On January 11 2023 NGO “Feminist workshop” opened the third shelter for Ukrainians affected by the Russian-Ukrainian war. This shelter hosts families with children, moms with children, and women of different ages – 20 people and 1 cat in total.

Eventually, we realized that the format of the shelters most convenient and efficient for the crisis team are small shelters (up to 20 people) suited for long-term stay (6 months and longer). We observe that compared to the previous year, the need for long-term shelter is only increasing. Why? In spring 2022 many people were looking for a place to stay for several days. They planned either to find an apartment to rent, to flee abroad, or to go to their relatives. According to the IOM, people currently living in shelters live there for over six months.

People that never lived in the shelter may think that for the time of one’s stay you only need to provide accommodation. We, however, believe that the space sheltering people for over six months can’t only offer food and a place to stay. This should be a space for creating values, rules of healthy co-existing, communication strategies between shelter’s residents and administration. That is an endless flexible process.

We realized that it is not possible to create rules covering all the possible cases and taking into account all the possible situations. Furthermore, it’s impossible to control the situation only by imposing restrictions and demands. We need to show why the rules are important: why and how one needs to be accepting, sort the waste, take care of communal items, visit group supervision sessions, etc. We went into more details here.

One of the examples is the rule we recently enforced – now you need to engage in volunteering. It is less of a rule, and more of a principle brought to action with certain frequency. Each adult living in the shelters needs to spend at least 3 hours a week helping the Ukrainian Armed Forces, working with animals in the pet shelters, people in need, etc. As of now, the majority of our shelters’ residents have already found the activity they like.

Our other core principle states that we won’t provide shelter for people holding a pro-Russian stance. That is both a matter of our shared values, and an issue of comfort and safety of the residents. For us that is the default principle, we profess it, but until now, we hadn’t felt the need to use it to refuse shelter to someone.

These rules and principles are important for both the residents and the management. If you are a part of the volunteer activist community, you must have seen burned-out people that lose their hopes for humanity and share their stories of “ungrateful IDPs”. For sure we are all different, and different stories may happen. But the right approaches to the organization of help constitute a significant part of stability, longevity, and sensitivity for both people in need of help and the ones providing it.

Well… Will we open the fourth shelter? Probably yes. We have the established team, partners, and, the most important, our practices written down and tested over 11 months in several shelters. Both statistics and our experience prove that as long as there would be the need and resources, people living in the shelters now will stay there. Shelter actually turns into a  temporary house, rather than being a long-term hostel. Home is much more than just a place to stay and food. People require leisure time and quality rest, space for communication and self-actualization, feeling safe and respected. Such things don’t come bundled with the walls, these are created by the social managers’ hard and complex work. That is exactly why we wanted to make this work visible.


Article: Kateryna Dovbnya, Anastasia Yurchenko
Photos: Tanya Dzhafarova
Translation: Kira Leonova