Yulia Hladka is a part of Winds of Change, a women-led NGO based in Odessa, Ukraine which works with CARE to promote women’s participation in key decisions related to the ongoing humanitarian crisis. She shares the deep impact the escalation of the conflict has had on their work and how they plan to continue supporting women in a context of growing needs.
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How did you start working for Winds of Change? Has the scope of your work changed significantly since the escalation of the conflict?
"Back in 2017, Winds of Change was formed by members of a support group for women affected by gender-based violence which was called ‘’Women Mobilizing Against Violence’’. We work to support women into leadership positions as employees, mentors, and role models for other women.
"We established a community center where Romani women could meet and discuss issues, and later, a social sewing enterprise called Petalentsa.
"Since the beginning of the conflict, people in Odessa have welcomed many internally displaced people (IDPs). We met people at train stations and bus stations, providing social and psychological support. We advocate for fair distribution of humanitarian aid and actively provided humanitarian assistance to remote locations where the concentration of aid was lacking, starting from February 24th."
As a woman working in the humanitarian sector, can you tell us about challenges and strengths of being a woman in this context?
"As women working in the humanitarian sector, we need to be highly stress-resistant, non-biased, and consider the diverse needs of families and individuals. We also need to be more aware of safety than our male colleagues, especially in areas with greater gender-based violence risks (for instance, where roads are poorly lit).
"However, we also have multiple sources of strength. Historically, women have been imposed the responsibility of guaranteeing the well-being of the family, acting as the main caretaker, providing meals, etc. Although this has been obviously harmful, it also means we know the needs of women with children and families, who are often the ones at the frontline of humanitarian disasters."
You work with CARE on Women Lead in Emergencies, a project which supports women’s groups to take a lead role in responding to crises impacting them and their communities. Can you tell us about how are you working on this in Ukraine?
"Our project is aimed at helping Roma women. We go to the communities of Odessa region, hold advocacy meetings, identify problems for Roma families (for example, helping Roma girls access education and medical care), and work with Roma women and girls to strengthen their voice and leadership."
Thinking about the communities you work with, is there a particular person that you will always remember?
"Olya Stepnova reached out to the "Wind of Change" Foundation for support for herself and her children. She lived in a small house with five kids and her sister, who had 13 children. Olya didn't attend school and struggled to find employment. We were able to assist Olya in obtaining quality medical services for her and her sister's children. Currently, Olya is participating in a leadership skills workshop, organized by CARE and Winds of Change. She is kind and responsible and wants to help her community - the village of Gradanicy - create a new playground for the Romani children who spend their days outdoors and want somewhere to play."
What are your priorities for Winds of Change over the next five years?
"Our priorities for the upcoming year will be to continue providing emergency assistance to women and children who move to Odessa because of the conflict, and helping Romani women and IDPs integrate into their new communities. We’ll also continue working on preventing domestic violence and violence based on gender or sexuality. We’ll also be continuing with the sewing workshop Petalentsa."
Finally, if you have one message for the world on behalf of the women in Ukraine affected by the conflict, what would it be?
"We, the women of Ukraine, address the whole world with words of peace, harmony, and compassion.
Let's overcome suffering together, support each other, and strive to ensure a dignified life for everyone. Together, we can make the world a better place.
Thank you for supporting "Winds of Change." May love, tolerance, and understanding unite our world."