Like a living organism, any social phenomenon passes through three stages – birth, development/formation and dying. Volunteering in Ukraine passed them swiftly, starting almost from scratch, when it seemed to many Ukrainians that volunteers are some kind of poor people, who pick up dogs in the streets and wash wings of swans, as if there is nothing else to do in life; to the incredible sacrifice, heroism and dedication in 2014-2015, mixed with the surprised admiration of both, the world and Ukrainians themselves ‒ it turns out that we are, we can change something and we do it.
It does not make sense to describe all the stages of development of volunteering in Ukraine ‒ much has been said about this and in different shades. During this time, Ukrainian volunteerism has experienced everything ‒ including internal squabbles, fraud, career intrigues around the new government, and parasitism on the topic of volunteers. However, in the fifth year of the war, we were all tired, the euphoria was dispelled and the mood returned to the usual course. If in 2014 25% of Ukrainians felt themselves the owners of their lives (this was a record since 2000, according to the Monitoring Research Institute of Sociology “Ukrainian Society”), in 2017, these again were 19% ‒ the figure is fairly stable for all years of independence. We are accustomed to living in new conditions, and once again we switched from the problems of the country to the problems of own families.
The active part of society, volunteers, is not an exception. Some of them returned to their business and basic work. Some of them mastered the profession and found their niche according to real skills. Some work on grants, which, in fact, is also a sign of professionalization. There are only individual heroic people, who behave the same way as four years ago. It became their life.
And although, according to the Monitoring Study of the Institute of Sociology “Ukrainian Society”, in 2017, 56% of Ukrainians trusted to volunteers (more to their families and relatives and neighbors only), alongside trust and enthusiasm in society, they are increasingly experiencing a different feeling: irritation and anger, when, like in the well-known Soviet film “Office Romance”, sometimes I want to say: “Shurochka, go… to the bookkeeping!”. One of the last reasons for this was the information that the Ministry of Defense is preparing an Instruction on the accreditation of the front-line volunteers, as well as the post of despair and fatigue in the social network of one well-known volunteer, accompanied by a picture on which a tired angel, hired by a man, with the lowered wings, is plowing the ground. The post caused mixed feelings ‒ from pity to irritation: thank you, take care of yourself, but no one forced her ‒ you took it voluntarily, and you did, then do not complain…
Yes, indeed, in order to make life in Ukraine better, each of us first and foremost must stop hoping for the state and transfer the blame for all own problems to it, learn to take responsibility for themselves, become more active, going beyond the limits of their own world. But has volunteering to stay in the same form as it appeared in Ukraine four years ago? A volunteer is a person, who voluntarily, at his own expense, engages in selfless, socially important activity. But in a time, free from his basic work, which gives him the opportunity to earn bread for himself and his family.
“My principled position ‒ volunteering remained in 2014,” the Deputy Chairman of the NGO “Pobratymy” Ivona Kostina said. “People should have the resources for a decent life. And when they do their work well, they should receive a decent reward. This is very important in order to improve the quality of the product (any). And if you think about surviving of your own family, and while trying to help others, this, in my opinion, has no future”.
“The military-civilian volunteer movement, in the form in which it arose, fulfilled its mission,” social psychologist Oleg Pokalchuk believes. “The transformation of the status of the participants took place in three directions. 1) People have found the point of application for their professional knowledge in the field of defense and national security. 2) People used this time for learning and continue to learn. 3) People help their new friends simply on a friendly basis, and when there is such an opportunity. Behind the practical and effective application remained the political component. Since a volunteer-politician, who does not own anything other than patriotic intentions, by status and opportunities turned out to be lower than a member of any party. It turned out that the bureaucratic procedures are rather boring. They are called elections”.
If volunteering becomes the main, the only activity of a person, then does it harm a volunteer and his family, or even society? Or are those people of a special psychological composition, and volunteering without borders is possible with compensation for some personal problems?
“There cannot be generalizations here,” Oleg Pokalchuk says. “The only thing that can be said is that in volunteering, people manifest themselves as they were before. They do not become other or new people with new personality traits with the help of their work. This is just as stupid delusion as the belief in the sacred influence of the institution of marriage as if it magically makes a person better. It’s like with “avatars” (drunkards at the front ‒ translator’s note), who drank before the army. Only volunteerism is sacred, creating a halo of immunity, like Caesar’s wife is above suspicion. However, people with experience of war have become more, this hypnosis does not work on them, and they can ask directly: “And what is real?”.
“I immensely respect the true volunteers. They do a lot for society”, the psychologist Svitlana Royz says. “It seems to me that they are the heart of Ukraine. Such a lively, trembling. But when I look at them, the first ‒ I want to hug them. And the second is to ask if there is someone, to whom they trust rationality and care for themselves. I have no right to say this about volunteers. But I have an inner wariness towards those, who are going to save other children, leaving their own. For me, there is some dishonesty here. After all, our children are given to us for safekeeping”.
Volunteering is always self-assertion in one way or another, psychologists say. But people underestimate the dangers of volunteering. The volunteer meets with others’ sufferings and even death. The habitual mode of life is changing. There is no time to restore strength. Loads and the degree of emotional experience increase, and resources for recuperation are becoming less. And they burn out if the load is not distributed correctly. In the volunteer communities of the world, there are rules for this case. For example, a volunteer is not allowed to visit a hospice or hospital more than three times a week. If a volunteer violates the rule, he is excluded from the ranks of the movement.
In Ukraine, such volunteer-heroes are mostly single. Unregulated load, misunderstandings of friends, relatives, families leads them to a terrible state ‒ chronic fatigue, apathy and indifference, to nervous breakdowns or physiological disorders, when the strength is enough only to pull the blanket over one’s head, turn one’s face to the wall and a desire to see nobody. In such a state, it is difficult to assess where that line is when the public benefit from the actions of a volunteer is already turning into public harm.
This is what causes anger and irritation in others. In fact, those, who are not genuine volunteers sooner or later we will detect them. In relation to those single people, who stayed and continue to sacrifice themselves, like, for example, one of the founders of Frolovska, 9/11 Lesya Lytvynova, “Shurochka, go to the bookkeeping” sounds unfair.
Real passionaries, according to the researches, are people with really special, specific composition, for whom it is difficult to stay with their children and families. They blame themselves for this. And they cannot do otherwise. They are unbearable in a closed environment, but society needs them ‒ as a driving force if the direction is right. And it is incredibly unfortunate that when these people “burn” these huge potentials together with themselves in order to “spin the bicycle” idly, and not engage in systematic work. Normalized and at least somehow dosed.
Text by Hanna Drozd