“We are ordinary people of different ages, different views on life, various nationalities and occupations. But we are one team united by a common, golden dream: find a family for every child that has experienced tragedy, in which this child would feel at home and protected and would grow surrounded by love… We have a goal and we will change their lives working as one community! Our friendly circle is open to anyone who is prepared to support our orphanages and follow us along the path of charity. There are different kinds of charity — starting from a simple smile and with the sky as the limit!” This is the mission statement of the Zoriana Mriia All-Ukrainian Charity Fund, which has been fighting against orphanhood for ten years now. The fund supports the Cradle of Children’s Hope, a family-type orphanage founded in 2001 by Volodymyr Batursky. This is one of the first orphanages of this kind in Ukraine.
In an interview to The Day, Ruslan BAKHTYIEV, curator of the fund, spoke about the fund’s contribution to the development of charity culture in Ukraine and emphasized the need for this type of activity to enable Ukraine to reach, and exceed, global standards in philanthropy.
Mr. Bakhtyiev, what were the first things the fund did, and what results have you achieved in your ten years of activity?
“In 2000 a group of educators, pedagogues, and businessmen realized that there was something terrible going on in the city streets; many children were deprived of parental care, and the state was unable to handle the problem of orphanhood. Thus, this group came forth with a civic initiative to set up and maintain private orphanages. This is how the Ukraine’s first licensed orphanage, Cradle of Children’s Hope, appeared in Novosilky. In 2001 the fund supported the idea to create a family-type orphanage of the Baturskys. We provided our children with normal living conditions, nutritious food, and, when necessary, restore the immunity systems and secure the psychological health of children with special needs. When compared to state-run orphanages, material assistance for one person in, for example, Cradle of Children’s Hope is ten times higher. This is made possible by various charity contributions.”
Your orphanages are very different from their state-run counterparts. Are you experiencing difficulties because of your unorthodox methods?
“In our work we are not afraid of any difficulties because we are surrounded by friends. We build all our work on the positive. It is true that orphanhood is a problem, but there is an unconditional rule that we need to be guided by: do not lapse into a kind of ‘pseudo-sympathy’ but do something practical. The more you do in a day and the more people you meet, and tell about the fund or making plans for the future, the greater number of people will open their hearts to creative cooperation.”
Who is your biggest supporter?
“The fund does not have a single rich donor who would meet all our needs and create conditions for children to live well and the staff to be paid well. It should be said that the fund will not accept money from just any donor. It is problematic to accept donations from a person that earns money, for example, from the sale of alcohol, because by doing so this businessman essentially causes orphanhood. However, if we speak about this from the viewpoint of spirituality, no assistance should be rejected. This is a donation, an assistance very much needed by orphans.
“We signed the Memorandum on Cooperation with the Ministry for Youth and Sports. The former minister and the deputy minister visited our orphanages. The Ministry provides us with technical and normative-organizational assistance in cases not envisaged by laws. I remember there was a mother who was in prison, and we were able to have her set free owing to the support of Liudmyla Volynets, deputy minister for youth and sports, and Nina Karpachova, Ukraine’s ombudsman. One of the results of our activity was a ministerial letter with instructions about what should be done in similar situations.
“Government employees in Ukraine are often criticized for their excessive exactitude and bureaucracy. However, we eagerly cooperate with government institutions and we can’t complain. We understand the responsibility they have and share this responsibility with them. I believe that this is right and this is how it should be.”
You are also supported by large companies. What is their role?
“Some companies have more of an informative role. In this respect the example of the Borys company is very telling: it has permitted us to place plastic holders with information about our fund in its clinic. On the other hand, the Medicom company has a much friendlier attitude to the fund. They have placed our box for donations in their clinic and spread information about the activities of Zoriana Mriia. The human factor plays a large role here, because you cannot work with a company — you can work with specific people in order to create a kind of network of the well-intentioned.”
What about NGOs?
“We have recently signed an agreement with the Red Cross Office in Ukraine. This is our first experience of cooperating with an NGO. We are also engaged in friendly, unofficial cooperation with the Ukrainian Forum of Charitable People. These are our great friends, who support us in developing the culture of charity. After all we are championing a common cause! Our fund is active in all the events organized by the forum. At the most recent international conference in February 2010, they gave us an entire stand called ‘Dreams Come True,’ where people could find information about us.
“We also cooperate with the TV channel Rada. These are our permanent, altruistic partners, who respond to any event in our organization, regardless of whether it is a problematic or, on the contrary, happy situation. In the two years of our cooperation about 30-35 pieces were shot about us. Moreover, this channel has a bigger opportunity to rotate videos, and in the past year there were over 500 different broadcasts about our fund.”
Are you satisfied with your participation in public discussions at forums and international conferences? Do they enable you to spread the word more about the fund’s activities among public at large?
“An international conference is an event that brings together specialists. Naturally, events of this kind have to have societal relevance. At one of the round tables on charitable organizations and the mass media, I said that in the situation when the mass media does not show any particular interest in charity, we need to create something that would attract journalists ourselves. However, there is another important issue here: how much information about charity activities can the mass media convey? When we summed up the PIG PARADE project (the fund had to remodel eight rooms in the First City Maternity House in Kyiv to provide comfortable conditions for women to deliver babies and spend the first days of post-delivery rehabilitation. — Author), we held a press-conference. When I came to the press and introduced myself as the curator of the Zoriana Mriia charity fund, all the cameras, except for Rada’s, were turned off. The decision to turn them off was made by the operators who, evidently, failed to understand who had carried out this project.
“Charity is often overlooked. However, there is a large number of people who are taking care of those who will never be able to help themselves in life. These are the handicapped, pensioners, and retarded children. Therefore, both the culture of charity and the culture of information should be developed. The Ukrainian Forum of Charitable People even conducted a special training for journalists to tell them about what charity is and how it should be done. It is also very important, because we will certainly never be able to succeed without the media.”
Your charity events are supported by celebrities. How helpful is the participation of public figures in your work?
“We definitely need public figures. These are people with good reputations. For example, we had the PIG PARADE project, in which well-known Ukrainians painted [ceramic] pigs. Then these pigs traveled around various salons and large stores in Kyiv. On October 15, 2009, with the support of the famous restorer Marharyta Sichkar, we held a charity auction which yielded 1.019 million hryvnias for the modernization of post-delivery rooms. Another auction brought in 1.8 million hryvnias which we will use to build a rehabilitation center. This auction was dedicated to the Puppet Parade — Olena Kuznetsova was commissioned to make puppets of politicians and we sold them. This was a closed auction, which is also very interesting.
“The public participates in charity activities. The problem is that we don’t have some kind of ‘charity symbol.’ Some known people respond eagerly to our proposals. Certain politicians help us financially and, if they are MPs, they introduce amendments to the respective laws to help enhance the quality of life for orphans, their material provision. This is also an important aspect. On the other hand, there are people who are somewhat reluctant to react to our proposals. We asked certain person to sing a song together with our children, but we were met with disregard and some kind of dissatisfaction, and thus abandoned the idea. If a person’s soul is not inclined to charity, we still have hope to eventually awake their conscience and humanness, but we will not kowtow to them. The Lord will himself bring this person to us or he/she will knock on our door. The main thing is that it should be sincere.”
Could you tell us about what volunteers do for your fund?
“Last year, in cooperation with the National University of Aviation, we launched a new project, ‘Volunteers School,’ in which professional trainers conducted classes for students engaged in charity and volunteer work twice a week for nearly two and a half months. In the spring of 2010 the first group of students completed the course. Now we have around 20-25 volunteers, which is enough for our current needs. However, next year we’ll enroll new people in the course, because our fund is not the only one that needs volunteers. If people begin to understand what charity is, they will spread this knowledge to other people. This is important for us.
“Moreover, the students at the abovementioned university held two events under the banner ‘With Love for Children,’ which the fund continued this year. For example, on St. Valentine’s day those who are in a romantic relationship gave each other specially commissioned stickers — our volunteers came up with the design and the layout themselves. People bought those stickers and then gave them as gifts. This is very nice. This is universal love, and, as it is known, one cannot live without love.”
P.S. To conclude, Mr. Bakhtyiev noted that a person who comes to work in charity has to be patient and learn to say “Thank you!” This is one of the key aspects of working in this area. You should also believe in what you are doing, and then people will certainly rally around you. Moreover, these people will hold your cause close to their hearts and will want to accomplish something in this country. These are people who want to live in a civilized world and do not want our society to have orphans. There are many problems, and charity will always be needed.