The strong for the strong. Veronika Lytvynenko

Veronika Lytvynenko is a volunteer and designer of Women Volunteers. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine found the girl in Kyiv, and her entire family in Mariupol. She joined volunteering in the organization at the end of February 2022 – on the third day of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. She admits, this is what gave her the resources and strength to fight, live and be useful to the country. Next – direct speech.

 Back in 2014, when I was 17 years old, I heard the first shots and saw my hometown captured by the invaders. I was still a schoolgirl, I saw it with my own eyes, but at that time I did not fully understand everything because of my age. Disgust towards the invaders appeared even then. The events of 2014 inspired me to go to the history faculty. I moved from Mariupol back in 2015. But only now I fully felt how bad things can be with the “Russian world”.  

On February 24, the world finally divided into black and white for me. I lived in Kyiv, lost my job. And my whole family – my parents, my younger brother, my aunt and her husband – all the closest people to me stayed in Mariupol. They did not listen when I asked them to leave immediately. At first, I reassured myself that they are adults, they know what to do. But the events in Mariupol unfolded quickly, I began to blame myself for not insisting and that’s why they didn’t listen to me. While my whole family was bombarded, without communication, I didn’t know if I would see them again and I was slowly losing my mind. The only thing that saved me from despair was volunteering. The thought swarmed in my head: “I will help here – someone will help there.” Yes, on the third day after the full-scale invasion, I ended up in the Women Veterans.

I didn’t really like to tell that I was from Mariupol, because people usually have pity and sympathy in their eyes when they hear that your city is occupied. That’s why I never told what was inside me. And here, among female veterans and volunteers, I did not see this pity. Instead, she saw a desire to help. I will never forget that moment in March, when we were all very busy, and a very busy Katya (Editor’s note: Kateryna Pryimak, acting head of the Women Veterans) was running errands and suddenly stopped next to me: “Veronika, where are yours?”. I say: “Well, there.” And she asked to think for a moment to understand how we can get them out of Mariupol together. That is, when we all did not have a free moment even for ourselves, I was very impressed that at that time she also took care of me. It was precisely such human relations that gave me the opportunity to hold on during these terrible months.

And then I realized for the first time that it is very cool to be in some community. And that you should talk about your needs, feelings, because they can tell you something that will unexpectedly be good for you. When I shared my feelings for the first time – and some people didn’t even know that I was from Mariupol and what was going on in my head – when I shared my experiences with everyone, Alla Valyukevich (Editor’s note: volunteer of the Women Veterans) told me her story . She left Luhansk back in 2014, and her IDP experience showed me that all is not lost.

And in general, you get distracted by communication, you start thinking about something else. I believe that I was very lucky to be with Women Veterans at this time. I felt support, understanding, I wasn’t afraid to show emotions, and that’s why, I think, I persevered. Now I have made it a rule to share what’s inside. After all, I see that it can be useful not only for me, but also for people in a similar situation.  

In general, during those months, while my family was in the occupied city, I not only survived, but also outlined for myself a huge area of growth – the direction in which I want to move and what I want to do next. We all then set priorities for ourselves: what do we want in life if suddenly it is the last day (yes, black humor). First of all, it made me realize that I wanted to do design after all. And my stay among different but strong women, communication with them and joint activities revealed to me what else I can do usefully.  

And I was also interestingly influenced by the psychological support group that was organized at Women Veterans. I tried, although I did not expect that there would be any obvious result right away. But, unexpectedly for myself, after online and offline classes, I noticed that little things don’t annoy me, as it was before, I started having dreams, I started drawing again. Secondly, when you see that your openness, communication with a large number of people, and even the design of the announcement (because I’m a graphic designer at Women Veterans) turn into smiles and gratitude of the participants – it’s even easier to get up in the morning!  

And I am extremely pleased to see when adult women with families and children begin to open up. I can only imagine how difficult it can be. I understand for what it’s worth that they open up to someone other than their loved ones. And this relief in the eyes of people who turn on the cameras during online meetings with psychologists is the moment when you think: “Yes, it was worth it. And I want that too.”   Unfortunately, we cannot be everywhere at the same time: covering our friends on the front lines, packing a humanitarian aid, earning money to donate, organizing courses on any kind of aid. But by taking care of ourselves, we can certainly do more – for ourselves and for the country.