“To defeat evil you need lots of good”

An interview with one of the Angels of Freedom’s volunteers

July 24, 2023

Anna is the mother of four. In her life, Ukraine and Russia were always closely connected — both countries at different times were a home and a place where they wanted to live, make plans and make dreams come true. But in July last year, Anna and her family moved to Kazakhstan. She started a new page in her life together with the Angels of Freedom. We talked with Anna about why the project has become an important part of herself and how a great desire to help appears from a small action — making of an angel.
— Anna, hello! Tell us how you ended up in Kazakhstan and in the Angels of Freedom project?
— I am Ukrainian by birth, until the age of 25, I lived in the sadly famous town of Bakhmut. There is my home. My parents moved out of there just a few months ago. My grandmother is still in the village near Bakhmut, and she refuses to leave, she says: “I have lived here all of my life, here is my goat, my three dogs and my cat.” My dad brings humanitarian aid to the village, he makes his way there through the fields, while it is still possible. In 2010, I married a Ukrainian, he is a citizen of the Russian Federation, I moved to my husband to the Moscow region. When the war started, we decided to leave Russia. It was impossible not to act.
Mom says that when the alarm ends, they hear children’s cries — “Hurrah! We may go out!”. It is such a joy that the children are alive. And we are here, at the Angels of Freedom project, for this very purpose.
— How did you get acquainted with the project “Angels of Freedom”?
— It was the first thing I found on Instagram. At that time a charity concert with various stars was announced. Musicians of Kazakhstan performed in support of Ukraine. My husband and I went to the concert and met the guys from the project, learned about other events. It became much easier to breathe. I am very glad that I found people who share our views, who understand what the war is.
— What was your first impression of taking part in the project? Was it a toloka?
— Yes, in general, the process of making angels is quite meditative and calming. And even more so when accompanied by kind and supportive conversations (smiles). At first, I went alone, then together with my son Artyom. He is 10 years old. He really liked the space, the organization, the people. Then we began to participate in fairs more. There is not always enough of volunteers, and more attention should have been paid to this. Although, fairs are hard for me personally.
— Why?
— You have to communicate a lot with people, and positions are different. You pass everything through yourself. When you are open-minded and the war has not touched you personally, then it is probably easier to accept it.
— And you?
— I cannot help remembering those events, I understand that my parent’s home was destroyed. Although our parents are holding on, and we are encouraged here, but we feel like our hopes, our future have been taken away from us. Everything that people have been building and creating all their lives, and all that is gone, has disappeared into oblivion. Now we need to build a new reality and live with it… It is hard. Therefore, we have to hold on to each other, to human relations. The main thing here is people. When you meet people who understand the suffering that your loved ones go through, it becomes easier. When you meet people who distance themselves from it, live their lives, then it becomes difficult. When in a conversation with me they operate with other facts, it becomes very painful. But at the same time, the main thing for me is to act.
First of all, people come to a toloka and make an “angel”. It’s like a little flare, you know.
— Was it the first time you have volunteered?
— No, I had some prior experience as a volunteer. We have been helping a homeless animal shelter for about two years. My son and I went to feed them, cleaned the enclosures, promoted the project, arranged pets for families. My husband and I used SUP boats to clean the rivers from pollution.
— Was it in the Moscow region?
— Yes. But when the war started, you realized that all this became so useless, so petty. When the price of human life fell to zero, we lost our hearts… overall. You understand that everything is devalued. Now, for some reason, with every “angel”, with every donation, faith in the future wakes up again. I want to live, I want to help. What if it all ends? What if we can return to normal life, can we start dreaming again? For me, this project is not just about raising funds, helping certain kindergarten or school and equipping a bomb shelter. It is about the hope for future. To defeat evil, you need a lot of good. And who should be doing it, if not us with our own hands? Therefore, I am very grateful to all those caring people who come to the project and help. Everyone has their own role, their own place — someone is maintaining the Internet resources, video and promotion, someone directly makes “angels”, someone sells at fairs.
Anna in Astana, 2022
A fair in Astana, 2023
Evening at the fair. Angels
— You still continue to work at the fairs, even if it is painful for you to communicate with supporters of the war. Why?
— I believe it is very important to show by way of a personal example how the war affects real people: “here we are the people in flesh and blood”, “here are my parents now under shelling”. When my mother says every day that they again bombed the area of Kyiv where they live, it is hard. My parents are considered as temporarily displaced people, they have to rent apartments and work while they are rather senior people already. Yes, my parents say that children are taken out during shelling, but not all houses, unfortunately, have shelters. Somewhere the kids just get down into the basements, somewhere they have bomb shelters, somewhere they are simply placed in the corridors with bearing covering. Mom says that when the alarm ends, they hear children’s cries — “Hurrah! We may go out!”. It is such a joy that the children are alive. And we are here [at the Angels of Freedom project] for this very purpose. There is a real need for it.
— What gives you strength to move on here, in Kazakhstan?
— It is people. People who understand you. When you see a sparkle in their eyes, compassion, desire to help, when you understand that they are not zombies, it makes happy. Indeed. Ever since the beginning of the war, I realized that people are the most valuable thing we have in life… In fact, it doesn’t matter who takes what views. Everyone understands that war is bad for absolutely everyone, no matter what side a person takes. Such a common understanding, agreement gives consolation. In our project, we have many interesting, kind and sympathetic people.
— Is it possible to draw up a portrait of an average participant in a toloka? What kind of people come to them?
— Absolutely different. At the same time, they are all educated, cultured, they all want to help. They are often local people. As Sholpan [the project coordinator in Astana] rightly noted, Kazakhs are very hospitable, and historically, their trait is to help their friends in difficult times. They are people who left Russia for Kazakhstan. They are Crimean Tatars who left Crimea at the beginning of the war. Different nations, but they are united by one idea — kindness and the desire to change the world for the better.
— How do you manage to combine volunteering, work and family?
— In fact, I do not quite manage (laughs). My family are my helpers! When we went with volunteers to Karaganda, to Pavlodar, my older children sat with the younger ones. Yes, my children know what is good and what is bad. They call the war “war”.
— Tell us about the fair in Pavlodar. How were you received there?
— It was at a very interesting premises — in a cafe. People were coming for breakfast or lunch and learned about the event. But at the same time, there were a lot of people who aimed specifically to the fair. As for the toloka, we were worried that there would not be enough people. It was planned as a kids’ toloka. But our fears did not come true. At some point, our volunteer Lyudmila asked me: “Anya, please don’t invite people anymore — we have nowhere to sit! We took all the free chairs from the establishment, the customers will have nothing to sit on!” Very cool girls came in vyshyvankas and wreaths, they spoke Ukrainian very well. It was like music for my earl, as if I’ve seen a piece of the Motherland. It really was a very warm welcome. Of course, there were also people who were not interested, they passed by. However, we do not impose ourselves. The desire to help is either there or not. You cannot force it.
— How do new volunteers come to the project?
— It happens differently. Of course, first of all, people come to a toloka and make an “angel”. It’s like a little flare, you know. If you have not made an “angel”, you won’t understand what it’s all about. Last time I experienced such a bright, warm, tender feeling was when I helped to find home for a homeless puppy that we found on the street. A year later, I bumped into a girl on the street with a huge dog that had grown up. It was an extraordinary feeling — when you realize that you saved someone else’s life. In our case, two shreds “magically” turn into an “angel” — a little doll that saves human lives. This experience brings such a deep and sincere joy! People come and, apparently, get inspired by it. I don’t know if other people have same feelings as me… And then comes a desire to move on. People see that somewhere there may be not enough people and they need to come to help. Many are shy, are afraid to come to tolokas, they don’t know what to say, what to do, but we help and explain. And people stay. Everyone finds something for themselves. Some of them conduct interesting lectures for our regular participants and the general public on various topics of cinematography, history, and the Ukrainian language. They are just amazing people! It’s interesting just to chat with them, and when they prepare lectures… it’s just super (laughs).
— Do you need to make a donation before the lecture?
— We recommend doing this at any time. Any contribution you can afford, you can make before or after the lecture. We do not prescribe any amount of donation. But, of course, such events take certain resources: rent of premises, equipment, design and technical services. Someone donates a thousand, someone much more — it all depends on the financial capabilities of a person.
In our case, two shreds “magically” turn into an “angel” — a little doll that saves human lives. This experience brings such a deep and sincere joy! And people stay. Everyone finds something for themselves.
— Anna, please continue the phrase “Angels of Freedom are…”?
— Of course, this is one of the opportunities to do good and help. Not to merely sit and suffer, but to do something for the good. Angels of Freedom means security, education and our future. I, as a mother of many children, understand this like no one else.
Author: Tatiana Pravdina
Angels of Freedom
Interviews with volunteers