АвторAuthor: Vera Korolchenko | Translation: Valentina Mykhaylova
16 September 2022
Olena Ivanova is a partner at The Gate Agency, a Kyiv-based photo and video agency for business. She started volunteering on the third day of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. She had to “get” everything from ordinary medicines to highly specialized weapons for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Olena continues to help the military to this day, although she admits that it is much more difficult to collect aid now than at the beginning of the war. Olena has told “War Monologues” how her life has changed since February 24.
I was born and raised in Luhansk, but for the sake of studying I moved to Kyiv in 2010. Since then I have been living in the capital, and in my hometown I have an apartment and several relatives.
On February 24, my mother just went to the Luhansk region, to Svatove, for a court hearing on inheritance. At 6 am she called me and said: “Olena, the war has started here, tanks are coming, everything is being bombed”. I did not believe it at first. Only when I opened my balcony and heard explosions in Kyiv, I began to realize what was happening.
Svatove is a small town near Izium, it’s very close to the border with Russia. The attack on Ukraine actually started from there, and my mother was in touch. She could hear the explosions very well, columns of military equipment were passing by. There were a lot of our military in the city: my mother communicated with them and learned information firsthand. I was very worried about her and asked her to leave on the evacuation train, but my mother had a ticket for a regular trip for the evening. When I asked her to leave as early as possible, my mother answered in such a cold and calm voice: “No, I know that nothing will happen, my intuition suggests that everything will be fine”. As a result, she took her evening train and the next morning she was already in Kyiv, but the train was stopped several times on the way because the fighting was already going on nearby.
On the first day of the war, my husband and I dragged a mattress into the corridor, and decided that we would take turns sleeping at night: one on duty – the other resting. And so we changed every 2 hours. But in the end, none of us slept. I just lay with the phone on my chest, could doze off for 15 minutes, and then wake up and immediately start monitoring the news. They took all my attention, and for a couple of days I was very tired mentally. But I had an inner need to do something, because just sitting at home was unbearable.
On the third day of the war, all my attention was completely devoted to volunteering. But something clicked in my head and I felt neither fear nor panic. I got a job, and at first I volunteered almost 24 hours a day, without a break.
It started by chance: somewhere on Facebook I saw a post by my colleague from the agency. She was looking for a person with a car who could transport empty Molotov cocktail bottles. And I immediately agreed.
Later I found a post by the maternity hospital “Leleka”. They started to take the wounded people, and they published a list of medicines that were needed. I thought I would go and just buy these medicines at my own expense. Soon the same hospital asked me to get something else. So for the first few weeks I worked very actively for Leleka.
Finding a working pharmacy in Kyiv in the first two months of the war was something like a quest. If something worked somewhere, there was a queue from morning till night. Only one pharmacy was open in our district. The first time I stood in line for medicine for probably three hours. Then I did not have the courage to go without a queue as a volunteer. But later I became braver, I was coming with a big list and then taking everything in boxes.
In my pharmacy I met a pharmacist Olha, we are still in touch. She and her assistant Inna were the only ones left working, because everyone else had left. The two of them literally lived in this pharmacy and worked until exhaustion so that people could buy medication. The pharmacy had a basement, and the girls slept there, did not even go home. They were fed by people in the neighborhood. When I was delivering humanitarian aid, I also helped them if they needed something. There was not much medicine brought to them, and we took everything that was there, and sometimes the pharmacy was just empty.
At the beginning, many people from our agency – those who know me personally – were sending money for medicine. I bought everything, posted receipts on Facebook, and so on in a circle. And so step by step: friends of friends began to join me. At first, people wondered who I was, whether I was a fraudster. So I had to send checks to many people.
After a while, one of my friends, Dmytro Rozdorozhnyi, joined me. He lived on the Left Bank of Kyiv, and when I needed to bring aid there, he took care of it. As a result, if he needed something on the Right Bank, he sent the order to me, if I needed something on the Left Bank, I sent it to him. It so happened that we ” divided” the city between us. Then another girl joined us, with whom we went to the same trainer in the gym. So the three of us volunteered.
I got my first requests for the military thanks to Dmytro. We began to bring things to the guys from the (TDF)Territorial Defence Forces and the (SSU)Security Service of Ukraine, but at one time we could help only 30-50 people.
I bought mainly food and clothes for the military, that is, I solved the issues that were closed here and now, within a few hours or maximum two days. To put shoes and clothes on a soldier is no less important than to give him weapons. If a soldier feels at least minimal personal comfort, he will be more motivated, and if he wears the same underwear for three weeks or freezes without thermal underwear, it will be much harder for him to fight.
At first, it was difficult for me to get clothes because many shops were closed at that time. But due to the fact that we as an agency worked with industrial production, we had a pool of clients who produced some things themselves. For example, a hosiery factory just gave us boxes of socks for the Armed Forces.
My neighbor also helped me a lot. From the beginning of the war, he immediately went to volunteer at the railway station, as a lot of humanitarian aid came there. You could find everything there. I used to come and just say: “I need socks, underwear, warm jackets and food for a certain number of soldiers”.
Medicines were definitely all bought, but the clothes at first could be obtained for free. But in a few months, when people had already given everything they could give, we had to buy clothes and others too.
I did not deal with weapons, because I did not understand how to bring them to Ukraine across the border. The only thing I brought from Europe was a Thermal Reflex Sight, in other words it is a scope with a thermal imager that is mounted on a rifle. It was very difficult to get it, because there was no such scope anywhere in Ukraine, they were all sold out. Even in Europe, it was only in one single store, in Italy. By some miracle, I remembered that my friend lives there. I ordered the scope and sent her money. She bought the product in Italy, sent it to Poland, and there another friend sent it through his friends to Ukraine. And that’s how it got to us, but it was very difficult.
The guys immediately began to take our parcel on combat missions. And then they wrote to me: “Thanks, your “scope” worked well today“.
Once the soldiers asked me to find large fuel tanks. I turned to a company for which we were filming an automotive lubricants plant. They had large metal barrels. In the end, they not only gave us these barrels, but also shipped additional oil for cars. That is, the factory gave more than it was asked for. The soldiers of the Armed Forces were happy.
As for household appliances, recently we sent a car refrigerator to the guys at the front. I posted a request on Facebook, and a girl who had just such a refrigerator immediately responded to it. It was perfect, 24 liters.
And it all worked one day: I wrote a post, she saw it and the next day sent the parcel to the front. It was a fantastic story, because the nearest Nova Poshta(Ukrainian international group of logistics companies) office to the military was not working at all and reopened only recently.
Most people support me in my volunteering, but once I was confronted with hate. One woman in the comments accused me of buying too expensive T-shirts – for 400 UAH – and sent a link where the T-shirts were sold for 100. It made me so angry! I bought these clothes on March 30, when basically nothing was working, all the shops were closed, and I had to dress 30 people here and now, so the question of the price was not at all.
And I answered her: “You know, you are now sending me links to stores with T-shirts for 100 UAH, when everything is already working, but for some reason six months ago, when I had to solve these issues, in March, no one came and did not respond and did not offer cheaper T-shirts.” But she was the only woman who ever made any claim to me.
Money is being donated very slowly now, very slowly. If in the first days of the war sometimes 50,000-70,000 UAH a day came, now it can be 100-500 UAH. I understand that people are tired, their money reserves have significantly decreased.
So now, when someone offers to help, it is a holiday for me. When I need to buy something for the guys, I am happy for every penny. That is why, when I received a letter from a charitable foundation from Poland, I did not immediately suspect something wrong.
Some Maria Shevchenko wrote that her sister works in a Polish foundation and they are ready to help us raise money for the Armed Forces. The girl asked for my phone number and the next morning, very early, I received a call from a bank operator. He named this fund and said that there were three transfers from Poland for me in the amount of 19,000 UAH. He suggested using Privatbank and clarified: the peculiarity of the transfer is that the card cannot be credited with more than the amount on it. At that time I had 14 thousand UAH on my card, and he suggested splitting the transfer into two parts. I went to my Privat24 page and filled out the form under the guidance of the operator. When I pressed the “send” button, I realized that I was cheated. I did not receive the money, but sent it: the transfer number I filled in was the number of the fraudsters’ card, and they took my entire card balance. It was very clearly done: it was morning, I was sleepy and did not have time to react, plus I was glad that help for the Armed Forces would come now.
So when I started googling the bank card number, it turned out that these people are cheating volunteers. I immediately wrote to the cyber police, but there is no result yet. Still, I was lucky, one volunteer was cheated out of 40,000 UAH.
The first day after that I was in shock and my hands were shaking. I was terribly sorry, I was crying. But thanks to my husband: when he found out what happened, he simply transferred the stolen amount to my volunteer account, taking the money from his savings. I scolded myself a lot for falling for it. The next day I had a terrible aggression against the scammers, I wanted to find them and slowly break their hands so that they would not do it again.
In addition to volunteering, I continue to lead our agency. The volume of work has significantly decreased. Our clients have suffered tremendously from the war, because most of our customers are industrial production facilities that were located in the southeastern part of Ukraine: these are mines that are now under shelling, Azovstal, which no longer exists. There are customers whose production facilities were hit by Russian missiles, but they managed to keep working.
So we continue to work. After February 24, we moved out of the office. Half of our team is now in Europe, some of them went to the army, including my partner Hryhoriy Vepryk. There are only a few people left in Kyiv, who are now fulfilling orders.
My living is based on what I earn at the agency. I do not touch the money that I receive for volunteering, not a penny. Everything that people send goes to the guys from the Armed Forces. If I have some money left and there is no urgent request, I just transfer the money to the funds of my friends – where it is needed. The maximum I have spent volunteer money on so far is gasoline to deliver the aid by car.
Now I am constantly helping one military division, quite a large one. It has separate battalions and they rotate periodically. I help people who go on rotation. Currently, there is a constant need for tents, shading nets and waterproof films for dugouts. We also need fuel canisters.
What is raised by large funds is spent on large purchases, and the guys at the front have a lot of small tasks: a car broke down, the roof leaked, etc. These problems need to be solved urgently and most often the soldiers do it for their own money. I help them as much as I can.
Чому важливо поширити цю історію?
Якщо українці не розповідатимуть свій погляд на війну в Україні, світ поступово забуватиме про нас. Натомість цим обов’язково скористаються росіяни. Тому не даймо їм жодного шансу.
Why is it important to share this story?
If Ukrainians do not share their views on the war in Ukraine, the world will gradually forget about us. Instead, the Russians will definitely take advantage of this. So let's not give them a chance.
АвторAuthor: Vera Korolchenko | Translation: Valentina Mykhaylova
“We were bombed every day and every night, the hum echoed through the ground and through the house, everything was shaking, the explosions were very loud and bright, like the flash of a camera,” — the diary of a woman from an occupied village in the Kharkiv region