believe in.

How do you find the strength for this amount of work?

– Yes, all are through laziness, to be honest (laughs). I am a lazy person. I love when everything is setup and systematic. Strength is not wasted when work is properly organized.

Initially, we worked a lot. One day, I realized that my life had turned into a nightmare: no days off, no time to do something. And we organized our schedule, made up with case management (providing services on the social profile of the person – author), formed working groups by different directions. Now we work just like that. It saves a lot of time and effort, gives good effect.

Many issues are being solved through the horizontal relationships that have emerged during work. Sometimes a phone call is enough. It happens that you say: “A woman came to us, a mortar shell got into her house, there is nothing and we need help”. And in answer you hear: “How many children, what size do you need?”. Or someone needs urgent medical assistance. You call the doctors of “Adastra” and without question, you pass them a person with all problems. In this horizontal communication system, it is not important whether the leadership of the city or country treats you well or badly. I think everything is based on personal connections.

And yet your work involves communicating with people, it will exhaust you sooner or later. How do you recover?

– I am tired Friday night and ready to go to work on Monday morning. First, my family helps. Helps not to bother (laughs). Secondly, my dogs. My relationship with them is another topic, although I am not a delicate woman, I become sentimental with them, these are completely different emotions. Thirdly, my environment. There are few friends, and they are real, and a lot of casual friends. Some of them stayed in Mariupol, some left and some live now in Kyiv, Dnipro, Lviv. It does not matter that they are faraway. I am a mobile person, I can easily get ready to go, no matter where. For me, distance is a conditional concept and a drive is one of the means of recovery. It has been well said that a change is as good as a rest.

There are other organizations on the demarcation line whose activities are similar to yours. What is your relationship?

– We are very pleased when other organizations do work similar to ours. That means we are on the right track. It may happen that other organizations will add something, supplement and develop the topic. There are organizations whose capabilities are not equal to us, we would not be able to do something the way, for example, the charitable foundation Caritas Mariupol does. It is a great organization, with great opportunities, with an army of top-ranked professionals and funding. Now Caritas has expanded its functionality, and that is great.

The most important marker is the interest of people themselves. If people attend the events that we either Caritas or the Danish Refugee Council do, it means that they need it, it helps them. I am always open, I contact with experts of all organizations, discuss different projects. It would probably be a good idea to have a common platform for discussion, to coordinate our actions that would be good for everyone.

What would you say about women who in fact live on the line of war?

– Our women do not even realize how cool they are. Especially those who took responsibility during the war, who are ready to lead the village councils, to be secretaries of these village councils, to create initiative groups, public organizations, to be concerned  about the problems of each and every one, to keep cool head and at the same time do not lose optimism. I am proud of them.

Olena SVITLA/Gromada Skhid No. 3 (12) 2020