Anna Zharova: “Over the last year I’ve learned a lot about people”
At 6:30 p.m. on 26 January a rally will be held outside the Russian embassy in Tel-Aviv in support of Nadezhda Savchenko, who has been held in a remand prison in Moscow for over half a year. The organizers of the protest are volunteers from “Israel friends of Ukraine”.
Savchenko is a senior lieutenant, navigator and operator of a Mi-24 helicopter of the 3rd separate army aviation regiment of the Ukrainian air force, and was also elected people’s deputy of the Supreme Rada on 26 October in absentia. Nadezhda is charged with killing Russian journalists from the All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company and civilians, which allegedly took place on 17 June 2014 while she was on military duty near Lugansk. On 8 July she was put in custody, initially in Voronezh, and then in Moscow. In mid-December, after five months in prison, Savchenko went on an indefinite hunger strike, which is continuing to this day…
Today’s rally will not be the first action by Israelis. Throughout last year, the activists from “Israel supports Ukraine” held protests outside the Russian embassy and peace marches in Tel-Aviv and Haifa.
Since the beginning of Maidan, Israelis have not only supported Ukraine morally, but also provided real assistance. The public organization “Israeli Friends of Ukraine” was created by the efforts of several Facebook communities for help, support and strengthening ties with Ukraine. The main activity of Israeli volunteers is providing various types of assistance for soldiers in the ATO, injured people, orphanages, the elderly and refugees. To raise money more quickly and efficiently, volunteers not only work actively through social networks, discuss their work in the media and hand out leaflets, but also hold charity campaigns: a concert by the group Vopli Vidoplyasova in Israel and “Supper with a Star”, an auction with the support of the Ukrainian embassy in Israel, the campaign “Eat a dumpling – clothe a soldier”, gathering presents for Ukrainian children at Hanukkah and others.
Anna Zharova, one of the founders of “Israeli friends of Ukraine”, and who is also a member of the organizing committee of today’s rally, talked to jewishnews.com.ua about how her life was turned upside down almost a year ago:
“When they started firing on Maidan, I didn’t sleep all night, and stayed glued to Facebook. My friends and people I had worked with in the past wrote about what was happening in Kiev…”
I read one post requesting help to find a hospital in Israel for urgent treatment for two people injured at Maidan: Artyom Zapototsky and Alexander Guch. I saw comments on the post by Marina Lysak, who I had known since 2007, and Maria Tishko, who I also knew from our joint work in Israel [Lysak was one of the founders of “Volunteer 100”, and is now in charge of one of the largest volunteer organizations “Everyone can help”. Tishkov is a representative of the “Aimer” company for medical tourism in Israel– editor’s note.] I wrote to Marina and Maria asking if I could help in any way.
I also came across the group “Israel supports Ukraine” on Facebook, which announced a rally on 7 March outside the Russian embassy in protest against the country’s actions. There we met for the first time, drew up a plan of action and went to the airport, to meet the injured people from Maidan. Beside Zapototsky and Guch there were another eight people, and one boy had arrived a day earlier accompanied by a volunteer.
The first month of our work was very difficult and intensive. 24 hours passed by very quickly, and a new day began. The first and main task was to organize all the volunteer activity – to help with communicating with the doctors, visiting the patients, and many other things. In literally one day, a team of talented and wonderful people was formed. We allocated responsibility for various areas in organizing help – and everything came together quickly.
We opened the group “Israel helps Maidan wounded” so that volunteers could get in touch with each other and discuss all the important issues about the injured people undergoing treatment in Israel. I remember that I posted a picture of hands on the page of the group, and my four-year-old child asked me why I was constantly opening “these hands”.
Then I realized that “these hands” were people who could do something together. This was the first experience in my life when one idea caused a whole chain of actions with it, and as a result I found myself in a new world – a world of people prepared to do a lot and organize all of this aid. Everyone in our team is very different, with different sorts of activity, but they are all professionals in what they do. And only together could we achieve a result that we would not have had without each other.
And of course, without the support of my entire family I would not have been able to achieve even half of what I did.
In my opinion, the most precise definition of our activity is “help with help”. This is what gives people the strength to endure the most terrible and difficult times.
25 injured people have been treated in Israel since this initiative was founded: 11 from Maidan and 14 from the ATO. At present, the main focus of our work is on helping soldiers, injured people and refugees. There is a large network of many volunteer groups in Ukraine which help to provide us with support in the country.
Over the last year I’ve found out a lot about people. The first thing that I experienced during this year several times was that the impossible is possible. If you really want something and do a lot to achieve your goal, then you can literally “lay open the heavens”.
We have gained trust which can not be bought for any price, and I am very grateful to the people who believe in us. Thanks to our work, including in social networks, I gained a huge number of acquaintances, who subsequently became friends.
During this year I not only gave something of my own, but I also received a lot in return.
We provide diverse support for Ukraine, and of course we do not divide people who need help into Jews and non-Jews. But I can say that people from the Jewish community in Ukraine, or who simply have Jewish ancestry and live there, are very heavily involved in all volunteer activity.
I was born in Ukraine and lived there for 20 years, and most of the time I didn’t think about this country very much. But in 1999 I went to the WUJS (World Union of Jewish Students) which was held here in Israel. There were students there from all over the world, and a “mishlahat” of seven people from Ukraine. On the first day, we had to represent our country, and while we were thinking how to present Ukraine, I heard several people say: “What we can show them, anyway? We really have nothing to show.” I was very hurt by these words, we argued, but we still did something in the end. This was the first time that I felt bitter because I was so indifferent to the concept of “my country”.
A year later I moved to Israel, and here I began to feel interest in Ukrainian history, culture, politics, and the Ukrainian language, which I had always loved.
Israel is my country. But my connection with Ukraine and the desire to show it to my children has become stronger than ever before.
In 2014, Israel and Ukraine became closer. During Operation “Protective Edge” last summer, there were mass rallies in support of Israel held in Kiev, Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov and other Ukrainian cities. The grief that Ukraine is currently experiencing has given rise to a real breakthrough in dialogue between our countries.
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