Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion in Ukraine “Feminist workshop” has widened the range of its activities. Not only did the full-scale war worsen the problems that already were prevalent in the society – it also added new challenges and compelled activists to set up new areas of work. Babysitting, helping with accommodation, elderly care, psychological support for the community – even this list of organization’s activities is not exhaustive. Activists of the Feminist Workshop will tell about newly emerged areas of work and their stress coping strategies.
Katya that helps with accomodation
Working day of Katya, activist of the “Feminist workshop”, is usually chaotic: as she turns on her laptop or takes her phone, she never knows what to expect, what will be her destination and objectives for the day. She isn’t talkative when it comes to introductions: she says that she is a sociology graduate student in the university of Lviv. She has worked in the Feminist workshop for half a year, she’s responsible, she enjoys working with youth and being informed about what is happening. When asked to tell about the work in the organization, she has a lot of details and stories to share.
For today, Katya’s primary responsibility in “Feminist workshop” is providing people with accomodation and basic needs. She deals with individual accommodation enquiries and is now establishing a shelter for activists from other regions of Ukraine. It is no wonder that it is Katya that got to deal with this work, she says. Even before the war she had a small business with her boyfriend: together they offered an apartment for daily rent. That’s how she mastered skills relevant for her present work: coordinating processes, communicating with tenants, dealing with bureaucracy.
Since the beginning of war she has lodged people in her friends’ apartment (they were willing to help but weren’t ready to deal with organizational problems). She finds tenants using the bot Save UA.
“Before the war, as people were coming to Lviv for a vacation, they generally expected that an apartment, though rented for a day or two, would resemble their own home. That’s why I tried to provide everything necessary, to bring some cute little things, – Katya recalls. – I am now implementing these very principles in the shelter I am responsible for. Now it is extra important to find yourself in a space that would be at least to some extent comfortable and cozy.”
That is how blankets, dishes and tabletop games for kids found their way to the temporary shelter for internally displaced people. Tenants of the apartment also do their bit, the activist tells. Little girl from Zaporizhzhya got several packs of condensed milk, but took only one for herself – she left the others for people that will live here after her. Adults that moved in later bought a vacuum cleaner bag. Other tenants had brought a knife sharpener.
“These are the things that people won’t take away with them, but they are needed to make the apartment more cozy. It took one and a half months to turn the barely livable apartment into a well-equipped house where people can feel comfortable,” – Katya adds.
To widen the scope of their help, Feminist Workshop along with Katya has opened FemApartment for activists from other regions that lost their housing due to the full-scale Russia invasion. Shelter is a three-room apartment stocked with everything necessary for comfortable living. Feminist Workshop offers accomodation for women willing to help others and engage in activism. Aside from housing, the organization is going to provide help with implementation of their ideas and to grant the opportunity to use the office. Activists can live in the shelter for free up to half a year, and under special circumstances that period may be prolonged.
“FemApartment” is a place where women can relax, recharge psychologically and physically before returning to active work,” – Katya adds.
There is a good reason why leisure is explicitly outlined in the rules. Delving into search for accommodation has shown that, aside from material conditions, emotional comfort is important as well. Take, for instance, the elerly couple from Zaporizhia for whom Katya has recently provided accommodation.
“She is 60, he is 65, both were under attacks, – activist recalls. – We met them, found accommodation for a few days. Woman told us how they were packing their belongings. How can 40 years fit in one suitcase, she asked, and showed several photos of women, some photos from their wedding, and her jewelry. They stayed for several days, I walked them to the car, and we promised each other to meet again after the war. That was the first time I heard such stories and realized how hard it is to flee from home, how hard it is to pack the suitcase and leave not knowing whether you will be able to return.”
In addition to these initiatives, Feminist Workshop is now working at the creation of the new shelter for refugees and their children.
Ivanka and babysitting
Ivanka joined Feminist Workshop less than a month ago. It is her second war. She is originally from Luhansk oblast, and she had first fled to Kharkiv, escaping the war on Donbass. And now the activist moved to Lviv, as in 2022 Kharkiv is under attack.
Vigorous vegan that hitchhiked across the globe, anarchist, feminist and animal rights activist couldn’t just sit around in Lviv. At first Ivanka suffered from survivor guilt, and to deal with it she began to volunteer since the moment of her evacuation to the safe zone: she sorted humanitarian help, made masking nets and served food to people at the railway station. When she got herself together, she understood what her strength was.
“I will offer free childcare for internally displaced women. Back in the first days, when I volunteered for the Red Cross as a child psychologist, I saw that many mothers were emotionally drained. They needed someone to read fairy-tales for the children, to soothe them, to change their diapers.” – Ivanka explains.
Why babysitting? Even back at Kharkiv, Ivanka was known as a “progressive nanny that rides a pink bike”. Activist has teacher education, but she says that she got some experience working with children when she herself was still a child: she was the eldest granddaughter that helped to entertain the kids.
“Even in peacetime mothers found that their life literally revolved around their kids: they always needed to be close to them, they were ought to ignore their own needs. And then it became even more difficult. I saw how several families were looking for accommodation with a baby in their arms, – Ivanka recalls. – And that is not their only problem: women are standing in lines to receive humanitarian aid, go through registration procedures… It is much easier to do, when someone can care for the child for a few hours.”
The youngest baby that Ivanka babysitted was 7 month old, and the oldest was 11 years old. Activist says that she mostly babysits kids under 10, as these are younger children that are in dire need of childcare.
Ivanka has recently heard that due to the war more than 20 thousands teachers had fled the country. That is why not only she babysits, but also helps kids to master their reading, writing and math skills.
“I realize that evacuated people have PTSD. Children may be afraid of loud noises, to be afraid of something that earlier belonged to their routine. – Ivanka says – I also understand that the distrust on parents’ side is an issue. Back in Kharkiv I had a customer base, and I didn’t even have to write a resume. And here I have to start anew. However the fact that I am part of the Feminist Workshop must me reassuring for the parents. That platform guarantees safety.”
Ivanka takes kids for a walk when the weather allows. They may also stay indoors, either at home or in the special room of “Feminist Workshop”. Organization turned an office room into a room suitable for work with kids: now there is a projector for cartoons, coloring books, crayons, watercolors – everything needed for the creative development of children. Room’s maximum capacity is 10 kids.
“Some people find it hard to accept help – I, myself, am one of these people. But it is so cool when somebody helps you! Everyone deserves a rest, and mothers are not an exception. If the nanny would babysit a kid for a few hours, that doesn’t negate the mother’s efforts or make her a bad person”, – Ivanka adds.
If you think that others need help more than you do, please share the information about free nanny services and contacts that may be found here.
Anastasia-Lyubov and helping grannies
Anastasia-Lyubov confesses that serenity belongs to her top priorities. And even though it may be hard to find in times of war in Ukraine, she tries not to forget about it.
“Activism invigorates and exhausts at the same time, – she says. – Compared with the previous year I feel superenergised, but during each day I aspire not to lose all the energy, as I know that it will take plenty of time to recharge. I arrange short breaks: talking to myself, looking through the window, drinking tea while not thinking of work”.
Anastasis-Lyubov adds that the amount of energy that activism gives depends on particular tasks and your attitude. That is why when in the end of February there were discussions which lines of work may be relevant for Feminist Workshop, Anastasia-Lyubov thought of grannies. She says grannies’ warmth that she herself lacked in childhood appeals to her greatly, and that is why it’s a pleasure to work with them.
“That was my initiative. Grannies belong to vulnerable populations. It is difficult for them even in peacetime, and now it is even harder. So I thought that it would be great to provide them with food, help with housework, and talk to them”, – she adds.
It was in the end of March when Feminist Workshop had developed a scheme of engaging the volunteers and created an instruction detailing communication with grannies. Then Anastasia-Lyubov along with other activists delivered first packages with humanitarian aid. They contacted grannies the day before: it was important to ensure that each particular granny needs help and lives alone, and they also needed to be warned about the visit.
“Grannies react in different ways, – activist recalls. – Some thank us and eagerly accept what is given. Others begin to complain that the state didn’t provide the help earlier even though we explain that we aren’t a state institution. Third group says that they don’t need anything, mention warriors, refugees, people that need it more, but finally accept our packages”
Activists provide grannies with food, but they can also help with household chores: they can cook dinner or dust the furniture. When they leave, they always give elderly women their contacts: grannies may call them if such need arises.
“Our grannies support program is not only about material support. We also provide emotional support,” – Anastasia-Lyubov stresses.
Activists also aspire to create good neighborhood relations, to help elderly women feel safe and in the right place.
“It would be great if grannies could find common ground with each other and with volunteers. It’s not easy to achieve, but we are working on it. It would be great if grannies could befriend and visit each other”, – she adds.
Now the team of “Feminist workshop” continues to gather a contact base of grannies in need of help by contacting heads of house cooperatives. Activists have also recently printed posters and hung them all over the city.
“Sometimes women that need our help don’t use phones, that is why we ask people that may know that grannies to redirect them to us.” – Anastasia-Lyubov specifies.
Those willing to join the initiative as volunteers may contact the team. Now not only do the volunteers join the activists in visits to grannies, but they also help to raise funds. Volunteers are important participants in the work with elderly women, that’s why Feminist Workshop discusses with them both their previous experience and future plans.
Ksenya and psychological help
Blogger Ksenya joined the “Feminist workshop” in 2020. She explains that she did it as it’s important for her to “promote values of horizontality, inclusivity, diversity, and equality” through all possible channels. Now activist is responsible for three areas of work: she creates content for social media, organizes events, and communicates with activists from other cities that are in need of the shelter. She also coordinates provision of psychological help.
“All my responsibilities concern emotions and psychology, – Ksenya explains. – I guess, I am really good at identifying the needs of people and asking about them in the right way. That is extra important, as we all need to keep up morale in order to bring victory closer. And it is really hard to be constantly anxious, to fear for one’s life, for the life of loved ones, for the future of your country.”
One of the ways to cope with the stress is weekly meetings of consciousness-raising group organised by Feminist Workshop. Activists call it “Worshiping Lilith”. Ksenya explains that the format originated in the United States in the 1960s.
“Women meet in the safe space in the company of up to 10 people and discuss personal matters which are actually always political. That helps them to understand that their experience isn’t, in fact, unique. – activist explains. – They discuss discrimination and violence from which they suffer. Not only do you have a possibility to understand that you are not to blame, that it’s a part of the system – you are also getting inspired to turn your shame into anger or energy that you may later use when fighting with the root cause of the problem”.
Ksenya remembers the girl that came to Lviv from another city to visit “Worshiping Lilith”. She felt so comfortable, she liked it so much that she wanted to come again, regardless of what it costs her to come to Lviv. People come to “Lilith” to get relaxed, Ksenya says, to have a space where they can be themselves and discuss topics that cannot be discussed with friends or parents. “Feminist workshop” provides a safe space for them. Only members of the community or their friends that can vouch for them can come at the meeting. It is important for all the participants to share the same values and maintain confidentiality.
“No one was denied entry, but those willing to join us should understand that we are the group of women and nonbinary people that feel comfortable in the space that centres women experience”, – Ksenya adds.
In addition to long-term projects aimed at building better mental health she is also in charge of one-time events. She organizes Ukrainian movie screenings, workshops etc. Among recent events there were workshops on fact checking and first aid in extreme situations. These events help people to relax, to reflect upon important topics, to change their focus and to gain useful knowledge. It also helps Ksenya to prevent burnout.
“When I see immediate results of my activism, that gives me plenty of energy. Activism, however, often works with long-term processes. I am constantly checking my mental state so as not to lose myself: when I understand that I am in need of rest, I take a pause, try to approach everything from a different angle, and then it gets better”, – Ksenya shares.
As activists often need professional psychological help, “Feminist workshop” offers 10 consultations to those living in the shelter. Ksenya is also responsible for finding therapists for them.
Activist plans to persist fighting on the psychological battlefront. She says that during crises the situation of vulnerable populations is getting worse, as all their problems intensify.
Nastia and media activities
“Feminist workshop” aspires to cover all problems that were relevant before the war and those that arised during the full-scale invasion, looking at them through feminist lens, activist Nastia says. She is responsible for media work for a number of years, and she understands: the more the information – the easier to get lost.
“It’s important for us that during war women would not be excluded from media coverage, that their needs and contribution to the future victory would be assessed correctly. – Nastia explains. – Of course for now the media is full of stories of atrocities, destruction and Ukrainians’ morale. Attention gets unfocused. We want to make every story visible”.
To contribute to that goal activists cover the volunteering of members of the Feminist Workshop community that welcome refugees in their homes, cook, help at the border, make masking nets, engage in media volunteering.
It helps them that there is the online community that Nastia along with other colleagues has been working at for a year. The activists understood that their content should be informative and interactive. Made that way, it provides information and at the same time helps to build a community. Their strategy was successful: in a year the number of subscribers increased on all their platforms. When the war was waged, “Feminist Workshop” already had a base of active subscrivers: community quickly responded for calls to participate in the new areas of work and volunteer.
“For example, we found 20 volunteers for our program that provides help for elderly women in social media. One post and google form was enough, – Nastia says. – And when we announce a new line of work, information is getting actively shared”.
For now fun and informative content transformed into more practical. Instead of publications on different kinds of sexuality, subscribers of Feminist Workshop will see the posts with contacts of the volunteers that will help to get to safe zone from the dangerous areas, or videos on mestruation and reproductive health during the war.
“Our social media and website allow us to discuss problems that are especially relevant during the war: violence, women engaging in activities of country etc. That is important because in the media these topics don’t receive enough coverage,” – activist tells.
In “Feminist workshop” it is understood, however, that useful and “serious” content in not everything people need today. Sometimes one wants to distract oneself and have fun.
“That is why we also create more lighthearted content, – Nastia explains. – Our subscribers are used to it, as earlier we posted plenty of fun content. That is why now something like that may also be found on our pages. We continue to create an online community with a friendly atmosphere of support and help”.
Sasha and international community
British newspaper The Guardian on the 4th of April, American channel CNN on the 13th of April were using feminist perspective and focusing on women’ problems when covering war in Ukraine. Activist of “Feminist workshop” Sasha was talking to them about status of women, their role in Ukraininan society and, specifically, during the war. She says that it’s tough to remember when she became responsible for the communication with international media, but the skills she mastered help her to do this work successfully.
“I am where I’m supposed to be, – she says. – After some interviews in English, my foreign friends and acquaintances wrote to me and told me that my words were useful for them, They learned something new, something they never had a chance to reflect upon, as I was speaking from the particular perspective of Feminist Workshop.”
Sasha’s explanation about the importance of it is brief: feminist perspective is absent from media, that is why when feminist voice is heard, is stands out and gets remembered.
It is important for “Feminist workshop” to have diverse activists’ voices in media, and part of Sasha’s responsibility is providing help to others willing to communicate with media. Before going to the interview, girls can talk to her and get some advice.
Before the war Sasha was responsible for educational projects and communication with international organizations. She is convinced: all these areas of work make Feminist Workshop unique. Particular activities may be copied, but you can’t copy approaches to work, ways of interacting with each other.
“What I’m doing may not be as fundamental as working with housing or safety. But among all services offered by other organizations, our activities add a touch of uniqueness, – she reckons. – We are a unique community with unique talents under unique circumstances. Even though we’re exhausted due to war, we don’t give up.”
“Feminist workshop” is active since 2014. Its main objective is the creation of the space that would allow feminist community of Lviv and Ukraine to feel safe and to grow further. However, organization also responds to pressing issues and new challenges that concern the society. To learn more about how you can support the organization now please follow the link.
Text (ukr): Hanna Belovolchenko Translation: Kira Leonova Photo: Tania Dzhafarova Video: Dmytro Markevych, Oleksii Zinevych (videographers), Ihnat Semchuk (editing director)