"Teple misto" continues to share stories of volunteer initiatives within the "Shelter Ukraine" project

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How to make refugees a part of a community: a story of the Drogobych shelter team

"Teple misto" continues to share stories of volunteer initiatives within the "Shelter Ukraine" project.

Drohobych is a small town in the Lviv region that has resettled hundreds of refugees since the beginning of the large-scale invasion. There they are cared for by the charitable foundation "Tsekh dobroty" ("Workshop of kindness"). Until February 24, the foundation helped children and adults receive treatment abroad. After the russian invasion of Ukraine, volunteers of "Tsekh dobroty" accommodated about 400 people from Kharkiv, Kherson, Mykolaiv, Zaporizhzhya, Donetsk, and Luhansk in Drohobych.

The co-founder of "Tsekh dobroty", Yuriy Tsykhivskyi, told us more about the organization and integration of the new residents into the community's life.

 

— Yuriy, tell us about the first steps: how did you find the premises suitable for shelter?

Foremost, we made a kind of inventory of premises in the town. We checked which of them are potentially suitable for habitation. We drew attention to the dormitories of the Pedagogical University. They can house 800 people, but students haven't lived there for several years since the Coronavirus pandemic started. We renovated the rooms, created decent living conditions, renovated the heating, and made cosmetic repairs in the bedrooms and bathrooms.

We also reached out to the locals for help. People just gave their houses for accommodation — someone for three months, half a year, or a year. In exchange, we did small renovations on the premises. So, we didn't spend resources to build something from scratch but upgraded what we already have, and these upgrades will continue to work for the town and its inhabitants. All in all, we were able to place about 1000 refugees.

— Organizing a shelter is a big task that requires the participation of a team. How many people are on your team?

As such, there is no permanent team. At the beginning of the full-scale war, when we realized that numerous displaced people would come to the town and needed to create conditions for them, we called for volunteer help through the local media. Someone helped with the physical work, and others gave materials and furniture. In the beginning, we did not have a budget, but then foundations and organizations began to help us, so we asked people to bring what they no longer use, which is no longer needed, but in good condition.

In the beginning, we had about 300 volunteers. Some teams were involved in repairing projects, a team that collected applications for what was needed and who gave what, another team put together and distributed the resources received, and another team looked for other organizations and grant programs that could help. There was no hierarchy in the teams, but a clear distribution of duties.

As part of the “Shelter Ukraine” project, implemented by “SILab Ukraine”, “Teplo misto”, “Valores Foundation”, and “VPLYV FUND” with support from “Razom for Ukraine”, shelters in Drohobych received household appliances for the kitchens.

— Clearly, just making a space where people can sleep is not enough. How do you turn a shelter into a place where people can feel at home?

In dormitories, in general, the premises are already thought out — it was only minimal improvements remained for us. For example, to equip rooms where people can communicate and spend leisure time, to prepare playrooms for children. Also, in addition to household infrastructure, we considered entertainment and integration into the town's life for refugees: we organized medical centers where people could seek medical help; there is an information office where they could learn more about the town's history. We organized excursions and trips to the zoo for kids and even carried picnics in the village where Ivan Franko was born (Nahuievychi — ed.).

— You are doing outstanding work. Do you get any help from local authorities?

Everyone — from the university administration to the town, district, and regional councils — supports us. We want people to come to Drohobych and stay here. Unfortunately, it will take a long time to restore the destroyed cities. Even Kyiv will not be the same as before. And people will be looking for new job opportunities and places to settle. Drohobych has many production capacities that were not used before. We already have requests from large enterprises and factories to relocate their business to our town. Instead, they want to get housing for employees and their families. So now it matters to us to renovate the city, to refresh what we already have. It's also an input to the town's economy because the local enterprises will be involved in the renovation.

We also give a job to refugees in the shelter project. For example, some people joined the building processes: they started as volunteers and successfully passed the way to master builders. In other words, we gave people not just housing, food, and other goods but also the opportunity to do something and receive money. Such integration is crucial to making people want to stay in the city.

— Thank you for your work! And, at last, what is the main advice you would give those planning to set up a shelter or start a similar socially important project?

The most important thing is to assemble a team. Because it will be difficult to carry everything by yourself and keep up with everything, a single person cannot be an expert in everything. Therefore, it is crucial to find the needed puzzle that will make one picture in the final. If you have already decided to make a shelter or any other socially useful initiative, don't be afraid to give your resources — money, time, and passion. You will find a team and some supporting funds, but in the beginning, you have to give something to get it later. Be the first to go, to cut through the jungle and lead the others.

 

The Shelter Ukraine initiative emerged to organize comfortable conditions for living in safer regions of Ukraine and reduce the outflow of Ukrainians abroad. It united four organizations — SILab Ukraine, “Teple misto”, Valores Foundation and VPLYV FUND.

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