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For Volunteer Day, we are telling the stories of the people who are part of Brightgrove and what they are doing to change Ukraine and its future for the better.
December 5, 2023

Today is Volunteer Day.    

It's not just about people who close fundraisers for millions or deliver large batches of humanitarian aid. It's about everyone who donates those important 10 hryvnias, shares their belongings and housing, weaves camouflage nets, or buys food for a pet that's left to freeze on the street.   

To celebrate, we are telling the stories of the people who are part of Brightgrove and what they are doing to change Ukraine and its future for the better. 

Yaroslava Tomilkina, Middle PHP Developer 

Even before the full-scale invasion, I started donating to the Come Back Alive project. Also, I used to work for a company that helped children from the Bohodukhiv orphanage. This is an institution for children with various congenital disabilities, and we brought them gifts for the holidays and helped with the preparation of events.  

When the full-scale invasion started, I really wanted to go to war myself, but I was pregnant. Many friends and relatives, such as my sister's husband and godfather, went instead. The question was how to help them, so I started volunteering.  

Basically, I am engaged in fundraising. Whatever my friends at the frontline ask for, I collect for. I feel more comfortable raising money on my own because I don't know what exactly my money is used for in large foundations.  

Among the most impressive moments, I remember a specific request I received not long ago. A friend asked me for bullets for snipers. One bullet cost 300 hryvnias, and they needed 50 of them in total. I set up a collection, distributed it among my friends, and donated for 5 bullets from myself.  

These bullets were signed with my name, and since they were for a sniper, one bullet equals one life of the occupier. That's why my friend tells me now that some Russians will have the word "Yasya" ringing in their heads forever. On the one hand, it is strange to think that 300 hryvnias is the price of someone's life. But when it comes to the occupiers, it's another matter.  

To be honest, it is very difficult to raise money now, and there are much fewer donations. At the same time, when you announce a fundraiser and look at the amounts of money that is donated, it can be as much as 5 thousand—I think that was the largest donation I’ve seen. The smallest donation, however, is 4 and a half hryvnias. And you realize that if everyone chipped in 4-5 hryvnias, we could close the fundraiser even faster than with several thousand one-time donations.  

Also, I can't go around the city much now, so my father does it for me. He frequently goes to the hospital where the wounded soldiers are staying to take some things to them. It is tough to see very young guys with serious injuries, without limbs.  

My relative, who works as a surgeon in a military hospital, told me that, unfortunately, many amputations occur because the tourniquet remains on the limb for too long. After 6-7 hours, it cannot be removed at all. And this happens because of the difficult conditions of evacuation because even with a minor injury, the only option is to put a tourniquet on.  

I was recently thinking about what to do about volunteer burnout. And then, at some point, I just realized that the war is actually forever. It will not end now, in a month or a year.  

Therefore, it is essential to unite, prevent internal confrontations, and continue to help as much as possible. Weaving camouflage nets, collecting plastic lids for prostheses, cans and egg cartons for trench candles.  

If you join this fight in any way, you will definitely wait for the moment of victory. I believe that it will come one day. And it is very cool to be involved in this victory.  

Actually, my goal in volunteering is to bring back everyone I love. This is the main goal. I really want them to come back, be peaceful, and have everyone at home. So, of course, I'm going to continue—you just get hooked on it, on all these emotions. Then it isn't easy to get off.  

Danylo Parakhin, Senior Android Developer 

Like all of us in the early days, I started sending money to my friends in the military to buy everything they needed. I myself met the war on crutches because three days before the full-scale invasion, I had a serious leg surgery and had not yet recovered. 

I started volunteering by helping my American football teammate. He cooked for people and took them to the train station, and I offered to help him with the search and purchases. At that time, there was a severe shortage of everything in Kharkiv, and I found myself in Lviv by chance.  

This friend gave me tasks. At first, it was the purchase of medicines, then insect repellent, sunscreen, and candles. My first more serious experience was a request from one of the brigades for building supplies to equip new positions. Then I spent the whole day at a market and in a building supplies mall, where I bought the necessary things with my friend.  

After that, building supplies became my specialty. So, when this friend has a request for them, he comes to me. At one market, everyone already knows me. I even once made a guy there cry. I needed cauldrons, but he was drunk and, at first, did not believe that they were for the military. I was in a big hurry, and it was the only place with cauldrons. When I assured him it was for the military, he burst into tears and even gave me a discount.  

Then, my friend introduced me to a girl who volunteers a lot and helps both the Armed Forces and with other needs. I have no idea how she manages to deal with everything on her plate. From that moment on, I realized that a person who does a lot also needs some help. So, after that, I started cooperating with her all the time because she had too many requests.  

I also continued to buy and collect things for my friends or those who were sent to me by recommendation. At the moment, in general, I deal with anything that is requested. Building supplies, drones, medicines, uniforms, Starlinks, EcoFlows—whatever is needed and requested.  

I have a friend who joined Freikorps volunteer battalion from the very first days of the full-scale invasion. I try to help them and collect money for drones, equipment, and uniforms. Last winter, thermal underwear was in demand, but this year, the guys have no complaints about that yet. Over these two years, I have learned a lot about everything from drones to shoes.  

Last winter, I had a request from the National Guard for building supplies and related accessories. I helped them very quickly, and after that, they still needed coal for their stoves. By some miracle, I found a company in Kharkiv that makes charcoal that doesn't produce smoke.  

In general, I don't like to talk to people and negotiate anything, so it's a challenge for me every time. But at that moment, I had to connect 5 people so that they could coordinate to pick up 5 tons of coal.  

When the guys received the coal, they were very happy with it. But soon, they changed their deployment and were sent to the Bakhmut direction. Then, unfortunately, it was too late to deliver the second batch of coal to them.  

At such moments, I feel very ashamed. I could have been in the military's shoes. I understand that people give their youth, their lives, everything they have so that others in this country can somehow live normally.  

The first time a guy I was helping was killed, I was very shocked, even though we did not know each other personally. I felt as if I had lost a family member. Then, we tried to get him awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine. We collected 25,000 signatures, and the petition was under consideration for a very long time, but he was not awarded.  

This is just for now because, as far as I know, his friends have initiated a second collection of signatures. Currently, he has been awarded the Order for Courage, third class, which is also not given to just anybody. It is a pity that he was not awarded the Hero of Ukraine, and it is even more a pity that a young man died.  

Speaking about the moments when I see the result of my work, I have seen the footage from drones we collected for and delivered to the guys. These drones save people's lives because they see sabotage groups at night or drop explosive devices on Russian positions.  

But, to be honest, I can't say I'm satisfied with my volunteer work because I always want to do more. I want to make a real difference, but volunteers have to work together with all the other people.  

I am not Prytula, Chmut, or Lachen. I can't find something really effective and lethal. But people don't always need Bayraktars. Sometimes, people are saved by shovels. As some of my military friends say, a good shovel is sometimes more helpful than a good assault rifle.  

This is what saddens me the most. Because people who donate sometimes don't realize that a small collection for tactical medicine, shovels, and saws can save lives much more than a collection for a drone that lasts 4 months.  

I'm not saying that you don't need to donate for those purposes. But I have friends who say that they only give money to big fundraisers. Support small fundraisers because that’s what will lead us to victory.  

My volunteering aims to save as many lives of our defenders as possible. I believe that if you are not at war, you should be for the war. It doesn't mean you shouldn't live your life because that's what people are fighting for. But I just want as many of our soldiers as possible to return home alive and well when it's over.  

Volunteering is not something about which you can say, "I'm done, I'm tired of it". It does not work like that. Even when you do not want to do it, when it is not something that brings you joy. But if I choose to do it, I have to keep doing it; there is no other way.  

Viktoriia Pereima, event manager   

I started volunteering back in 2019 when I was studying at the Ukrainian Leadership Academy in Mariupol. At that time, we had one program day a week dedicated solely to volunteering.  

Even then, I realized how important it is to help others selflessly. If you have the time and desire, there are many people and organizations that need it. I don't have any specific goal—if I see that I can be useful with my skills or knowledge, then why not help.  

Now, my volunteering continues in the format of a youth center I founded in Kalush. There, we strengthen the community of active young people interested in various topics and willing to acquire skills and competencies that will be useful in adult life. We develop critical thinking in young people, offer them alternative options for meaningful leisure, and show them the importance of lifelong learning.  

The impact of our activities on young people is not immediately noticeable. Teenagers are the kind of people you need to gain their trust first to show them that you will not harm them. Do no harm is one of the key principles because sometimes when you try to do something very good, it only turns out to make things worse.  

I see a visible result of our center's work when we compare the incoming and outgoing registration forms with the participants' own learning outcomes assessment. For certain KPIs, we calculate the ratio of indicators and track how the situation has changed.  

Also, usually, when I see our attendees for the second or third time, they become more positive, open-minded, and ready for new experiences and discoveries. They are more courageous in terms of self-expression, looking at the world differently, and finding new friends.  

Like most nonprofit organizations, we implement certain grant projects and programs, but the lion's share of the team's work is purely volunteering in their free time. In addition to our main activities, we clean up littered areas and organize eco-events.  

Now, we are joining the all-Ukrainian campaign "Combat St. Nicholas", which aims to raise money for gifts for children from the de-occupied territories and help make a holiday for them on the day when every child expects a miracle.  

Also, as a volunteer, I join fundraisers for the needs of the military from larger organizations or foundations. I created my own small fundraiser to close the total large amount faster. For example, we recently raised funds and paid for the installation of a mini-Grad for the 8th Brigade, which is located in the Bakhmut direction. Before that, I also helped with fundraising for drones and cars for the front line.  

One of the difficulties of volunteering for me is hearing the stories of people who touch you every time. It's hard for me not to take it all to heart and not to worry about each case. At times like this, I need to be able to clearly see what depends on me in this situation and how I can help.  

One of the most valuable aspects of volunteering is that I am always pleasantly surprised by the volunteer community, which is ready to sacrifice not just their time but sometimes also resources and finances. The people who give it their all surprise me every time.  

I also remember when I did my first fundraiser and collected 10 thousand hryvnias in one day. I was thrilled at the time, but later, I realized that this happens every time. Our people are great because they don't forget to donate. Now, of course, donations have dropped significantly, so we need to raise our morale and not forget who helps us live our relatively normal lives.  

Volunteering has already become a part of my regular schedule so much that I can't imagine how I will stop working at the youth center or helping the Armed Forces. In my opinion, all Ukrainian citizens should do this because it is our duty. Sadly, not everyone understands this at such a difficult time for the country. 

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