Nataliya Prykhodko: Since the beginning of the war, the Vadym Stolar Foundation has already provided 271 million hryvnias of aid
From the first days of full-scale Russian aggression, the Vadym Stolar Charitable Foundation has focused on supporting fellow citizens and helping defenders of Ukraine. A year has passed, and we spoke with Natalia Prykhodko, a volunteer of the Foundation, about the interim results of the work, about progress, achievements, difficulties and the team.
So, a year has passed since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. What are the main achievements of the Vadym Stolar Foundation during this time?
Of course, the year 2022 seemed very difficult for all of us. About 8 million Ukrainians were forced to leave the country, 17.6 million of those who remained are in need of humanitarian assistance. Tens of thousands of dead, wounded, missing - both military and civilian...
In the first months, we were all on adrenaline. No one knew when the war would end, how long it would last, so everyone worked to the limit of their capabilities - as if our victory was to come tomorrow.
But now we can more calmly analyze the events. And the first thing I want to say here: this year reminded me of one of the main features of Ukrainians - the ability to unite, especially in difficult times. We become like one coordinated mechanism, and this is such a force that you can’t defeat not only "in three days", as someone planned - we cannot be defeated at all. Thanks to this we survived and thanks to this we will celebrate our victory.
Regarding the work of the Foundation, first of all I want to thank our wonderful team! Which, like all Ukrainians, rallied around its goal, and thanks to which we achieve our goals. Our team is made up of different people who have never volunteered before and had no experience in this field. But we were united by one goal: to help to endure, not to give up on Ukraine and not to give up on ourselves emotionally. During this year, each of us, although we were knocked off track, learned a lot, became stronger.
I am proud of our volunteers and extremely grateful to the founder of the Foundation - Vadym Stolar, who supported all the projects we implement. The leader and the team are the driving force that is able to implement any of the most difficult tasks even during a large-scale war, which until now we heard only from grandparents. Thanks to our joint efforts, the Fund has already provided 271 million hryvnias of aid since the beginning of the war.
What projects were the priority of the Foundation in the first months of large-scale aggression?
From the beginning of the war, we focused on those needs that were of current interest back then. At that time, the enemy was standing near Kyiv, there were supply interruptions in the city, not everything was arranged with logistics in the Ministry of Defense, there was a need for hot meals both for our defenders in the positions and for the residents. So we - people who had nothing to do with the restaurant business, purchases - found strength, organized and started the process of preparing hot food and then distributing it to those who needed it the most.
It's hard to believe now, but in total, we prepared and distributed more than 600,000 portions during the first six months of the war! And this despite the fact that we acted with limited means. For example, we didn't have trucks at that time, and one of the volunteers drove her own car to the warehouse in the Obolon district for purchases. She simply filled the car with everything that was there that could be used to cook. And this despite the fact that at that time there were skirmishes on Obolon, as you remember, enemy armored vehicles even broke through there.
I would also like to mention our chefs and thank them! Because they worked almost around the clock, and despite the fact that there were problems with moving around the city at that time, we had to make great efforts to take everyone to the kitchen and take them home. Yes, there were many difficulties, but we understood that we had to do what we were doing - and we did not stop.
But, of course, we did not limit ourselves to cooking hot food. At first, we worked only in Kyiv, but even there in the first days, due to supply interruptions, people simply could not buy food or medicine. We looked for all this, went to places where we could find things people needed, bought them, delivered them.
Eventually, this direction developed into the provision of food kits and expanded to the entire country. And we continue such assistance now. During all this time, we have provided people with more than 223,000 such kits.
To whom exactly and in which regions was and is being provided aid with food kits?
Currently, citizens who are forcibly displaced are in need of the most support, there are many of them throughout the country due to the destruction of our settlements by the enemy. As of January 2023, 4,867,106 IDPs were officially registered in Ukraine, and according to international estimates, the number of internally displaced persons exceeds 7 million citizens. So we work all over the country: Kharkiv, Odesa, Dnipro, and Zaporizhia. A number of settlements in the Donetsk region, which at that time were in the controlled territory, but now, unfortunately, are under occupation. They were also in Irpen and Buchi after the deoccupation, and performed several humanitarian missions in the liberated Chernihiv region.
If you list all regions and settlements, the list will be too long. It is important that we provide assistance with food kits even now, because there is a stable demand for them from people. And the work of the Vadym Stolar Foundation is generally structured in such a way that we respond to existing requests from civilians and military.
You mentioned that, among other things, the volunteers of the Foundation went to Donetsk region - in fact, to hot spots. Did they get into dangerous situations?
Indeed, there were dangerous situations, and not one. It is worth mentioning how in April our volunteers were hit by "Hail" in Vugledar in Donetsk region. Then only equipment was damaged, people survived. But when the volunteers of the partner mission of the Vadym Stolar Foundation and the CF "We are here" came under fire in Kharkiv, two of them were wounded. Thank God - remained alive! We were among the first to go to Kupyansk immediately after its release, as soon as the entry was allowed - and everything there is mined. Aid has already been brought twice to Kherson, which is under constant shelling: the first time immediately after the deoccupation, the second time already in February, and with the participation of the founder of our Foundation.
But danger does not stop our volunteers, they continue to go to hot spots to help people. And this is a reason to say once again how proud I am of them - boys and girls who are not soldiers, fearlessly carry out their mission every day.
By the way, about the military - the Foundation helps them as well, not only civilians. What kind of help do you provide to defenders?
Aid to the army is one of the large-scale areas of work of the Vadym Stolar Foundation. I will not hide that at first it was difficult for us. For example, I am a lawyer by profession and I had to understand the classes of protection of body armor, the principles of operation of thermal imagers - and before that I didn't even know what kind of device it was. And nobody in the team had experience in this field.
But this situation showed once again that people can learn anything - the main thing is to have a desire and aspiration. Our team was no exception here, we learned everything. We learned how and from where to transport military ammunition, equipment, and machinery. And I can say that during this period we were able to provide substantial assistance to the army. Moreover, these are not only clothes, bulletproof vests and thermal imagers, but also specialized fast and armored SUVs. With the latter, it is generally very difficult, because there is a certain rigid procedure that is very long in time. But it is worth it, because it saves lives. And the lives of our soldiers on the front lines are priceless! And this is the priority of the Foundation.
Recently, modern high-tech equipment, including drones and anti-drone systems, was transferred to the front line. We understand that the current war is significantly different from previous large-scale conflicts precisely because of the massive use of high-tech products - and we try to promptly respond to the relevant requests of the military. Our defenders say that the "anti-drones" provided by the Foundation really preserve health and life, and also significantly help in the performance of combat tasks.
Separately, it is worth mentioning that we are currently implementing the "++ for the Armed Forces" project. It is aimed at additional support for our military. For example, although they are now fully provided with clothing in the prescribed amount, but it often deteriorates quickly in combat conditions or is insufficient in the cold season. Now, upon request from our defenders, we provide peacoats, thermal clothing, fleeces, balaclavas, army boots. We are also preparing to provide the military with everything necessary for the spring-summer period.
Returning to the problems of civilian Ukrainians, you told us how you help materially. But, as far as I know, the Foundation also implements projects for the psychological support of people...
Indeed, we have such projects, and more than one! The fact is that when the shock and panic of the first months of the war subsided, we realized that, among other things, it is extremely necessary to work on the social and emotional support of Ukrainians. Because today there are no people left in the country who were not affected by the war, and who did not suffer morally from it in one way or another.
I would like to dwell separately on one of the most effective such projects - "Recover". We started it because we felt the need to support families with children who lost one of their parents in the war. The idea of the project is to give people an incentive, a "second breath" to move on despite irreparable loss and great grief. To do this, we organize group outings with activities for parents and their children to the most picturesque and safest corners of our Motherland.
We spent the first stage of "Recover" in August at the Bukovel resort. We were very worried, we worked a lot, realizing that everything had to go flawlessly in order to achieve the set goal. And our idea worked!
When I got there myself and talked to the women, it was hard for me to hold back tears. Because, on the one hand, you see the grief that befell these families. But on the other hand, you feel the inner strength of our women, and you hear from them that we really helped them. Someone said: "I finally got some sleep, because I was able to sleep all night without waking up in a panic." Someone was giving thanks because he saw a smile on his child's face for the first time in many months. I realized that despite great grief, our wonderful people raise their heads and move on. And this inspires faith in the great future of our country!
After the first stage in Bukovel, we realized that this is a very correct, very strong and emotional project. Therefore, we continued it, in addition to the summer, we also had autumn and winter stages. For the entire year 2022, we were able to help at least 500 Ukrainians at the "Recover" project, and today we are already looking forward to the spring visit!
What other social projects does the Vadym Stolar Foundation implement?
In addition, there are a number of initiatives that are being implemented. For example, for learning the Ukrainian language. We all see that our society is now gravitating towards the transition to Ukrainian, even if before that people spoke Russian all their lives. For Ukrainians today, this is a matter of principle. But for many it is difficult primarily because people are shy. They are shy because they do not immediately manage to speak and write correctly, shy of their mistakes, of their “surzhik”. For these
people we created a suitable social project. You know, it turned out to be very popular! For example, the Telegram channel from this project has more than 600 subscribers. I am proud of these people who started the changes themselves, because in the end we will be able to build the future we all aspire to - in a free, strong and independent Ukraine.
We recently launched a project on direct psychological support for people. We were approached by people with relevant requests, and we realized that today it is actually needed. Now the project is gaining momentum, we will have psychological support groups and individual sessions. In addition, we understand that not all problems can be solved within the framework of psychological support, sometimes the help of psychotherapists is needed, and we are also moving in this direction. The volunteer responsible for the project is a psychologist by education, so we do everything professionally.
Perhaps you can tell us about those projects that are currently only in the plans?
Yes, there is a project that we are currently working on, although we launched it almost from the beginning. It is called "Stories of the Strong". We are collecting testimonies from people about their experiences during the war, and eventually we plan to publish them in the form of a separate book. This is about the pain, the tragedy of the Ukrainian people. Someone lost their home, someone was forced to leave their native land, someone lost their loved ones... But I am sure we have to do it - so that future generations of Ukrainians and people all over the world understand what really happened during the Russian aggression against ordinary people. Our book will be about the fact that war destroys not only cities - it destroys people's lives.
What was the most difficult for you personally this year?
You know, when there is a strong, caring and hardworking team, when there is strong support from our patron Vadym Stolar, then nothing is impossible - together we have overcome and are overcoming all challenges!
If we talk about the personal, then, I think, all mothers will understand me here. I have three children, and every air alarm scares me first of all for them. And in these moments it is difficult to control yourself and keep a cool head.
It is difficult to look at our once wonderful cities, now completely destroyed by the enemy. It is difficult to realize how many lives this war has taken - and how many more it will take. How many parents lost their children, how many children were orphaned...
But I understand that it is difficult for all of us now. And it is much more difficult for a lot of people that lost everything because of the war. So we have to pull ourselves together to survive these horrors and help those who are in a particularly difficult situation.
Today, many Ukrainians are already doing this, people have rallied to help their neighbors. We have a powerful volunteer movement that has a lot of work to do. So I want to wish strength and effort to all the boys and girls who are working for victory both on the front lines and in the rear. I wish we pass this terrible stage of our lives as soon as possible, and our next interview with you will be dedicated to the victory of Ukraine and how this powerful volunteer movement, this energy, can be directed to the restoration of the country.
Thank you to everyone who today, as much as they can, helps people, the army, and the state. Ukrainians, I never get tired of repeating that you are incredible! Strength and inspiration to all of us!