‘Just four applicants were selected from all of Ukraine for a Peace Studies program in Bosnia. I was one of them.
Ukraine is caught up in a conflict that has forced my family to become refugees. So the program has meant a lot to me. But what has affected me the most is the country of Bosnia itself. Their war ended here 20 years ago, but Bosnians still have nothing good to say about the way their country is organized, their laws, and their living conditions. That’s not how I want to leave Ukraine for my daughter and my nephew and niece.
My daughter is deaf and has poor vision. I’m a single mother. My father’s health shows the signs of 30 years’ labor in the mines. My mother has trouble walking as result of a worn hip joint. My sister has two children and is tied to the house, caring for my nephew, who is constantly sick. I share an apartment with all of them. Until my brother-in-law moved in recently, I was the only one providing for us. There were times when I had five jobs and volunteered for aid organizations. I didn’t receive any salary, but was eligible for food stamps, and clothing… so we had enough to survive.
Of course I could have had fewer than five jobs to provide food. But that wasn’t my only incentive. I believe that relationships and conversations are the first step toward peace, and working with aid organisations makes it possible for me to have those.
The other day an official asked me what I think the city really needs. I said: a community center where professionals can serve – psychologists, legal professionals – so residents know their rights and learn how to enter into dialogue with people who feel like the enemy. After a while I got a call that the center is being built. I was asked if I would you be interested in directing it? That’s my paid job now – my first job!
Sometimes I feel like I’m about to burn out because of all of these responsibilities. I feel like running off to the forest, turning off my phone and laptop, to be left alone. But my daughter or my nephew or my niece will come to me, and then I’m reminded that quitting is just not an option.
I have a big dream: I want to join the comittee of civilians that has a say in the decisions made in Minsk - decisions that affect the country. I want to influence decision making, so that I can ensure that my daughter will be able to get an education when she’s older. So that she will be able to express her opinion. I want the citizens of this country to become the government’s top priority.
I know that my dream is not impossible, I’m already getting closer. I met someone recently who works for the United Nations. I told her about my vision for Ukraine. A month ago I received an invitation to go with my daughter to a Women’s United Nations Conference in Kiev. All expenses paid. We will draft suggestions for Ukraine. I’m part of the team that will think about peace-building. I’m getting prepared because what I say will be presented to the President of the country. I hope he will listen. To be honest, I would be glad if he even just read it.’