"Ukraine Reborn" Association: "Employment, Socialization, and Psychological Support for Ukrainians"

Nadiia Olarean and Luba Bondarenko

DestiNations continues to showcase volunteer organizations in Switzerland that actively and productively aid Ukrainian refugees. Today, our conversation is with the founders of the Association "Ukraine Reborn," Nadiia Olarean and Luba Bondarenko.

The organization's primary mission is to assist Ukrainians who have fled the war and relocated to Switzerland in rebuilding their lives and making the process of integration and socialization into their new society as natural as possible. Ukraine Reborn's activities are primarily focused on the most vulnerable segments of the population, namely women and children. Special attention is given to employment opportunities, socialization, and psychological support.

The Beginning of Ukraine Reborn's Activities

Nadiia: Like everyone else, I saw that the situation was worsening, but I never thought it would escalate into such a large-scale war. The first few days were extremely difficult, and we were all shocked. After calming down, we realized that we needed to take action. I had been working with volunteers, and Luba had already started to deal with humanitarian aid issues. We discovered that people who had come to Switzerland were in a kind of communication and self-realization vacuum. We decided to combine our efforts to implement integration projects and help refugees in this direction.

Luba: At the beginning of the war, we organized a humanitarian aid collection point. We collected 1,100 boxes and sent them to Ukraine. But at some point, we realized that it might not be very rational to use our knowledge and skills in this way because anyone can collect a box and send it. We said to ourselves that we needed to do something more intellectual and unique. Currently, we have 15 members in the association. Most of them have been living here for a long time, know the language, and are familiar with how Switzerland is organized. They have their own contacts and acquaintances to help with many life issues. We shifted our focus to a more sociocultural sphere, so to speak, in supporting people. Our priority is to identify and address the needs of Ukrainians.

Building a Team of Like-minded Individuals and Finding Motivation

Nadiia: Just before meeting with you, we have recruited a new wonderful woman, a psychologist who will be responsible for employing Ukrainian psychologists to work with refugees. In addition, we currently have about 50 teachers from various disciplines collaborating with the association. Some work for free, while others receive a small salary.

Regarding motivation, again, I am convinced that people help themselves. This has been my mantra for the past few years. We do not have a situation where I need to come and entertain, motivate, or do something else for someone. Most importantly, we accept people because they are already motivated, have some ideas, and want to work on useful and interesting projects.

Luba: People themselves express their desire to come to us. When we see that everything aligns, and we are on the same page, we accept them into our structure and membership in our association.

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Nadiia: I fully agree with what Luba is saying. It seems to me that our task in this whole story is to provide people with the support they need to do what they want. This is essentially what the association is based on. In addition, having a healthy partnership also helps. It is a great happiness to have partners who see life similarly as we do. For example, we have established partnerships with the Geneva Diaspora (Geneva Branch of the Ukrainian Society in Switzerland) and the Association D with whom we once started. They found a grant to do classes for children, and we organized those classes when we didn't have any money. Therefore, they helped us with initial funding. Currently, these organizations are more involved in humanitarian and social projects. I think we are helping each other a lot, and it is incredibly satisfying and inspiring.

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The main activities of the Association

Nadiia: Firstly, it is educational integration and socialization. We have several centers, we have a pool of teachers, and many volunteers. One of them founded by the Geneva branch, but, all the educational content that takes place there, classes, various consultations for refugees, and much more, are done by our association.

Luba: We have two more centers in Lausanne. There, we also provide psychological support, various lectures, and classes. Currently, we have confirmation that there is a chance to open another center soon. So we continue to search for premises and develop the structure.

Nadiia: The second huge direction is led by Dmytro Milashchuk, who started by creating the project www.hiretheUkrainian. This project is about supporting Ukrainians in employment, as well as providing psychological support and coaching. Currently, this platform is called The Ukrainian www.theukrainian.eu.

Dmytro also organized informational support through a podcast which he launched as part of this platform. Another major focus that is currently coming to the forefront is the rebuilding of Ukraine. We are having many discussions on this topic at the Geneva Chamber of Commerce. This is largely to help Ukrainians find employment in Swiss companies that will eventually be interested in entering the Ukrainian market after our Victory, which we all believe in, of course.

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Forced displaced Ukrainians are going through a difficult period in their lives. We believe that this time should not be wasted. Professional success and feeling useful to society are very important parts of life for anyone, and this is also a characteristic feature of the Ukrainian mentality. It is important to feel that you are not left out of life, that there is meaning and some goal ahead, that tomorrow there will be an interview, and the day after tomorrow, work in a certain company. And when Victory comes, you can return home and have a clear path, experience, and understanding of what to do next.

Of course, the project of rebuilding Ukraine is a very difficult task, as it requires funding and the involvement of significant resources. Currently, we are working to address this issue.

Luba: In addition, we have experience helping Ukrainian organizations hold events in Switzerland. If someone comes to Geneva or Lausanne to raise funds for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, we cooperate. For example, we helped organize a concert by the TNMK group, found a venue, invited many people, and hosted the band.

Another significant initiative was a charity dinner aimed at introducing Swiss people to Ukrainian culture and our national cuisine. It was a magical Christmas dinner in Lausanne where we raised funds for Christmas presents and organized festive events for Ukrainian children. The Swiss responded very actively to this call. In total, we organized seven Christmas events, which made many children and their mothers a little happier during the holidays.

Nadiia: In general, we could not have imagined that Ukraine Reborn would exist for over a year and that the association would function and develop as it has. We all had a feeling that it would end very quickly, and we focused on some short-term goals. And then, when we had our annual general assembly, we just listed all our activities in the past year. And this list was three pages long in small handwriting. That is, it was a huge number of classes, meetings, and lectures on topical issues for Ukrainians on law, jurisdiction, and how to live in Switzerland, as well as French and English language courses. When we summed up, we finally realized that we had done something good together, and that is what motivates us to move forward the most. We do not receive salaries - we are motivated by feedback, kind words, and actions from the people for whom we do all this.

The most touching moments of volunteering

Luba: Regarding our personal stories, a very touching topic is that we have worked and continue to work with a huge number of teachers and volunteers. We were even able to officially hire two people with a permanent salary. This is very important for them and us. We were also able to contract and freelance eight teachers, meaning we pay them hourly for the classes they teach to children. This is a huge help for them. All the teachers say that if they had to wash dishes or pick strawberries tomorrow, they would not be happy people. Today, our teachers are happy to be able to continue doing what they do best, what they love, in another country. This motivates them and gives them strength and energy for life and personal development.

I want to add about the importance of socialization. Sometimes we tell people that we have courses or various activities in our centers, such as chess games, and some people smile a little. They simply underestimate what it means for a person who came from their native environment and is left without a social circle. Our centers are a huge help in socialization and in avoiding isolation. Here they share their stories, which is a huge psychological relief and understanding that they are not alone, that we are all here together, holding hands and moving forward. Probably every activity that takes place in the center goes with this goal in mind.

Nadiia: This part of the organization's work is a huge psychological support, especially in the context of our Ukrainian mentality. Because our parents' generation has a barrier in requesting psychological help, it is necessary to talk about what happened. For example, a woman in the class sat in the basement under heavy shelling in Mariupol for a month. Accordingly, she came psychologically traumatized and it was very difficult for her. And coming to these classes, over tea and knitting, she was able to speak out about everything that happened to her, to start sharing her experiences in a safe environment, with people who are roughly her age, who understand what is going on and with whom she can live through this. This is also a kind of psychological support. These classes play a huge role because it is also the ability to focus. So these knitting sessions and such are a form of psychological therapy. I believe that this is probably no less important, if not more important, than specialized psychological support involving professionals.

The life and plans of the organization after the victory

Nadiia: We will help everyone who needs it as long as it is necessary. However, if we talk about the main direction of our work after Ukraine's victory, it will be the restoration of everything from infrastructure and economy to full-fledged life. We are already working in this direction. I am a member of the Rotary Club International and have professional experience in the Sustainable Development of Cities. In our association, there are many professionals from various funds, so we can solve the issues of Ukraine's reconstruction and mobilize resources for it.

Luba: I agree with Nadiia that the issue of Ukraine's reconstruction after the war is our priority. But we are also starting to think about integration in a broader sense of the word. Integration is not just Ukrainians themselves who visit our centers, but also Ukrainians who communicate with people of other nationalities, including local residents. That is, at some point, there may be a mix of Ukrainians and other ethnic groups who also need help. Therefore, we have two potential directions for the future of our association.

You can find more information about the Ukraine Reborn Association on the following platforms:

Website: https://www.ukraine-reborn.ch/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/ukraine-reborn-association/

Telegram: https://t.me/ukraine_reborn

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ukraine.reborn.ch

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ukraine_reborn.ch/

Professional profiles of the association's founders on LinkedIn:

Nadiia: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nadiia-o-a046854/

Luba: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lubabondarenko/



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