Ukrainian Volunteer in Nevers

Hello! My name is Olga, I’m from Ukraine and I became an ESC volunteer in Ville de Nevers on March 7, 2022. So, it has been more than a month. A lot of things happened during this time and now I’d like to take a bit of time to reflect on it.

I became a volunteer during the very unfortunate time when there is an atrocious war in my country. That’s why the activities I carry out are not what the project is supposed to be about. However, for me it turned out to be a kind of salvation. Firstly, I have little time to watch the news and it saves my mental health. Secondly, I don’t feel useless and guilty, instead I can be supportive to other Ukrainians who came to Nevers fleeing the war. Also, I can represent my magnificent country, and show that Ukraine deserves attention not just because of the war, but also because of its unique culture. Personally, I believe that the war will be over one day soon and more foreigners will have the desire to discover our country.

So, what have I been doing?

The biggest event so far was the Ukrainian culture evening which we organized together with the social-cultural center Barratte. The aim was to make French people acquainted with Ukrainian cuisine and culture. I’m good at cooking, but I never expected that I would have to cook borsh for 100 people. It was a real challenge for me to calculate how many kilos of potato, carrot, onion and other vegetables should be bought. Luckily, borsh turned out to be really good. Also, we had a small workshop on making varenyky and sang Ukrainian traditional songs meanwhile. That was a lot of fun. And after French people had fallen in love with Ukrainian cuisine, we also astonished them with Ukrainian music.

Later Ukrainians had an opportunity to join Choeur Hélios in their preparation of singing the anthem of Ukraine. It was very touching to see how much effort the singers put into learning the lyrics and how they try to get right unusual sounds of the Ukrainian language. After a few rehearsals we performed together with the orchestra in front of an almost-one-thousand audience.

Of course, there’s much more to tell about our country and I want to keep on opening the wonders of Ukrainian culture to people in Nevers.

Another aim that I set to myself is to support Ukrainians, who have arrived here because of the war. I’m trying to create a Ukrainian community here so that we can rely on each other and not feel lonely. I answer their messages on a daily basis and although I’m not able to respond to most of their questions concerning accommodation, employment, medical treatment, etc., I hope that it’s good for them to have the opportunity to address somebody who speaks their language. I also try to transmit their requests and find out some information. For example, I had a lot of requests for clothes, since everybody came here in winter with just one backpack and the weather is getting hot. After looking for some information, it turned out that not everything that was collected as a humanitarian aid can be sent to Ukraine because of difficulties with transportation, so we’ve got the permission to open up boxes with clothes and shoes and give them to Ukrainians who are here. For me, it was a big joy to see smiles on the faces of my fellow citizens when they found something that fits them.

Here I want to express huge thanks to my coordinator Isabelle Perasso-Biard, whose work is about international mobility, but now she devotes her time and energy to solving problems with Ukrainians and whom I can address with any questions.

One thing that is still a big barrier is not knowing the French language. I didn’t really learn the language before arriving in the country and I’m still frustrated by not being able to express my thoughts. But I must admit that my progress is quite impressive. It seems like something has clicked in my brain and now I find French very similar to English and not so difficult. I can already understand almost everything if people speak rather slowly and can manage in shops, pharmacies, train stations. I even hold a few phone conversations, gave an interview on the radio in French, and made an introduction in the cultural evening without prior preparation for the speech.

Actually, the initial aim of my project is to foster international mobility, consult and motivate young people in Nevers to take up volunteering in different countries. So far, I had only one opportunity to talk to a few youngsters telling them about the advantages of European Solidarity Corps. I hope that I’ll have more occasions to talk about ESC. Especially, I’m inspired to do it after the on-arrival training I had in Narbonne. There I met other ESC volunteers who are currently in France, we had a lot of workshops, deep discussions so that I got much more motivated myself, learnt some useful tools, could reflect on my objectives, just had some rest and met interesting people.

Also, my further plan is to do more of what I’m passionate about – teaching languages. So, now I’m getting down to planning French lessons for replaced Ukrainians. Yes, my French is still not so good, but I have experience in teaching and I can explain the basics of the language to beginners easier than a native French speaker. Also, I’d like to have a Ukrainian club where French people can learn our language, culture, geography, and history. It also might be the place for Ukrainians and French to exchange our worldviews and experience, get to know each other better.

To sum up, I’m finding the experience of being a volunteer extremely valuable. I’m feeling that I can be helpful to others and grow myself a lot. 

Olga Zaikovska