Last week, on the same day my hometown Sarajevo marked Rememberance day for 1.601 children killed during the siege, and while I was losing myself in reminiscing my own childhood spent in basement under bombing and besieged, came time for my scheduled zoom meeting with a colleague and a friend, Mr. Столітенко Євген Володимирович ( Yevgeni) – Cross Cultures‘ coordinator in Ukraine.
I asked Yevgeni for a short interview some days ago, to find out, first hand, how Cross Cultures activities are developing in today’s Ukrainian nightmare. Talking about war with him, on top of the heaviness of the day in Sarajevo, brought me back to those dark places I have been before, where you just can’t cope with futility of the situation. But soon enough, his spirit, his efforts and energy, his belief in the victory and all the right causes, combined with what he and his team are providing for the children, gave the brightest light at the end of the tunnel these time we live in are:
The interview is made by Vildana Delalic
Let’s start by me asking you just personal and simple How are you?
I am good and in Chernivtsi region now. Now I am an IDP ( Internally displaced person) and separated from my family, which fled to Germany.
Over 10 million people are IDPs in Ukraine now and more than four millon are refugees. I am in Chernivtsi region we have set up a hub for further work, as it is a little bit safer and we can go out to other regions. Logistically, it is simpler to be here.
You have been coordinating Open Fun Football Schools and Sport+School + Police activities in Ukraine for many years now, since 2010. How did February 24th change your work and what did it do to grassroots and FSR football in Ukraine?
It is hard to talk about grassroots football and football at all in our country, as so many clubs and infrastructure are completely destroyed. Children cannot play, and even daily education is moved online. Right now we are trying to consolidate, to save all of our projects and continue working in regions which are still considered safe, or at least a little safer than other parts of Ukraine.
Although, I have to tell you that there is no safe place in Ukraine. Air sirens are heard everywhere in Ukraine. The rockets fly over to the west Ukraine from the east, and often parts of these missiles fall down. Also, the train infrastructure in the west is constant target, as it carries help and weapons, and Russia wants to destroy these connections.
We are sure that the highest risks we will face on May 9th, as Putin is linked to this day and will have to say something to his people on this day, he will want to show some kind of victory. There will be more intensity of bombing, we are very much afraid of this day. This is why we plan to continue our Open Fun Football Schools activities with children at the end of May, as then, hopefully this risk will become smaller. At least we hope so.
Despite the hardship, however, you have managed to educate coaches in preparations to work with children?!
Yes, we had seven seminars in sever regions of western Ukraine. I went personally to each of the seminars, and our instructors were lecturing via zoom. We are very happy that there are lot of people who are willing to organize events and work with children across these regions. They come from 14 communities, two in each of the regions.
What were the seminars about?
On top of educating coaches in implementing sports activities, we have a voluntary psychologist in each of the teams. One of main topics is psychological support for children. We are lucky to have a very professional and good psychologist, Mr. Iurii Lutsenko, who is helping us in educating local voluntary psychologists and also coaches . Now after the seminars, we are procuring everything we need and collecting in Chernivtsi hub. The logistics now also include medicine, aid kits and other humanitarian items. Our teams will distribute humainitarian kits to IDP families and children. The first half. The second half will distributed among children participating in activities.
Children have a really hard time in Ukraine now. The young ones do not understand – they cannot understand why are they losing their homes, their cats and dogs, their toys and favorite items. Many children have experienced and survied bombing and they will have trauma for the rest of their life. Many have also fled from the houses that are not destroyed, but from cities that are not safe, and came to west Ukraine to save lives. These are all severe psychological traumas. Displaced children need to be integrated into their new societies now. This is what our activities are about.
Can you tell me, what can Cross Cultures network, all of us, do more to support you?
I know that Copenhagen office is already doing the best. The financial help has come and we are working on other projects and support is there. We would like to expand the activities to 37 additional communities, also in central part of Ukraine. Where it is safe for children of course. But this is what we would like to do together.
What is your message to Cross Cultures network?
I have to say I am very proud of the people I work with here in Ukraine – our volunteers. Who, despite the hardship and hard environment want to work and volunteer. They will all do what is best for children, bring them little joy and fun and relief them from trauma and help them. I am also proud of OFFS family from all countries, for not leaving us in hard times, but supporting us from every country.
We are hoping for the best and we will win this! And then we will do even more and greater projects together.
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As witnesses to devastating consequences of the war in Ukraine, we all want to contribute in the most fruitful way possible. Even if you’re not in or around Ukraine, you can still lend a hand.
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