Voices of Children is a charitable foundation that Olena Rozvadovska and Azad Safarov registered in 2019. Officially. In fact, Olena has been going to the East since 2015 and helping children from frontline towns and villages. To do this, she left her job as a spokesperson for the Ombudsman for Children’s Rights.
Until February 24, Olena did not even receive a salary from her own foundation, and the support of Ukrainians, who have already been tired of the war for eight years, was insignificant. Now Voices of Children has branches in several cities of Ukraine, hundreds of volunteers, donations from all over the world, and constant requests for help.
“We started doing everything we did before, but without sleep”
The Voices of Children had no doubts that a full-scale war would begin. During February, Olena gave daily interviews to foreign media, which at that time only talked about the possibility of a major invasion.
Everyone was looking for a speaker who could speak about the East in English. It seemed to me that the war was something so obvious. We did not live in an agenda where everything happened suddenly.Olena Rozvadovska, co-founder and chairman of the fund
From the first day of the full-scale war, Voices of Children helped families with children without delay. They did the same as before, only without sleep: they evacuated families and searched for mattresses and beds for temporary shelters in Western Ukraine.
Sometimes Azad, who was working with a Sky News crew at the front, would take the families to his car or ask fellow journalists to take them out in their cars. Sometimes, families were accommodated in hotel rooms rented by foreign media in Lviv. But not all the families, even those who had been under the care of Voices of Children for many years, were ready to leave their homes and go.
For a month and a half, I persuaded a grandmother and her three grandchildren, the heroes of the film “The Distant Barking of Dogs”to leave Mariupol. They refused. Then I said: “Okay. But in case something happens, I will not be able to help you, you will have to leave by yourself.” After that, they said they would think about it. On February 23, they called me and said that they were ready to go. I bought tickets for the 24th. It is clear that they did not go anywhere.Azad Safarov, co-founder of the fund, head of communications
Olena adds that people from the East, who had already evacuated once, were discouraged to leave again. The realization of the scale of the war came to some of them only after what they saw in Bucha and Mariupol.
“In Avdiivka, from where we took two families, it was not as loud as in Kyiv and Chernihiv at the beginning. They did not understand what was happening, they called and asked how we were doing. They said that everything was fine and quiet. And then it started…”, Olena says.
“For us, it was an opportunity to think not about money, but about how to help everyone at once”
In parallel with the evacuation and arrangement of temporary housing for families, Voices of Children organized an online hotline for psychological assistance. Only the specialists with whom the foundation had previously cooperated had to be stopped almost at the border. Azad and Olena persuaded them to return and urgently searched for sponsors who could pay for their apartments in Lviv, where prices had risen significantly at that time.
We understood that we need to help those who will help children. If you do not give resources to psychologists, they will not be able to work. So we managed to keep about a dozen specialists in Ukraine.Azad Safarov, co-founder of the fund, head of communications
At the same time, people from all over the world, including Japanese schoolchildren, Korean dancers, and shamans from Australia, collected money to help Ukrainian children. And one day the volunteers saw thousands of letters on the foundation’s e-mail: foreigners wrote to them expressing their support and sending money. Several people sat in front of the computers and just opened these e-mails. The system of accepting payments at some point even stopped coping with so many transfers.
Most donations came from the UK, USA, and Germany. It was an opportunity for us to think not about money, but about how to help everyone at once.Olena Rozvadovska, co-founder and chairman of the fund
The surge in the number of donors occurred after Oprah Winfrey wrote about the foundation in her blog, and Madonna transferred the money raised from the auction of her project. Previously, the foundation did not have such a scale of support. There were 5-6 people on the team and outsourced psychologists.