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On Volunteer Day, Ukrainians Honor Grassroots Efforts with a Social Media Campaign

Volunteers participating in "The Real Ones" photo exhibition. Photo from Справжні on Facebook

Volunteers participating in “The Real Ones” photo exhibition. Photo from Справжні on Facebook

December 5 is International Volunteer Day, and this year, Ukrainians came out in force on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere to say a heartfelt “thank you” to their country's volunteer community for all the work they have done—and are still doing.

Volunteering, while present in Ukraine in the past, was never an overly popular pastime. The grassroots civic initiatives blossomed during the Euromaidan protests: citizens volunteered to help with transportation, cooking, medical needs and IT support. After the protests, there was hardly a lull for volunteers, since many of them shifted gears to help out during the conflict in eastern Ukraine, doing everything from assisting refugees to clothing, arming and feeding the Ukrainian army and volunteer battalions. It's fair to say that volunteering today has become part of Ukrainian culture and the everyday lifestyle, shifting perceptions of the value of unpaid work, along with charity and fundraising.

This Saturday, to mark the ocassion, Ukrainian social media users promoted a hashtag, #ДякуюВолонтерам (#ThankYouVolunteers) and used it to voice their appreciation for the work of countless volunteers supporting the internally displaced, the wounded, and other groups.

Journalist Khrystyna Bondarenko recalled the many conversations she had had with people who had suddenly found themselves taking up the volunteer mantle and marvelled at the diversity of the Ukrainian volunteer community.

Знаете, я видела и знаю многих волонтеров. Это очень разные люди.
Это домохозяйки с огромным стажем варения борщей и ничего другого, это бизнесмены бросившие на самотек свой бизнес, это айтишники, оторвавшиеся от своих компов и биткоинов, это журналисты, артисты, музыканты и просто хорошие люди.
Друзья. Спасибо, что вы есть.
Умение помогать безвозмездно, пожалуй, очень важный дар для человека. Берегите его.

You know, I've seen and I know many volunteers. These are very different people.
These are housewives with huge experience of making borsch and nothing else, these are businessmen who left their business to run itself, these are IT professionals who pulled themselves away from their computers and bitcoins, these are journalists, artists, musicians and simply good people.
Friends. Thank you for being there.
The ability to help without compensation is probably the most important gift for mankind. Treasure it.

User Liliya Rudnitskaya shared a thoughtful quote about the nature of volunteering.

Image from Liliya Rudnitskaya on Facebook.

Image from Liliya Rudnitskaya on Facebook.

Якщо волонтерство – це абсолютний прояв демократії, коли замість періодичного голосування, людина постійно своїми діями не те що обирає, а створює країну, або громаду, в якій хоче жити, тоді завдяки нашим волонтерам – Україна найдемократичніша країна світу.

If volunteering is indeed the ultimate exercise of democracy, when instead of voting periodically, a person uses their constant action to not just choose, but to build up the country or the community they want to live in, than thanks to our volunteers Ukraine is the most democratic country in the world.

Oleksandr Yabchanka, an activist with Reanimation Package of Reforms initiative, summed up the crucial role many see volunteers playing in post-Euromaidan Ukraine.

Впевнений, колись у книжках світової історії говоритимуть про український феномен.
Зробити Революцію без лідерів, а радше всупереч їм. Зупинити збройну експансію за відсутності власного війська. Робити зміни в країні, за спротиву керівництва країни.
На мою думку це ї є феномен українця – точніше феномен українського волонтера. Низький уклін вам

I'm sure one day the world history books will mention the Ukrainian phenomenon.
To create a Revolution without leaders, and even in spite of them. To stop armed expansion with your own army absent. To institute change in the country while the country's authorities are opposing the change.
To my mind, this is the phenomenon of the Ukrainian—or, to be more precise, of the Ukrainian volunteer. I'm bowing low to you

The civic organization The People's Project (that provides various support to the Ukrainian army) posted a special video to honor Ukrainian volunteers and to address those supporting volunteer efforts as well.

Happy Volunteer Day, friends! Our main gift is your concern and attention! This is YOUR holiday too!

Volunteers themselves also took to social networks to talk about their work and their perceptions of volunteering. Iryna Guk, a volunteer with the People's Home Front project, wrote on Facebook that although she valued the tremendous efforts of fellow volunteers, she didn't feel like celebrating being a volunteer, since many of those working on grassroots initiatives in the current crisis did not consciously choose to do so, but were pushed into the work by circumstance or driven by necessity, and often had to fight the government every step of the way to achieve their goals.

Так от, ці інші – трошки партизани, трошки військові, трошки контрабандисти. Трошки медики, трошки водії, трошки кулібіни. Трошки психологи, трошки піарники, трошки соцробітники, трошки кухарі, трошки доглядальники.
Трошки міністерство. Трошки державозамінник.
До чого це все. Нема ніякого “професійного свята”. Яке блін свято, який день волонтера?

So these others (the new volunteers) are a little bit partisans, a little bit contraband carriers. A little bit medics, a little bit drivers, a little bit Kulibins.
A little bit psychologists, a little bit PR professionals, a little bit social workers, a little bit cooks, a little bit caretakers.
A little bit ministries. A little bit replacements for the state.
What I'm leading up to is there is no “professional holiday.” What holiday are we talking about, man, what volunteer day?

A comment made by President Petro Poroshenko in a video address on the eve of Volunteer Day got him in hot water with social media users. Poroshenko said:

Я хочу подякувати волонтерам, які в перший час, дні і місяці війни, коли було найважче, віддавали останнє. І без цього внеску ми б все одно перемогли, але було б набагато важче.

I'd like to thank the volunteers, who in the first hours, days, and months of the war, when things were hardest, gave their all. We would have won without their contribution, but it would have been much harder.

Netizens were outraged at Poroshenko's words and the disappointment was so audible in the Facebook comments and elsewhere, that Poroshenko's Facebook post with the video was soon edited to add a note to express his gratitude and to stress that “without volunteers, without all of the Ukrainian people, our victory would be impossible.”

Ukraine celebrated its volunteers offline as well: a photo exhibition called “The Real Ones” presented portraits of 13 volunteers and asked them to talk about what they do now and what they would be doing if the conflict hadn't happened.

“If it wasn't for the war, I'd move to Turkey to go to college and would work on Ukrainian archives there.” – Kateryna Nikolaenko, Ukrainian military portal. Image from Radio Svoboda.

Earlier, in November 2015, the Euromaidan SOS volunteer and activist community held an award ceremony for Volunteer Awards 2015, where a number of individual Ukrainian activists and volunteer initiatives were honored for their work.

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