New Year, New Dignity Aid Update
What a holiday season it has been! At 1am on New Year’s Day Odesa had its firework display: a haunting flood of red tracer bullets shooting up into the sky, searching for the invisible drones and missiles which threatened the civilian population below. I sat with a few friends and silently watched this deadly torrent of explosive capability disappear into the darkness, pondering the strangeness of this world. Just a few minutes before, we had been engaged in lively conversation about travel and philosophy and other cheerful holiday subjects. Now, somber, we watched as flaming reminders of our own mortality and helplessness in the face of larger forces filled the air overhead.
For one year and eleven months now, Ukrainians have been facing this paradox. Life can be rich and beautiful anywhere; indeed, some of my most memorable evenings have been in homes near the front lines, with exploding artillery shells filling the role of an unearthly background music. But those reminders are tiring as well. The possibility of an air raid alarm going off at any moment, of a young man being suddenly drafted, of your husband or father or friend returning from the front lines without a leg, or an arm—these are the realities of war, realities which often make those rich and beautiful moments seem few and far between.
It is for that reason that your continued support is so appreciated. You’ll read below about a unique variety of projects that Dignity Aid International is helping to coordinate, from men’s mental health groups to English Speaking Clubs. You’ll hopefully also feel some of the beauty and richness which is felt among our team members and in interactions with beneficiaries, from villagers to psychiatric patients. Thank you for making that possible despite the ups and downs of your own journeys.
One other note about the holidays here in Ukraine, which is a credit to our team and will probably interest many of you: for many centuries, Eastern Orthodox regions have celebrated Christmas and New Year’s two weeks after they are celebrated in more Western regions (around Jan. 7 and 14 respectively). Given the recent belligerence of its more Orthodox-aligned neighbor in the north, however, Ukraine decided this year to change its official Christmas celebrations to December 25 and its official New Year’s Day to January 1. While many are embracing the change and its implications, others are understandably attached to old rhythms and cautious about abandoning old traditions. As a result, the holiday season in Ukraine really begins in late December and lasts into late January, a delightful little quirk of the region which has provided some scheduling and logistics challenges but also much joy and good company for many of our team members. We hope that the season was one of hope for you and yours, wherever and however it found you, and that your batteries are renewed for the coming twelve months, whatever they may bring.
Thanks to your incredible generosity during our fall fundraiser, we entered the holiday season with more than $4,500 in the Dignity Aid accounts. And thanks to the incredible diligence of the Dignity Aid team, since that time, we’ve spent almost $4,500 helping Ukrainians over the holidays! Special thanks go out to Nika Kiyanitsa, who has coordinated 3 in-person village distributions (~$3,500 expenses in the last 2 months), and to Sasha Pavlenko, who has coordinated our weekly psychiatric hospital visits (~$2,000 expenses in the last 2 months, half covered by private donors and half by Dignity Aid). We only have about $1,000 remaining in Dignity Aid accounts, and we’re already planning another village distribution along with other continuing projects, so any further donations will be greatly appreciated. Receipts from the targeted village distributions are online here: TVD Receipts – Google Drive; other receipts are in processing as well.
Primary Ongoing Projects
Targeted Village Distributions: From November 2023 to January 2024, Dignity Aid International made three deliveries of targeted humanitarian assistance to two remote villages affected by war and poverty. This aid, totaling more than 3,000 pounds (1,400+ kg), included such items as soap, toilet paper, flour, canned tomatoes, household nails, and diapers for children and the elderly. Households were able to request needed items from a form provided by Dignity Aid; requests were then compiled and items purchased in local supermarkets with a balance being struck between price and quality of items. This project, which includes some relatively innovative aspects in the local humanitarian response, would not be possible without the support of a significant team: Nika Kiyanitsa and Oleksandr ___, who guided Ukraine Response Coordinator Abe Collier in every step of the process from needs assessment through purchasing to delivery; village volunteers Svetlana (Luch) and Natalya (Soshe-Ostrivs’ke) who coordinated the delicate matter of selecting beneficiaries and ensuring proper distribution; and our great partners at Manifest Charity Foundation (based in Odesa) who provided crucial information in the assessment process as well as the van and fuel for three distribution visits so far.
Targeted Village Distributions – Map of Operations, Nov 15 – Jan 15 2023
L to R: Abe with Svetlana in Luch, Nika working in Soshe-Ostrivs’ke, Oleksandr on the road
Odesa Psychiatric Hospital: Our weekly Saturday visits to provide nutritional and psychosocial support to mental patients continue to run smoothly, in large part thanks to the diligent efforts of coordinator Alex Pavlenko as well as well as to the generous donations of Dave Hutton and the Grassroots Hero Foundation, Chris Hennemeyer, Gary Campbell, Jenny Ashcheulova, Elena Oiberman, and others. We continue to seek new ways to help at the hospital; in the past month, this included a gift of presents for children who have to stay in the hospital as well as new cages for birds at the Odesa Zoo, where we often visit after.
Top: Patients at the Odesa Psychiatric Hospital
Bottom L: Valentina, Colombian volunteer, distributing biscuits
Bottom R: Driver Dima & volunteers Alex, Chris (USA), and Abe
Kozhen Mental Health Meetings: Dignity Aid International continues to help coordinate the weekly meetings of a small group of men in Odesa who meet and discuss mental health issues in whichever language is most convenient for that week’s participants. Participants continue to report positive outcomes, and we hope for continued growth in the future! A special thanks to Maksim Levakin for his coordination on this project.
The Voluntarian Podcast: For those who haven’t heard (Abe is maybe a little self-conscious), Dignity Aid is sponsoring a small podcast which has two episodes published and two more in the editing process. We’ll be posting more about these soon; I think everyone can find something which will resonate with them in the various perspectives which we’ve heard from so far. You can find us on:
And for serious podcasters: The RSS feed
Human Front Aid & Plich-o-plich Emergency Cash Distribution: Dignity Aid volunteers continue helping to support the transfer of donations from Switzerland to Ukraine and the distribution of cash in amounts of $50-100 to needy families, primarily from occupied territories in the east of Ukraine.
Onovlena Ukraina English Speaking Club: Dignity Aid volunteers have attended a number of Saturday English clubs with young people in partnership with Odesa-based organization Onovlena Ukraina, which also sponsors art therapy and horseback-riding lessons for children in need, particularly those from occupied territories in the east of Ukraine.
Photo from a recent Onovlena Ukraina English Speaking Club, with Abe and volunteer Steffen from Germany
Manifest Mira Administrative Support: Dignity Aid volunteers continue to support Manifest Mira with proposal drafting and report editing as necessary.
Food for Life Charitable Kitchen: Dignity Aid continues volunteers continue to give their time to this Hare Krishna-sponsored charitable kitchen, which does daily distributions to the needy in Odesa as well as weekly or twice-monthly trips to serve hot meals under artillery fire in the civilian zones of Kherson. We’re particularly grateful for the work of UK volunteer Mark Hodgkins in regularly accompanying this team close to the front lines and thereby maintaining ties with the Food for Life crew!
Finally, In Closing…
Love goes out from each of us on the team, to all of you. We appreciate your continued support. Reach out to me anytime and I’ll get back to you as soon as I possibly can. Big thanks to Maddy Collier for her diligent work on social media, to Karsten Fuhrken for his financial and moral support (glad to have you back in Ukraine for a few days right now!), to everyone, more than I can name, always. I am so privileged to be in the midst of it all.
Ukraine Response Coordinator
Dignity Aid International | Odesa, Ukraine
WhatsApp: + 1 385-202-8624
Ukraine/Telegram: +380 98-301-1327