Meet Ira Berezhnytska, Project Manager in Ukraine
Tell us a little bit about your background. What were you doing before the war?
Before the full-scale invasion, I had my own restaurant business in Lviv. I studied animation and also loved sports and travel, especially going to the mountains. As a side interest, I belonged to the scouting organization Plast, dedicating a lot of time to instructional activities and organizing various events and camps. And of course, I loved just spending time with family and friends.
How does the war affect your daily life?
The war has completely changed my life, its rhythm, and my plans for the future. Before, I lived for myself, envisioning a career and a life full of travel. Now, all I can think about is how to find more and more opportunities to help my people.
All of last year was about delivering tens of thousands of tons of aid. The cartoons I was supposed to draw for a living became logistics maps for planning, establishing and organizing warehouse operations. Now, I am always thinking about how to deliver something to inaccessible and unreachable places.
Why did you decide to work at Nova Ukraine?
My introduction to Nova Ukraine happened quite by accident. It turns out to have been one of the best accidents of my life.
At the end of February, I started volunteering at Nova Ukraine, eventually organizing a warehouse in Lviv and getting involved with logistics and aid distribution. Later, I led several projects related to tactical medicine, providing medical equipment and infrastructure.
Knowing that my knowledge and skills could be useful to so many people for such an important cause, I decided to make volunteering permanent. The work I am doing has given me the opportunity to grow as a person, and for that, I am deeply grateful to Nova Ukraine.
What’s your typical day at the office like? Please describe your daily activities and tasks.
I would say that 30% of my day is warehouse-related work, 30% is trips taken to different regions of Ukraine, and the rest is devoted to the many meetings with collaborators and partners that enable us to make sure things happen as efficiently as possible.
Can you share with us a particular story that struck you?
In general, every trip to the East or the South is filled with dozens of stories that are impossible to forget or erase from memory. They involve thousands of shattered lives and the stories of children who will never have a childhood again.
The most vivid memory engraved in my mind is the cemetery in Izium, where a mass grave of murdered men, women, and children was discovered. There are nameless graves and tiny coffins with toys left behind. Seeing this was painful and tearful, I don’t have the words for it.
But I know that witnessing such losses of life in person is something I will never be able to forget. One of the slain soldiers there had his hands tied by the Russians, but he still had a blue-and-yellow ribbon on one of his wrists. Now I have the same ribbon tattooed on my wrist as a permanent reminder of the price we are willing to pay for our freedom.
What do you think Ukrainians need the most right now? (Besides victory.)
We also need demining equipment and specialists, rehabilitation centers, and a resolution to the educational problem. Furthermore, there is a need to create conditions for Ukrainians to return to work, which will involve the creation of new job opportunities, and strategies for income growth and personal development.
What is the most challenging part of your work at Nova Ukraine?
The most challenging aspect is finding time for rest and rejuvenation amidst the many difficult moments of the work itself. And, it is also a challenge to take on the risks.
I remember one time when we were having fuel supply issues. Some drivers (with families) refused to risk traveling near the frontlines to deliver aid. I understood of course, but I knew we had to somehow overcome this to get the aid where it was needed. I decided to do it myself. I loaded a whole compartment with medical equipment and set off to the East to deliver this critical assistance. We got it done.
What is the most rewarding aspect?
Perhaps the most rewarding aspect is seeing the very human results of my work and realizing that all the efforts, all the stress, were not in vain. We have made a real difference in the lives of our people.
What else would you like our donors and readers to know about you and what you do at NU?
I would like to say that without their help, we would never have been able to achieve all that we have. All the accomplishments, big or small, are victories that are shared with them.
The war drags on, and people need as much help now as they did in the beginning. Now is not the time to grow tired. Now is the time to push on. So please, continue to give.