Blue and yellow means resilience. Dora Chomiak on how Razom supports Ukraine
Dora Chomiak uses word “resilience” to characterize Ukraine. She says it is because “resilience” means the ability to bend and not brake to her:
“It means the stability to laugh and cry at the same time, to sort of scream and laugh at the same time. To love deeply, and in many, many different ways. So that resilience is that creativity, it’s that innovations, it’s that deeply rooted knowledge of self. And the self is different, and the self is the same. Each person is different, but the sense of here, and that resilience is that word I use a lot when I talk about Ukraine today”.
Andriy Kulykov: Alright, so we’re relaunching a very successful and important podcast in English for Hromadske Radio, which is called Ukraine Calling. Its authors were Marta Dyczok from Canada and other Ukrainian compatriots from different countries. Today, I, Andriy Kulykov, am presenting this program, and what a person to start to relaunch the program with. She’s one of those who actually heard Ukraine Calling and they responded to this call. She’s Dora Chomiak, she’s the president of Razom for Ukraine, which means “together for Ukraine” in English. And I’m still in doubt whether to call this an American or international foundation. Let’s hear from Dora.
Dora Chomiak (D.C.): Hi! It’s great to be here. I would call Razom a foundation, an organization, that is focused full-on on one country, and that is Ukraine. So, we came together as an organization in late 2013, early 2014, formalized as a legal entity in the beginning of 2014. And we are a very diverse, broad, mix of individuals who have one thing in common at least. And that one thing is a desire to see Ukraine as a prosperous, sovereign country that contributes to the global community.
Andriy Kulykov (A.K.): Not only a desire would say, but also a huge amount of deeds, and a huge amount of actions. What are you concentrating on?
D.C.: Since a little before February 24th actually, our priority has been our emergency response project. So, over the past eight/nine years we’ve done a variety of projects, as you pointed out, in many different industries and spheres. Right now, our priority is to literally stop the bleeding. To stop the bleeding of people in Ukraine so that these incredibly talented people can continue to organize and build and create a country that has a thriving economy and an engaged civic community, and a responsible governments and all these things that we all want just as human beings.
So, we have been focused on our emergency response project, which is focused on, in itself, our top priority has been delivering tactical medicine to people who need it. We expanded to include the procurement and delivery of communications equipment to get that tactical medicine into the right hands. We’re working with hospitals to get equipment and medicine into…we’ve gotten a lot already in there. And we also, a few months ago, did quite a few evacuations, and we’ve already done some repatriations, so helping people get back home. That’s been most of our aid work. In parallel we’ve started up an advocacy program in which we encourage governments to support Ukraine more directly. We encourage businesses to stop funding the war machine by making their business transactions transparent if they’re doing business next door. And among the general public we’ve done hundreds of rallies and protests. So we deliver aid, and we do various advocacy programs.
A.K.: Dora Chomiak, the president of Razom for Ukraine, and although I am a regular reader of your newsletter, there’s some things that I just heard from you that is news for me. Like for instance repatriation. Could you please dwell on this?
D.C.: Sure. So we, together with our long-standing project Save SMA children (Врятувати СМАйликів) that have this rare genetic…
A.K.: Dora you know both languages, but many of our listeners would not know what Врятувати СМАйликів means
D.C.: Save SMA children (Врятувати СМАйликів) is a campaign, that like, hey kids we’ll make it in time. And this was a campaign to help kids who have this genetic disease get treatment. And just a few years ago a new treatment came up, that really with just one dose, and then you’re fine for the rest of your life. The trick is that dose is administered only in certain hospitals…
A.K.: And the cost?
D.C.: It’s for a million dollars! Amazingly, because Ukraine is amazing, a family whose newborn was diagnosed with this was able to raise able to raise enough money for their newborn, but of course this being Ukraine, this family didn’t stop with their own family, they build a whole civic movement to find other families who have children with this illness and built a real European wide and international base to help kids get the right kind of treatment and connect with the right pharmaceutical companies. So, since building off that community we’ve very quickly were able to…we were in touch with families who had extra difficulties moving around their kids who might not be as mobile. So, these are the families we were able to evacuate to safety. And some of these families now have chosen to come back to their homes, not surprisingly people want to live in their homes, right? And once the area becomes safe, for once the shelling is less frequent, once it’s deemed it’s ok for people to live there, some families have chosen to move back so that we were able to actually repatriate some families into their homes. Which is incredible if you think about the level of destruction that’s being caused by the neighbour next door.
A.K.: I only regret that we do not film and do not show this conversation because the smile you can now see on Dora Chomiak’s face is worth millions. And maybe I can tell you something in return, some news. The people who launched this campaign in Ukraine, they were in this studio, and we took part our small bit…
A.K.: Our small bit…
D.C.: See it all matters! And this is why Ukraine is so incredible. This is why for 30 years I’ve been coming here and just always been amazed at how everyone does a small bit. And that small bit all adds up, you know, by being able to be interviewed here in your studio, more people could hear about the campaign. And now, in fact, the organization that helped that is now the backbone of our distribution network. So, we procure medical supplies, and we ship them here and we track it all, and then we pack into smaller vans, and we deliver them from our warehouse directly to the hot zones where they need to be. And that first core group of people who are the drivers were involved in that previous program with the SMA kids, and so by doing specific concrete projects together you build up a network of people who you can count on and who you can trust, and who you know who to ask for help for specific things. And most importantly, who you can tolerate when either you or they mess up, because that always happen.
A.K.: Or just frequently, or maybe not so frequently but from time to time.
D.C.: We’re all human, and we always have misunderstandings, and we always make mistakes, and the question is what do you do after that? How do you make it better?
A.K.: Now we come to the material side of this story. And of course, if you’re engaged in procurement you have to know the market situation. How do we choose the goods if I may use this? How do you choose the supplies that are so vital and needed in Ukraine? How do you make your choice?
D.C.: That is a great question. We have a whole procurement team, and we’ve been, I think, getting better and better at it. In broad strokes, we look at official sources/lists of needs.
A.K.: When do you get them by the way? Because official lists are rather late.
D.C.: Yes, we’ve been through several iterations of official lists. So that’s one data source. You verify it with various experts who know those materials. And then that’s another data source, another source of information. And then we also solicit specific requests from individual regions, individual sort of first responders and defenders. And we now optimized a system where people send in a request by email. We’ve tried to make very simple instructions, but precise instructions that say, “hey this is who I am, this is who I really am, this is the contact information of the person in charge”, and that comes in into our email system, and then we have a whole team of people who collect these requests, verify them, and then another team that’s researching the materials themselves. And over the past several months we’ve gotten smarter and smarter about who is worth buying from and who will deliver when they say they will deliver. And then when things come in, we verify the quality of them.
So, another great thing about Ukraine, of course in Ukraine, there is a center, there’s already a center for testing the quality of tourniquets, of course someone in Ukraine thought this up. So, through each manufacturer, in every lot, we check the tourniquets through the specialized research center. We’ve recently for example, and we make sure the tourniquets are strong enough to hold the pressure for as long as it could take to get someone to safety, so for example we got some donated tourniquets from a reputable organization and everything, but they didn’t live up to the standards.
And so, we’re like, we can’t put them into the first aid kits, but we don’t want to throw them out. So, what we did if we marked them all up and used them for training. But so, it goes to show, just because it’s from a verifiable source, just because it’s from, you know, an important manufacturer, you still want to test it. And then you only want the highest quality things to show up in the hands of the right people because when you need a tourniquet, you need that tourniquet to work you don’t want it to be kind of…and I think we’ve been getting smarter and smarter at how we do that. And we’ve been able to get better pricing and improve the speed at which we’re able to find the supplies and move them into the right hands.
A.K.: On your website, razomforukraine.org, I read by now you have 120,000 plus donors, activists, or participants. How many of them, if you hold such statistics, are from the US, and how many of them are from elsewhere.
D.C.: That is a great question. I mean, I don’t know precisely because we haven’t stopped to really do the analysis. But of those 120,000 to 150,000 donors, I’d day the majority are from the United States. Based on my anecdotal experience of just looking through each of the cheques that everyone sends in, fairly certain we have every single state represented. We are getting more donations now from the UK, from England, and we’ve gotten some from Spain, and from France. Because we have a large digital footprint, because we have a large presence online, people can find us very easily.
A.K.: What about Canada?
D.C.: We got some Canada in there. In fact, big shutout to the Canadian railroad. The Canadian railroad made a very generous donation in the very early-early weeks. It was incredible the kind of people that were telephoning, finding our phone numbers and verifying that we really were who we were. And the Canadian railroad made a very nice contribution.
A.K.: How important in the activities of Razom for Ukraine are Ukrainian organizations in the US, Canada, and other countries?
D.C.: We have always through the years tried to collaborate on specific projects where it makes sense. So, if there is a specific tangible thing to do together, we do that thing together. So, for example, I’ve mentioned that we have increased how much advocacy work and education work we do in Washington DC, there’s an organization that’s been around for, I want to say, a 100 years, called the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, or UCCA. And they organize something called Ukraine Days, where there’s two days where everyone visits as many members of congress as you can, and they organize it, and have a briefing, and they have flyers. And so, we hooked up with them, we connected with them and did Ukraine Days about a month ago, and brought a lot of people in.
A.K.: I also read that both in your newsletter and some other sources, that at the last parade of sorts in New York City, for the first time ever there was a special column of Ukrainians.
D.C.: That is my understanding! But as a journalist I think you’ll appreciate the danger of using first time ever, ever! But it’s certainly the first time in a long time.
A.K.: Yes, in a long time.
D.C.: I heard my father’s voice; he was a reporter in my head “wait you need to stay away from that unless you’re 100% sure”. But certainly, the first time in a long time. There was a presence of the Ukrainian community in the Immigrants Parade, in New York, which is pretty cool. Ukrainians have been organized in the United States…some of the organizations are over 150 years old. And America is what? 245 years old this year? I can’t remember. For a big chunk of American history, Ukrainian-Americans haven’t only been in the United States but have been in the United State and organized. We haven’t always been very visible in the political sphere in the kind of way we are right now. And I think that’s the biggest change right now that I see in the United States, is that there is no questions that Ukraine is a democracy in Europe. It’s not part of Russia. Ukraine is a democracy in Europe.
A.K.: You’re listening to Ukraine Calling, this is an English language podcast of Hromadske Radio in Kyiv and our guest is Dora Chomiak, she is the president of Razom of Ukraine. I still hold that this is not an international, but a worldwide organization that stands with Ukraine. As by the way says the small bracelet she presented to me right before we started to communicate “Stand with Ukraine”. But why is it white? And not blue or yellow?
D.C.: That’s a great question. Whoever ordered made it white, so maybe it doesn’t change the colour of your wrist.
A.K.: Do colours matter?
D.C.: In what way?
A.K.: In every way. Like red being the color of blood now.
D.C.: And I’m wearing a red sweater. I think the colors matter…certainly flags matter. And I was in Washington DC recently. I grew up in Washington DC, it’s striking to me how many times I saw the flag of Ukraine. I mean to see the «Blue and Yellow» flag in front of people’s private homes or in front of businesses. We have that in New York too, particularly in the part of Manhattan that is the Ukrainian section of the East Village. Sort of the Ukrainian Village. But to see it in Washington, there is one street that has a lot of embassies on it, Massachusetts Avenue, and when you drive up that street and there’s all these countries represented, you know, Australia has their architecture, South Africa, Italy, and when you see so many flag poles that are also flying the Ukrainian flag, it’s very powerful. I wasn’t expecting that. So, color matters in that regard because colors remind people of something. And blue and yellow means something right now, blue and yellow what it means, I think, is a certain kind of resilience, bravery, and freedom.
A.K.: And inventiveness. Especially in your case and in the case of Razom fir Ukraine. We talked about procurement, we talked about testing, we talked about delivery. But what about distribution? Who helps you in Ukraine?
D.C.: Well, we’ve always had a large group of our volunteers in Ukraine, and we’ve built it out and scaled it here. So, we have the dozens of people that are working on, constantly working on, packing boxes to meet specific requests, packing those boxes into those trucks, and then driving those trucks hundreds of kilometers to deliver into the hands of the end users.
A.K.: How do you make sure their help actually finds its way to people who need it?
D.C.: We tried to improve systems constantly, so for example developed, I’ll give you two examples. One, we developed our own software system to maintain a database so we can track from when we procured something to shipping, packing, and delivery. So, we have that on our own computer system. We’re hoping to be adding procurement on there too, so it’ll be a simple, single chain. So, it’s transparent but with levels of security, so not everything is seen everywhere, so we can keep people safe. And then part of that is a feedback loop. So, for example, the drivers who do that last mile delivery, they do that delivery, and then they fill out this 4 or 5 questionnaire on their phones in which they rate how was the delivery. Who received it? Were they ready to receive it? Did they have the documents needed, ready in hand? Was there a problem? And then we put that back into our database so next time we can do it better or we know who to work with. So that’s one example.
Another example is how do we ensure it gets to the right hands. We take it all the way through, we deliver things directly, we also deliver through trusted partners. And what we started to do now is any hardware, like communications equipment, like tablets or something, we have an engraving machine in our warehouse, this laser engraver it’s really cool, and we engrave our logo and a message that this isn’t for resell. And there are no guarantees, but at least, when someone had the idea that engraving could help a little bit, and if everyone thinks of one thing that can make it a little better overall, the quality goes up.
A.K.: By my last count, and again I’m referring to your website razomforukraine.org, you helped organized evacuations from eight regions in Ukraine, and that’s out of 25, so that’s more than one third of our regions. But definitely of course, your work is not limited to eight regions, what do you do in other regions?
D.C.: Well, we try and do work where the need is the greatest, and throughout our eight-nine years of existence we have been very effective in quick starts, like we move in before other people move in.
A.K.: Quick starts or kick starts?
D.C.: Kick starts and quick starts! I mean we delivered, certainly procured, or first sets of tactical medicine before the 24th and delivered it shortly there after, it was just a couple suitcases but then we got better and better at it. So, we have also been able to distribute grants to over 90 organizations…
A.K.: Of what sorts?
D.C.: Mostly local, very local, organizations. Mostly in the Kharkov Oblast, and nearby, and some of them are established non-profits. Some of them are relatively new ad-hoc groups, but include people, individuals, we’ve worked with people, so they’re trusted sources. Especially in Kharkov, we have a lot of very active crowds of people who are from Kharkov, so people they went to high school and college with, so very trusted sources.
Some of them are commercial companies who have started to do humanitarian aid work, and one of my favorites is the Yellow Taxi Company in Kharkov, Жовте таксі. And so, it’s this taxi company that has this really simple 4-digit number, and they were a bunch of guys driving taxis, it was just a taxi company. But they started, helping people evacuate, and then, they’re a taxi company so they realized if they’re driving out of the city, they don’t want to drive empty cars back. So, they realized they can take humanitarian aid, like food packets that people were giving. So, they would drive people out, fill up their car with food, and drive people back.
Then they quickly realized they can be doing more, so they took their call center, and their CRM software, had their programmers juice it up a little bit, add more stuff for it, and now they take in requests for food in their call center, it goes into their system and they’re able to distribute food other people prepare. And then they have a record, every driver takes a picture of the final delivery point and that enters the database as well.
So, this to me is an example of how a private company once in conditions of military attack changed what they provide by using the expertise and infrastructure that they already have. And this is something I see over and over in Ukraine, how everybody, and every company, and every individual is involved in this effort to defend themselves, to survive, to stay alive, to stop the bleeding, and it’s really pretty awesome to help some of those organizations to be more effective.
A.K.: Very indicative example of how you may make your work even more efficient and not lose on the things that don’t come to your mind immediately. With this my next question. Obviously, when you procure in the States, then you deliver to Europe, and as far as I remember you have like transports and planes in Poland.
D.C.: That’s right.
A.K.: Yah? You store the stuff there for some time. Then you deliver it to Ukraine. Then you deliver it to further places in Ukraine and distribute it. Have you ever thought of organizing production in Ukraine?
D.C.: Absolutely. In fact, some of the things were procure in Ukraine, and we want to procure as much as we can in Ukraine. Because remember part of our underlying mission is a prosperous Ukraine. So that’s one of the reasons why we support these organizations with grants. But it’s also we want to be buying things here. We want to be supporting the economy here. We want to help people create jobs and maintain jobs here. We have all the swag that we send to our donors, the t-shirts and stuff like that, personally I’d like to have it made here. We’ll charge more for it, it’ll be a premium, but I want it made here. And I think people will response to that. If you have an object that comes from a specific place, there’s a uniqueness to it. It’s a differentiator. And I think that’s something we can help make available to more people. It’s not going to tb ethe cheapest on the market, but it’s going to be great.
A.K.: How do you deal with this internal, and very typical problem, of the economy? In this case we see in economic operations as well, where supply defines demand or demand defines supply. Because you are, I know this from people to whom I talk to, from people who turned from another organization specifically to Razom for Ukraine, other stuff specifically to Razom for Ukraine. But this creates also a habit, of not only those who take from you, but also you who gives to them to concentrate on something that you do the best. And sometimes you may overlook what people need else? How do you deal with this?
D.C.: Yah, we deal with that by trying to keep our ears open and understanding what the needs are. And I think we’re a very horizontal organization and we’re fast. So for example we started with tactical medicine and then we started hearing “ok this is great, but if I don’t have two-way radio I don’t know how safe the road is ahead. I need communications equipment. I need drones”. Ok, so let’s find out what we can procure, what are the constraints, what are the possibilities, what are the costs, what are the right ones, and how do we get those specific models. And then we heard that this is great that we got drones, but if I don’t know how to fly a drone what good is it? It will get destroyed right away. So, we teamed up with a group of people who trained people how to fly a drone. So now we have a program on the online platform Prometheus.
A.K.: Can you fly a drone?
D.C.: I cannot. I have not had time to look I not flying a drone.
A.K.: But you can run a global organization.
D.C.: Well, its an online course and you also have to do a practical in-person course. And only then can you be certified to receive one of these drones.
A.K.: I suddenly realized I don’t know much about your background.
D.C.: I don’t fly drones.
A.K.: But still, how did you become a leader of this horizontal organization?
D.C.: The short answer is I just went ahead and joined the family business. By that I mean my parents have been very in Ukraine. My grandparents were involved in Ukraine, they were refugees after World War Two, my father to Canada, my mother to the United States. And I have the honor of working here straight after university. I graduated from Princeton in 1991 and I came here to work for the Renaissance Foundation, in Virginia, the Soros Foundation that was here. And in college I had actually run a nationally syndicated radio program, there was a public affairs program, it’s not on the air anymore because of the US radio market, but I always had an interest in media. And by being able to be here, and being able to meet a lot of very incredible very talented journalists in Ukraine, we were able to start some non-governmental news organizations, initially with funding from the Renaissance Foundation [and] from the Soros Foundation. So, then we helped create Internews Ukraine, and got a grant from USAID and took it from there. So, I was involved in Ukraine from the early 90s, then I went to the United States and got my MBA and worked in media companies there. And when the Revolution of Dignity happened it became clear that perhaps I can help in some way and started doing some fundraising.
A.K.: Dora, since when did you know, had you known, that Russia will attack Ukraine openly?
D.C.: Me personally?
A.K.: Yes you personally, because I know different people and friends have been sure of this for many, many years. Although I miscalculated, I thought this would happen of the autumn of this year. And some people, even on the eve of the 24th, they’re asking me how they will do it? We don’t believe this! But in order to react so quickly you must have known something.
D.C.: But we as an organization knew, we didn’t know but we as an organization prepared. So, about a week before we had a board meeting, and our board meetings were online, virtual, because of COVID, and I remember where I was sitting. And we had a board meeting and our nine-person board got together and some people on the board said “Look, we should open up our emergency response program again”. We had done something similar when there was an escalation of tension in the Kerch Straight, and we raised funds just in case to do something. Happily, that dissipated, and in a few months we took those funds and allocated them to different programs in education, culture, and IT. And so, the proposal was to get together with a few other Ukrainian-American organizations like Nova Ukraine, Sunflower for Peace and United Help Ukraine, and lets open up a joint fundraiser on Facebook just in case. If people donate, we’ll have the money. If nothing happens, we’ll wait some time and distribute it, there will be something to spend it on.
And so rationally, I was like, ok sure, just in case lets open it. If I was being honest, personally, I’d say simultaneously I did not want to believe it could happen, and I knew in my bones it was going to happen, kind of always. And so, it’s interesting because my husband is an American, American-American, his family came over on the Mayflower on both sides, he’s American, he’s original immigrant right? And after several weeks of this full-on incursion, I was like “go go go, work work work”. I finally lifted my head up and I realized my husband is dealing with this differently than I am. He’s been amazing, he does all the food shopping and all the cooking and all the cleaning making sure we are all getting fed, he’s been a great war spouse.
But in his bones, it’s been harder for him to grasp, whereas I always kind of knew, just growing up my grandfather fought this was 100 years ago, and we lived together, he helped raised me, he didn’t talk about it, ever, but you knew. You can just feel it, you listen to all the songs, you learn all the words. And then I remember when I first came hear I got my first visa in 1989 there was an urgency like “I can make it into the Soviet Union finally! Finally I can see Ukraine and see my family” I fell in love with the place. But there was always this feeling, and certainly in 1991 when I came here to work, the window is open, we got to move fast because we don’t know how long it’s going to be open go go go! So, there was always kind of this feeling that like, that it didn’t happen. When I first really started focusing this go-around it was early December. A colleague of mine from the US Embassy in Ukraine came to Washington for family reasons, and we were talking that there was already some talk and preparations and stuff. So, for me personally that’s when it first came on the radar.
A.K.: Speaking of Americans-Americans, especially those who don’t have relations who are Ukrainian-Americans, wives or husbands or whoever. Who do not have friends who are Ukrainians, how close to their hearts do they take this situation? How easy is it to involve them?
D.C.: Judging by the 130,000 thousand donors we have, the initial hook has been very easy. The question now will be now keeping and engaging. The reason it’s been easy it’s because it’s so clear, Ukrainians are defending their ability to exist. And Ukrainians are showing themselves to be Ukrainian, which means a whole mess of things, but it means being of a place, means being from a place, means having a certain history which you may or may not know, but having a sense of, it’s a citizenship-based thing. It’s diverse, it’s multilingual, many churches, synagogues, mosques the whole thing. And I think this is something particularly in America that really jolted Americans into realizing “wait a diverse democracy based on citizenship, where people are putting bodies on the line to defend their ability to decide what they do”. And that I think is the underpinning of why the American population, across the whole political spectrum, is so enamored with Ukraine. And then all the music, and art, and literature…that’s an easy way in. You know the songs that just got viral and stuff, and the memes, and the Twitter, and the Instagram, and the Facebook, all that makes it easy for people to come into it.
A.K.: Do Americans generally understand how different we are from Russians?
D.C.: I think now they do. We don’t kill people. Or I think the biggest difference that is people see that people were living here in Ukraine and someone came in. And people understand that’s not okay, like at the very basic level.
A.K.: The only grudge I have against Razom for Ukraine comes from a newsletter that “something will be delivered to Wales and England”.
D.C.: Uh oh!
A.K.: … and I am a very literal person, and I looked through all the available stuff to see whether maybe there is a town or village called Wales. I didn’t find it. And that’s one of the reasons why I asked about whether Americans understand that we are different. Because I remember back in the early 90s when I worked in London, my daughter was presented a book in her school for her successes in geography. There was Europe, but Ukraine was not in Europe. There was Asia, but Ukraine was not in Asia. I was looking for Ukraine, and then I saw there was a special chapter called “Russia and its neighbours”. And made an educated guess where this book was published. It was not a British book; it was an American book. So, apart from taking to the hard democracy issue, how embedded in American conscious is it also geographically, culturally, and historically different?
D.C.: So, to this very point there is one whole sphere of the world that is far behind, the general population, and that is the ivory tower, academia. Academic institutions in the United States are structured around Russia. It’s Russia “and”, it’s Russia and then it’s Russia, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia, or Russia and the region, and Russian “and” Russian “and”. Academic institutions are very conservative in the sense that they’re slow to change.
And if you think about who runs universities, or who runs university Slavic departments for example, these are people are who trained in a certain school, in a certain way of study. And they’re vested in it, their whole lives [and] their whole careers have been built on it, so I hear where they’re coming from.
If now suddenly they’re being asked, oh wait, your whole view of the world, which is a Moscow lens, does not reflect the current realities, well then you have to say that your whole life was a waste, and that’s a difficult thing for a human being to come over. Now your whole life was not waste, I’m being dramatic, to just kind of say this will be hard not to crack. This is going to be tough to change. I think it will be possible to change.
I’m proud to say that, where I got my Masters, Colombia University, has the Harriman Institute. When my mother got her Doctorate there it was called the Russian Institute, now it’s called the Harriman Institute for Russia, Eurasian, and Eastern European Studies. I just met with some of the students there a few weeks ago, and they have raised the question of why Russia is in the name? Why isn’t it just Eastern Europe and Eurasia? If it’s two geographies, why not two geographic terms? What’s these two geographic terms and one state term? So, students now are starting to ask the questions but the people who run the academic departments, the people who publish the books, the people who organize the conferences, they’re the ones who have to realize that Ukraine is a sovereign country with a history that has been not told directly for generations.
A.K.: And we know very well that sometime in the future those students will replace academics and all these people.
A.K.: Dora, when I told a close person today that I would be interviewing Dora Chomiak the president of Razom for Ukraine organization she said “Oh! I saw her on television today”. And then she remembered and said “Oh and yesterday I saw excerpts from her press conference” and all this kind of stuff. How often do you people, and people like you, get the opportunity to speak on American television, American radio, and American media?
D.C.: Certainly, since February 24th pretty frequently, more frequently than before. Particularly I’ll say in the first month. In the first month we got a lot of calls and requests for interviews and so forth. So much so that we had the good fortune to…
A.K.: What was the record for you per day?
D.C.: Oh, maybe just two or three, not a ton. But we try to have different people speak to different things. But we were able to bring on, on a pro bono basis, a public relations firm that has been fantastically helpful for us and that we deliver regular information to journalist, each week to journalist. The interest has died down. Now people are interested in sort in longer stories somewhat [and] more specialized. But there was time where TV studios would drive a local studio van up to where we were working, and one of my colleagues would come out and give an interview.
A.K.: Another part of this question is how satisfied are you? I understand this is not the first area of your interest, but how satisfied are you with the resonance that Razom for Ukraine’s activity gets in Ukraine.
D.C.: You know it’s a great question, because we’ve been working for eight-nine years, and we’ve been trying to be as transparent as possible, but mostly through social media to let people know what we’re doing. We grew up on Facebook, and our whole organization came together on Facebook, so we’ve been posting a lot of things on Facebook. And we expanded into Instagram, and now we’re doing a little bit more on Twitter, and we have our website and our newsletter.
But we didn’t really focus much on telling our story on Ukraine until about a month or two ago when we partnered with an organization that’s helping us tell our story in Ukraine. And I think the hardest job that they do is pull us away from our work of delivering aid, or doing advocacy, and just say at this time you need to show up at this place and do the interview. And I recognize the importance of it because people need to know, particularly in Ukraine right now, people need to know that we’re real, that we’re regular people just like most of the listeners [and] most of the viewers, we all have different careers, different specialties, but we are all committed to a prosperous Ukraine. And, you know, we figure things out. We’re not a bunch of logistics professionals, I mean we put the call out to look for logistics professionals, we put the call out to look for medical professionals, we find people who are professionals. But it’s not like we have this grand scheme to create this thing. We just try and do something everyday that makes it a little bit better.
It’s important that people in Ukraine recognize that we’re not this monolithic entity that’s funded by one individual. That we’re really just people who want to see Ukraine be more successful, and people who collect money from individual people and bring it forward.
So, in the past few months we’ve been making a more concerted effort to get our story out, and now we have a legal entity in Ukraine that we’ve had for a few years, and Evelina Kurilets is the executive director. At some point I would love it if you would have a chance to speak with her, her English is fantastic. She’s from Kyiv, actually she’s from Odessa, but she lives in Kyiv.
A.K.: Everyone who gets to Kyiv becomes from Kyiv within a very short period of time!
D.C.: It’s like New York! But she would be able to keep you updated on what we’re doing and how we’re doing, and I would love to come back to Ukraine if I can when I can. But Eva is here all the time.
A.K.: What particularly concerns me in the matters of spreading the news about experience of such an organization like yours, is many people within these organizations, and sometimes organizations as whole, are so concentrated on the good things they do they do not give a thought to the fact that in order to spread this experience, in order to make their work effective, they should tell about this. They are mostly, mostly, modest. And I think that will lose part of the impetus on this. That’s why I always recommend people like you, and other people like you who do such things, [to] spread the word, spread the word, be constructive in the sense that you don’t only do your work but also, not teach, but show people, that this can be done.
D.C.: Exactly! And how we do it. We kind of live out loud. So that software that I mentioned about keeping databases, SRM systems, of where the boxes are and stuff like that, we already stared sharing that with some other organizations so how they can organize their warehouses as well, or how they can streamline some of their processes. Because nothing is to be gained if we don’t share what we learned from our own mistakes and our own continual improvement. So, we try to share in that regard. But thank you for reminding me that it is important to institutionally build and to improve the whole ecosystem. You’ve got to be open to have lots of players. There’s plenty of work to go around, this isn’t a scarcity argument.
A.K.: And especially important to my mind that you are a horizontal organization or a grassroots initiative, this is an American expression as far as I know. And if we remember another expression, which is not American, but “all flesh is grass”, that’s from the Bible. “All flesh is grass”, what grassroots provides is a very fleshy thing which actually determines a lot that we care for. We haven’t touched of course on all the aspects on the successes, and some dangers, that are on the way for every organization, like being not always understood. Sometimes finding not very conscientious partners. But what we heard in this conversation I think, at least I think so, is determination is not only belief but the skill to see the future. The skill to determine what is very important. But to check my own feelings, what is really important? And what is the next point on your road map Dora Chomiak?
D.C.: For the organization?
D.C.: The sustainability. To scale in a sustainable way that builds institutions that build the fabric of this country. To give back to the whole world.
A.K.: We are learning new notions. We are learning new words. One of the words that I learned, something like 5 years ago from our Baltic friends, is resilience. It is bordering on sustainability of course. When I first talked to Dora Chomiak in Ukrainian, I made a point where I said that if I were to learn one English word to characterize Razom for Ukraine, this would be amazing. More so that it is spelled similarly in the British and American version of the language. If you were to choose one word to characterize what is happening in Ukraine now, what would this word be?
Dora Chomiak: To characterize Ukrainians? To characterize people in Ukraine I use the word «resilient», a lot. I use the word «resilience» because to me resilience means the ability to bend and not brake. It means the stability to laugh and cry at the same time, to sort of scream and laugh at the same time. To love deeply, and in many, many different ways. So that resilience is that creativity, it’s that innovations, it’s that deeply rooted knowledge of self. And the self is different, and the self is the same. Each person is different, but the sense of here, and that resilience is that word I use a lot when I talk about Ukraine today.
Andriy Kulykov: Thank you Dora Chomiak. You’ve been listening to Ukraine Calling, this is an English language podcast from Hromadske Radio in Kyiv. And we have for you our slogan is “Listen. Think”. But people add to this, “Act”.
The interview was transcribed by Elijah Sapa.