My name is Natalya Chermoshentseva. For almost 15 years, my life has been connected with public activities, especially with the movement for gender equality and human rights. I have also taught at the university for a long time, managed to defend a PhD thesis on history and publish a book in co-authorship, but public activities have won out.
Cooperation with non-governmental organizations throughout the country, work in social projects, with various international organizations and programs have given me the opportunity to work in different parts of Ukraine - from Askaniya-Nova to Zhovkva, from Sumy to Odesa, from Kharkiv to Uzhgorod, as well as at different levels - from territorial communities to the Parliament of Ukraine. This experience was very helpful when a full-scale war broke out and we started our volunteer initiative. First of all, networks, good reputation and community snapped into action. I deliberately write a community, not a contact base, because the way we were able to unite is not about just numbers on the phone, it is about a commonality of values and our single goal.
The powerful force of kindness and sincerity saves us in dark times
Now for all of us, the question “What makes your heart ache?” is very recognizable and understandable. Kherson region makes my heart ache. The place where I have lived most of my life, where I know many wonderful women and men who have been keeping for the sixth month everything Ukrainian and human in this territory. I have experienced temporary displacement and only then I have understood all the stories my colleagues from Donetsk had told me eight years ago, when russia invaded our country. It has reaffirmed the idea that I can feel but not fully understand the different experiences in this war. That is why it is so important not to use your own ideas, but always to ask people about their needs. During the work of our volunteer initiative, we have been witnessing people’s crazy support not only for each other, but for Ukraine from the whole world. It is a powerful force of kindness and sincerity protecting during these dark times. This is what gives strength to hold on.
On the third day of the full-scale war, I called my colleagues organizers of shelters, social apartments, centers for women and asked about their needs for hygiene products and detergents. This is how our informal volunteer center Dignity was born. In all communications, we constantly say that dignity is a basic human need, and that is why we have chosen this name for our initiative.
Today, we continue our activities of providing hygiene products, detergents, and baby food to women and children who have fled the war and changed their place of residence. At the moment, we work more with temporarily uncontrolled territories, purchase the most necessary - medicines and hygiene products, and redirect them to Kherson region. And this would not be possible without the support of people, including people from all over the world. We have received support from Ukraine, Poland, Belgium, Austria, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, Australia, Italy, Lithuania, France.
To avoid “the trap of quick solutions”
I never get tired of admiring the strength of spirit and courage of women who fight, continue to work, manage their communities, and stay with people in occupation, organize aid in the hottest spots. Due to the work of our volunteer initiative, I have seen what women’s solidarity looks like in action. I know where she lives and what her name is, because these are all incredible women with whom I have the fortune of working.
My scientific and historical background allows me to keep in focus important issues, in particular, that women’s roles may be changed and are changing. It is important that after our victory, there is no stepping back in women’s rights, as it happened after the World War I and, in most cases, after the World War II. We must declare vociferously the leadership of women and their role in this war, as well the fact that human rights cannot be narrowed down and cannot be transgressed, because otherwise what are we fighting for?!
Women should be where the decisions are made. If women have the strength and endurance to survive all the difficulties together with their community, they should make decisions about the future of the country at a high political level. It is fair, honest and equitable.
My main fear is “the trap of quick solutions”, because there is always room for discrimination, both direct and indirect. Reconstruction must be gender sensitive and take into account the different experiences, needs and interests of different groups of women and men. This is, first of all, about the efficiency, effectiveness of the decisions made, and, ultimately, about money saving. And, of course, about an open dialogue - a systematic conversation in which different voices are heard. It is equally important to maintain zero tolerance for everything that can destroy us and pull us back: corruption, discrimination, sexism, domestic violence, any intolerance.
Personally, I see strength in unity. This is what has snapped into action at the beginning of the war and continues to do so. Networking, grounded on good reputation, openness, trust and integrity. This is exactly what I want to continue to do and turn our informal association into a social movement.