Moving from the safe space

I am honored to include as a guest blog this message sent a few days ago by Lena Kashkarova a young leader of Initiatives of Change in Ukraine who interned with Hope in the Cities last fall. Lena leads the House in Baranivka project

. She and her colleagues are building a meeting place and establishing a community of people who are working to improve society.

Here it gets more and more scary to see how far the situation will go. I started volunteering for a hot line of “Euromaidan SOS” (Euromaidan, literally “Eurosquare,” the movement of Ukraine’s ongoing street demonstrations) which provides legal help to those detained and helps to find those missing. It’s painful to hear how many people were kidnapped and detained by police (or kidnapped and then delivered to detention centers) and what they went through. There have already been cases of murders, maiming and torturing of protesters. It’s completely surreal to see what my country has turned into in just a few months. I was in Baranivka when the killings started and the feeling of being completely helpless was just unbearable. And at the same time it’s always scary to make a first step and leave the safe place. However, as soon as I make the choice and start doing something the fear goes away. I’m learning tips about how it works. A few weeks ago I went to a national forum of regional Euromaidans in Kharkiv, close to the Russian border, to run a dialogue. There I observed and experienced some of the realities of Ukraine at their extremes for the first time. There was no place in the whole city that would agree to rent out a space for the forum. The only place where we got accepted was a church that got attacked just in few minutes after the start of the forum by supporters of the authorities.   The next day the same church received a message that there was a bomb inside. Luckily, it turned out to be disinformation. We moved around the city only in big groups with volunteer security guards, or by taxi. One of the working groups that gathered in the bookstore got attacked and two guards were badly injured. It all felt like being in a stupid movie. For the first time in my life I realized that I’m in a country with no laws whatsoever and the choice I will be facing is between keeping completely silent and passive, leaving the country, or living every day in danger of being imprisoned, beaten or whatever else. It took the whole way back to Baranivka for me to get used to this thought… In all of this nightmare, what makes me really proud and often makes me want to cry is seeing so many people who overcame their fear and are ready to risk their lives, not to be silent observers of oppression and injustice. The more the authorities become cruel, the more people become fearless. There are lots of questions about the most radical forces of the protests; there’s a lack of plan and positive vision of what exactly the protesters want to achieve; there’s deep mistrust of all politicians – including those from the opposition; there are difficulties in hearing people with another point of view – it’s all here. The protest movement is not perfect at all. But there is an unprecedented courage, a sense of responsibility and solidarity that I see. In the US I was wondering what made those people who fought against segregation ready to risk their lives. I didn’t know then that I would witness the same in my own country very soon….Much love and appreciation for your moral support. The more insane it becomes, the more I start appreciating my friends all around the world! Lena