A cam­ou­flaged Santa

The Ukrainian Week - - SOCIETY -

Be­fore the war, Volodymyr Re­he­sha worked in con­struc­tion and liked to write. “I de­scribed my­self as a writ­ing slave: I was do­ing all kinds of ad­ver­tis­ing and other ar­ti­cles for any pos­si­ble web­site or out­let,” he says jok­ingly. Then the Maidan erupted and the war fol­lowed. Ini­tially, Volodymyr was not go­ing to war. He didn't un­der­stand or re­al­ize the things that were happening around him. “Then my friends died in the AN-30 plane that the sep­a­ratists shot down near Slo­viansk in June 2014,” he re­calls. “The en­tire crew was killed; they were my good friends. It­waslike­some­one hit me on the head. I thought that my turn would come no mat­ter what. So I packed up my things and joined the Right Sec­tor.” It was the eas­i­est short­cut way to the front­line. “No train­ing fields or ex­er­cises. When I got there, I liked it so much that I de­cided to stay. I'm not reg­is­tered any­where. Of­fi­cially, we are not there. But we have been in Avdiyivka for over a year now, sur­rounded only by the in­dus­trial zone,” Volodymyr shares. He had no ex­pe­ri­ence in the army be­fore. “I was kicked out from the military de­part­ment at the univer­sity af­ter four years for speak­ing rudely to the lieu­tenant colonel. And I didn't serve in the army be­cause I had chil­dren early,” he laughs.

The name Santa came for a rea­son. Be­fore the war Volodymyr had been help­ing orphans. He started with av­er­age or­phan­ages but that changed af­ter he vis­ited a shel­ter for the dis­abled chil­dren. “I ac­tu­ally got scared there,” he re­calls. “I cried, went home and was head­ing back a mere week later.” Volodymyr's friends spent a year ask­ing him to go pub­lic with his ac­tiv­ity, tell a broader au­di­ence about the things he does. Even­tu­ally he gave in and started writ­ing posts on Facebook. These were fol­lowed by TV re­ports and many peo­ple started help­ing him. “We are now help­ing two or­phan­ages for dis­abled chil­dren in Vin­nyt­sia and Kh­mel­nyt­sky Oblasts,” he says. The as­sis­tance started with di­a­pers and other small ne­ces­si­ties and has grown to a re­mark­able scale now.

“We are now help­ing to fund re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion physi­cians for these chil­dren,” Santa shares. “Gov­ern­ment fund­ing only cov­ers half-time po­si­tions of nurses and clean­ing staff. We are pay­ing ex­tra so that these peo­ple work full-time and a full week.” Donors help pay for ren­o­va­tions and pur­chase many nec­es­sary things. “It of­ten hap­pens that ur­gent needs come up un­ex­pect­edly,” Volodymyr says. “Some­times the kids need some medicines or equip­ment. For in­stance, now they need chest drainage equip­ment or pres­sure re­duc­ing sup­port ma­trasses. The state can­not fund all this, so we try to find the money on our own.” The same goes for kitchen ap-

pli­ances. “Some chil­dren here eat blended food, they are fed through tubes,” Volodymyr ex­plains. “Nor­mal blenders used in an av­er­age kitchen can't han­dle the in­ten­sity, so we buy in­dus­trial ones. Again, the state does not pro­vide money for this. And even if it does have some re­serves, you will hardly get the fund­ing quickly. While in some cases you need it here and now. For in­stance, when the sewage sys­tem breaks: it takes a month or two to as­sess the cost of the re­pair, then file a re­quest to the re­spec­tive au­thor­i­ties to get the fund­ing for re­pair. Then, the re­quest is pro­cessed. Mean­while, the breaks need to be fixed within a mat­ter of days. That's why we go to the bank and trans­fer the money to cover the nec­es­sary ex­penses on re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion phys­i­ol­ogy, bonuses for the best staff and so on.”

Where does the money come from? Well, from the good peo­ple, Volodymyr states. “95% is what peo­ple do­nate. Some do on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, send­ing some­thing to our ac­count every month. They trust us. Some­times I write a post on Facebook and give my ac­count de­tails – that's when many peo­ple do­nate. When my friend, artist An­driy Yer­molenko made a new logo for the UKROP party, he gave me his UAH 50,000 fee for it right away. And what we lack I take from the bed­side ta­ble drawer in my bed­room.”

Santa's vis­its to his dis­abled friends have been less fre­quent lately. Ear­lier, he used to come back from the front­line, load his van with good­ies and head to the or­phan­ages every month. To­day, he is only able to take the trips every two months. There have been prob­lems with the or­phan­age in Ladyzhyn, Vin­nyt­sia Oblast (the au­thor­i­ties were plan­ning to shut it down). There­fore, when­ever Volodymyr had a chance to get out of the front­line, he rushed to solve the ad­min­is­tra­tive is­sues, and only then did he go to visit the dis­abled kids.

“In fact, we are try­ing to help both in a way that is func­tional, and in a way that brings some aes­thetic joy to those chil­dren,” Santa shares. “We've set up a sen­sor room in the Ladyzhyn or­phan­age, and a bil­liard room in Medzhy­bizh, Kh­mel­nyt­sky Oblast. Our friends do­nated a new ta­ble for it.” In Medzhy­bizh, Santa and his team set up a mini-farm where the dis­abled chil­dren can take care of the an­i­mals, feed and walk them, clean af­ter them. “We try to en­cour­age those boys and girls to not just laze around, but ac­tu­ally do some­thing. So many peo­ple have joined the project. I asked my friends from the DakhaBrakha band and they did a char­ity con­cert. All rev­enues went to fund the farm: ren­o­vate the premises and buy the an­i­mals.”

We've be­come friends with those kids by now, Volodymyr con­cludes. “They call me every day and ask me whether I'm still alive.”

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