Millions of Ukrainians had to leave their homes and seek refuge due to Russian invasion. According to official data, Lviv alone hosted 106 thousand registered IDPs. Women became vulnerable populations, facing stress, dealing with economical and social issues, and/or having to raise children on their own. “Feminist workshop” couldn’t stay still and do nothing. We established three shelters: for feminist activists, for families, for mothers with kids and single women. We went into detail here. Shelter for families is still active, and our work with two others is over.

We are going to tell why we closed the shelter on Shevchenko St. and created digital literacy courses. 

A space to focus and to make a decision

“We established shelters to provide families of internally displaced persons with an opportunity to focus and decide what to do, where to go. Shelter on Shevchenko St. existed for 7 months: from January 2023 to July. Over this time families managed to get some savings. Some rented an apartment, while others returned to the deoccupied territories. Some of the residents moved to different shelters”, Katya explains. She coordinates the shelters of “Feminist workshop“. She worked together with the shelter managers Natalya and Anastasia, and nanny Ivanka who helped with children.

IDP Svitlana Moroz shares her observations: “Everything here is meant to help us to restore our energy, to adapt for the new conditions, to feel that we are not alone in dealing with our grief, to hear the words of support.  Workers of the shelter aspired to help everyone by offering advice and suggesting how to better stand back on one’s feet.”

20 people have lived in the shelters, together with the cats and dogs. “At some point there were more kids than adults (10-11 people). Some of the kids have lived under occupation, and because of that faced adaptation challenges”, Katya remembers. We told about our activist Ivanka organizing leisure activities for internally displaced children who live in shelters. “Feminist workshop” also used to provide shelters with essentials: household appliances, high-speed Internet, bedclothes, and dishes. We  regularly distributed food kits and hygiene products. Each adult resident of the shelter needed to spend 3 hours a week engaging in volunteering. That was both the requirement for those living in the shelter and the element of social adaptation. Residents have walked the dogs in the shelter “House of the rescued animals”, weaved camouflage nets, and made energy bars for territorial defense, etc.

 Lyudmila Malko, who has lived in the shelter for several months, confesses that this place became like a second home for her: “Administrators invited volunteers to the shelter, which is why we didn’t have to stand in queues and could directly get financial help. We also had different leisure activities: movie screenings in the shelters, theater visits, meetings with the artist Natalya Pavlyuk, art therapy sessions, drawing lessons, etc.”

 However, long-term stay in the shelter exhausts its residents, the coordinator notes. “It is like visiting your friends for too long — everyone is long tired from the company and longs to return home. But the thing is, there is nowhere to return. Once we organized a picnic with barbecue and sweets, but some residents found an opportunity to be left to their own devices for a while more appealing. They tended to avoid social contacts, being busy from the constant communication. One aspires to feel part of the community, when one is provided with personal space».

 Digital literacy for new opportunities 

 “Prior to the full-scale invasion, the majority of women living in our shelters were narrow specialists — once they were miners or engineers. However, upon coming to Lviv a lot of  them started working as janitors,” — Katya says. — “Women lacked confidence. Oftentimes they found it tough not to get lost in the city and couldn’t find the information they needed. That’s why we organized a career consultation where we shared information about accessible but less exhausting jobs, such as merchandising career. Our consultant Svitlana noted that it would be really great to improve women’s digital literacy skills. That would help them to become independent. It will also help them with city navigation, receiving government services,  and looking for a job. Lots of them couldn’t even type and didn’t possess even the most elementary computer skills.”

 At first we asked women to approach the shelter manager with their personal requests, like asking how to send a photo. She said: “If you’re free from 16:00 to 18:00, come ask me, and I will help“. The demand for it was huge. Often women were interested in getting access to the channels of communication and mastering the tools. Having a smartphone is not essential, as long as you live in your own city. You can always go to your neighbor, to talk with them, to receive advice, to find something out. And if you are moving, you want to video call your family, to send the photo, to request a service. You need to fill out the Google form in order to receive social support.

“We had a chat where residents and activists shared relevant information. I wondered why none of the shelter’s residents weren’t active in the chat. OK, I thought, maybe they just don’t want to,” — Katya remembers. — “Then we found out that lots of women weren’t good with smartphones and couldn’t even type a message.”

Nastya, shelter manager responsible for communications, created a program for teaching digital literacy, varying from basic functions of the phone to Google apps and Canva. To get to live in some shelters, you need to fill out the forms and become part of the waiting list. To fuel women’s motivation, we organized a contest with gift certificates by Silpo. To win, the participants needed, for instance, to say hi to the organizer on social media, to take a screenshot and add it to the Google form. Another task asked to trace a route to a favorite shop and to write which buses you can take to get there. Classes lasted for about two months. “There were 10 women participating in the contest, and out of them, we selected three winners. We checked if all of their tasks were really done by the women themselves. We approached every participant and asked her to explain how she did this or that”, – Katya remembers. Now women are able to order a taxi, don’t get lost in the city, can transfer funds online, etc.

Zinayida Mukha, who took part in the course, shares her experience: “We felt like the D students and shared it with our trainers. To that, they responded: “If you were A+ students, you wouldn’t be here. It is OK not to know many things.  I can already open the messages and change the phone settings. At the last lesson we studied Viber”.

 After analyzing our results, we decided to scale up our experience and make it available for other shelters, including municipal ones. The course is available for all internally displaced women based in Lviv.  The group consists of 10 people and four trainers. They meet in the shelter, with each lesson lasting for an hour and a half. “Trainers are not computer teachers. They are our social workers that possess slightly more phone skills. At first the lesson introduces basic instructions, and then the trainers go over it with each participant. Our eldest trainer is 63 years old, and she is an IDP from Severodonetsk.  Our course covers the topics that women 45+ probably wouldn’t learn any other way, as no one would sit with them and show them how the phone works“, — Katya notes. We’ve also been joined by the volunteers of Lviv IT-company “Intellias” turned trainers. The main goal of the course is to prove to the participants that it is possible to learn it on your own and possible to overcome related fears.

 For Feminist Workshop equality is more than the value that we preach.  When we established shelters and created digital literacy courses we believed that it would help to make communication more accessible and clear.  You can’t immediately see the results of such projects. However, a long distance can be covered in baby steps.