DestiNations continues the series of articles about volunteer organizations in Switzerland, which after the 24th of February, 2022 rolled out unprecedented help to Ukraine and Ukrainians.
Today our conversation is with the President of Association D Maryna Romanenko. Since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, Association D, which at the beginning of its activity in 2017 was exclusively dedicated to helping underprivileged Ukrainian children, has focused its attention and efforts on humanitarian aid to those affected by the war. A helping hand has been given to Ukrainians still in Ukraine and to those who have found refuge in Switzerland. Since the start of the war, Association D’s team, in successful partnership with the Geneva Branch of the Ukrainian Society in Switzerland, has started fundraising and humanitarian aid collection with further transportation of it to Ukraine and providing comprehensive support to the refugees.
1st March 2022, 10 pm packing humanitarian aid at the warehouse for Ukraine
Maryna, your charity activities started long before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Could you tell us what exactly inspired the move?
- I have always worked in the financial sector. Such work requires a lot of energy and leaves little time for any extra activities. But at some point, each of us stops and thinks - what exactly can I do to improve other people's lives? As a mother of a newborn daughter, I could not stand aside and wanted to support children who don't get everything they need for their development. That's how in 2017 - the Association DETI (initially called - DETI, renamed to Association D on the 1st of March 2023) came into being.
Accepting a donation from Mr Wolfisberg himself to support Ukrainians
I was very much supported along the way by my husband, who did a lot to get the organization up and running and continues to do even more so today. Having settled all the legal aspects, we started to establish a dialogue with the organizations in Ukraine. In the beginning, we did some interesting events to attract the attention of the Swiss and collected clothes and toys to send to orphanages all over Ukraine.
What exactly has Association D been able to achieve?
- Several times a year we organized charity events to raise money. It was enough to finance more than 100 children in Odesa to study English for free at one alternative school. In my opinion, such language learning provides more opportunities for personal realization in the future. We successfully continued this project until April 2022, but military action has cut it off so far.
Inna Akhtyrska Head of the Geneva Branch of the Ukrainian Society of Switzerland/ Maryna Romanenko President of Association D, Culture for peace, TNMK concert in Genève October 2022
And so it is February, 24th. How was the outbreak of war handled? Tell us about the transformation of the Association’s activities.
It's very painful to recall those first days. War breaks out - we just sit and cry. Nobody knew what to do in the first hours, there was a kind of unbelievable disorientation. It was hard to believe that this was possible in the civilized world. And yet we were able to pull ourselves together quickly because the situation needed to be managed. People needed help and some organization. The Swiss began bringing humanitarian aid to the Ukrainian diplomatic premises in the early days of the war.
Inna Akhtyrska, Oksana Kobzar, Alina Sergeychyk, Maryna Romanenko, Olena Neskorod, Association D an the Geneva Branch of the Ukrainian Society of Switzerland organised TNMK band concert in Geneva, October 2022
In the early hours of Sunday, February 28, I set up a page on the Association's website, with the address of a warehouse and details for financial assistance. The previously set-up structure and reputation of the Association helped: we had a bank account, the ability to find several warehouses quickly and navigate administrative matters. Within a day, the warehouse was full of humanitarian aid and several thousand donations were in the account.
The Swiss really responded to our appeal. I was told at work - we understand everything, so take 2 weeks and just deal with all these issues. Indeed, a lot of time and effort was required, because there was a huge number of requests for aid from Ukraine and it was necessary to quickly establish channels of delivery across Ukraine, especially to those towns and villages in the East, where few people agreed to drive. We were fortunate that we already had experience cooperating with Ukrainian organizations to help children, and Association D acted as an arranger in implementing our joint projects with the Geneva Branch of the Ukrainian Society in Switzerland. Already in the first week of the war, we were able to send a large shipment of necessary aid to Ukrainians and helped to finance and coordinate transport from the Mission in Geneva and the Embassy in Bern.
Apero and presentation of annual results, Skopia Gallery, Geneva, November 2022
Association D had many achievements on the way of helping Ukraine and the Ukrainians. Tell us more about what has been accomplished during this year of war.
During this time we, all together with our team, have opened 20 collection points where 700 volunteers sorted, packed, and loaded aid trucks. We were able to organize the purchase of 23 fully equipped ambulances for Sumy, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, and the Kyiv regions. More than 1,010 tonnes of humanitarian goods were delivered to Ukrainians, and 20 percent of the budget was spent on medicines and medical supplies on a direct request from medical institutions in Ukraine, including 445 specialized first-aid kits, bandages, anti-burn and surgical materials. A specialized minibus for children in wheelchairs was purchased for Chernihiv. Medical equipment worth CHF76'000 was purchased for the needs of Mykolaiv Hospital. We also run social, cultural, and educational projects for Ukrainians who fled the war.
Culture for peace: Charity international concert October 2022
- What are the further plans of Association D? Tell us exactly what you will be focusing on in the near future.
In the coming months and maybe years, the Association will work as a broader platform to integrate and further address important humanitarian issues. We will conduct joint projects with the Geneva Branch of the Ukrainian Society in Switzerland, basically the diaspora. We plan to hold different activities, concerts, events, and film screenings. Thus, we want to represent Ukraine and its citizens to the Swiss community. To show that Ukrainians are nice, appreciative, creative and friendly people, being a part of a highly developed Europe. I see it as one of the main missions of our organization, besides humanitarian aid.
Unfortunately, the situation looks like the war will not end in the near future. So we all need to gain strength, patience, and energy and continue to support Ukraine and Ukrainians for as long as it takes.