Equipment for Shelters: Ensuring Safety and Educational Support for Children in Schools and Kindergartens

Interview with the founders of the Angels of Freedom Charity Foundation

March 9, 2024

The founders of the Kazakhstani Angels of Freedom Charity Foundation, Yevgeniy Ribalko and Iryna Semenchuk, both have Ukrainian roots and a close connection to the Chernihiv region. Irina graduated from school in Chernihiv and lived there until the age of 20. For them, supporting the affected kindergartens and schools in this region is not only a way to assist compatriots during challenging periods, but also an important personal mission.

The first interview with Iryna and Yevgeniy was published on our website a year ago, and today we want to find out what has changed over the past year and how the Angels of Freedom foundation is operating now.
Iryna Semenchuk
Yevgeniy Ribalko
With the support of the Angels of Freedom foundation, shelters in three schools and four kindergartens in Chernihiv have been repaired and equipped.
— Before the charitable foundation was established, Angels of Freedom had existed for a long time as an initiative, a volunteer group. Why did you decide to create a charitable foundation in Kazakhstan?
Iryna: We’ve already talked in the previous interview about how the initiative had been born and how it had appeared in Kazakhstan. We founded the foundation six months after the launch of the first fundraising campaign to help one of the Chernihiv schools. At first, we wanted to help one school, but then we started receiving requests from other schools and kindergartens, and it became clear that we could not refuse them, and this was no longer a one-time campaign.

Yevgeniy: We realized that our experience and resources could benefit children in need of education and support. In addition, we saw a massive demand from people wanting to help and do something in this challenging time, feeling pain and concern, people for whom participation in the project became a kind of salvation. Our community was growing, the fundraising has grown, and, of course, having a legal entity allowed us to give our activities more legitimacy.
Yevgeniy in Chernihiv
Delivery of furniture for a kindergarten shelter
Toloka in a kindergarten in Chernihiv
— Is the foundation connected with foreign charitable organizations or is it a local project in Kazakhstan?
Yevgeniy: The foundation was established and registered in Kazakhstan and has no connections with foreign foundations. However, we receive donations from people from different countries, and our volunteers are located all over the world. We would be happy to receive support from any caring individuals or organizations; any help in developing the project is important, including from foreign businesses and diplomatic missions. We hope that in the near future, our goal will receive more support from different parts of the world, as this will help us raise more funds and help more educational institutions. Our project is uniting and kind, we see how it engages different people.
— Do you only deal with equipping kindergartens and schools, or are you involved in other projects to support Ukraine?
Yevgeniy: A year and a half ago, when we were just launching the project, we wanted to equip shelters in schools to ensure the safety of children. Today, in the conditions of regular rocket attacks, we understand that our goal is to provide acceptable conditions not only for the safe stay of children in shelters during air alarms but also for continuing the educational process. Unfortunately, air alarms sound every day, and teachers and children are forced to descend into shelters for long hours. We help them continue their education by providing the necessary equipment and resources. All the funds collected by us are directed to equipping shelters in schools and kindergartens in Chernihiv. We strictly control expenses so that all the money transferred to Ukraine goes for the benefit of children.

Iryna: According to the website, in Chernihiv and the region since February 24, 2024, there have been 1215 air alarms, with an average duration of 1 hour and 9 minutes. That is, the children of Chernihiv spent 1397 hours in shelters. This is a huge part of their lives. When an air alarm sounds during nap time in kindergarten, children are awakened, taken to the shelter, and need to continue sleeping there. Therefore, triple bunk beds for children's shelters are extremely important, as they do not take up much space. If an air alarm sounds during a lesson at school, then after descending into the shelter, lessons should also continue. If the class was taking a test, they need to continue taking it in the shelter. And for this, we need not just benches but desks in the shelter to continue the educational process.
At the fair in Pavlodar, December 2022
Chairs from the Angels of Freedom Foundation in the shelter of a school in Chernihiv
Tables and three-tier beds in the shelter of a kindergarten in Chernihiv
— The foundation has garnered support from well-known personalities in Kazakhstan. Are there any who criticize your work?
Iryna: Certainly, like any organization, we have our critics. However, we strive to remain impartial to political discussions and focus only on humanitarian purposes. We are grateful for the support of those who believe in our mission and stand by us. However, it’s important for us to stay true to our goals and not get involved in political conflicts.

Yevgeniy: Recently, we recorded a podcast with Rinat Balgabayev. The Kazakhstani documentary filmmaker has supported our activities from the very beginning. People who support humane values are very close to us. I highly recommend watching our podcast. It's published on the YouTube channel Angels of Freedom.
— How would you describe the current volunteer community of the foundation?
Iryna: At the moment, more than 100 people are actively involved in the foundation activities. Many of them are in Kazakhstan, but we also have those who support us remotely from different countries. The nationality or location of volunteers doesn’t matter to us; what matters is that they support our goals and principles and adhere to the fund’s rules.

At the start of our work, we defined four important rules:
  • we do not welcome people in our team who provoke and incite any discord;
  • conflict content is prohibited in our communications;
  • our project does not finance military purposes and deals only with humanitarian tasks, namely, helping children’s institutions;
  • we do not cooperate with parties and political figures; political discussions are prohibited at project events.
We always welcome those who support these rules in our ranks.

Yevgeniy: There have been instances where volunteers did not comply with the project's rules and principles, leading to our separation from them.
— What amount of funds have you raised, and which projects have been put into action?
Yevgeniy: In two years since the start of military operations in Ukraine, the project has raised 25 million tenge. With the support of the foundation, shelters in three schools and four kindergartens in Chernihiv have been repaired and equipped. Currently, funds are being raised for the renovation of one more shelter for two kindergartens.

Iryna: In three kindergartens, we installed ventilation in the shelters, allowing children to breathe normally even during prolonged stays in basement rooms. In two kindergartens, we laid floor tiles, and we helped all kindergartens with furniture that allows comfortable accommodation for the children. We also assisted schools with furniture for their shelters and provided them with necessary equipment for the children’s stay in the basement.
— What are the current ways to support the project?
Yevgeniy: If you have the desire to help, you could join our team as a volunteer or donate. We always welcome new faces in our team and any assistance in implementing our projects. Currently, we highly value donors who subscribe to monthly support on Patreon. Planning our fundraising is very valuable to us; it allows us to plan assistance to educational institutions in Ukraine.

Iryna: It doesn’t matter where you are — in Kazakhstan, in Ukraine, or elsewhere. The main thing is that you share our values and are ready to help children receive quality education during war.
Author: Mariya Yasynska
Angels of Freedom
Interviews with volunteers