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Olga Savchenko, prevention in time of war

Oľga Savčenková cannot leave her hometown Dnipro. A few weeks after the start of the Russian invasion, on February 24, she was offered to leave this dangerously exposed metropolis in central Ukraine and join its teams in Chernivtsi by the NGO Handicap International, which she works for. 700 kilometers from the west. “I said no”smiles this 32-year-old Ukrainian with long brown hair. “It was too far from my family, too far from the action and I really felt that my support was needed here. »

Handicap International runs several programs in the war-torn country: psychological support for traumatized people and physical rehabilitation, distribution of humanitarian aid and education of the local population about the risks associated with explosive devices. It is in this last area that Olga Savčenková invests. She already collaborated with an NGO on this topic in 2015 and 2016.

At the time, the Ukrainian army faced Moscow-backed separatist groups along an almost immobile front line. This very specific region of eastern Ukraine has become one of the most mined on the planet in a few years. But since February 24, Russian missile attacks across the country have exposed the entire Ukrainian population to these risks.

“We focus on displaced populations”

“My first thought when the war started was to say to myself that I forgot to fill up the car.”, laughs A few months later Oľga Savčenková. She recalls the first days of wonder, her decision to stay in Dnipro, the first mutual aid initiatives and finally the return of Handicap International to her city in early May. The 30-year-old, who has been involved in projects to support decentralization reform since 2017, has returned to war with its explosions, maiming and fears.

“Today we focus on displaced populations and what are called ‘affected communities’ especially those close to combat zones, explains Olga Savchenko. The organization is still in its early stages, with the inevitable administrative difficulties and first contacts with village chiefs who fear that their constituents are unaware of the risks. The young woman wrote down on the board the names of those where her teams would go in the next few days, if the military situation allowed.

Educate about the reality of danger

But even in locations further from the front line, the need for education remains real: “Some communities that have never been bombed at first think they don’t need it”shows. “But then we ask them questions, we ask them if there is a checkpoint in their village, if they know that these checkpoints are usually surrounded by mines as a defensive measure… We can also have cases of soldiers offering balls to children as souvenirs. . »

Another change: the information is no longer only related to the specific question of explosive devices – how to recognize them, who to prevent – but also in a broader sense to the risks associated with conflicts: preparation of an evacuation bag, behavior during the passage of checkpoints, identification of dangerous areas… So many lessons, which suddenly became crucial for millions of Ukrainians.

Life in brackets

Returning to these issues, brutal as they are on the ground, has not been easy for Olga, while Ukraine and its people have seemed capable of long-term planning in recent years. “The hardest part for me is not being able to control things, seeing what we’ve built be completely destroyed overnight.”she said. “mental exhaustion” it is fueled by worries about loved ones, some of whom are currently in areas controlled by the Russian military, and friends who are on the front lines.

The war put all her plans on hold, big and small, until those yoga sessions she went to every day in January. “After two years of Covid, it was supposed to be a year of self-care, where I focused on work-life balance… For the first month of the war, I only ate biscuits and coffee and only went to yoga four times since February. » Like all Ukrainians, even Olga Savchenko does not know when life can really be restored.


His inspiration. A song by Beyoncé at the United Nations building in New York

It is the song that Olga Savchenko spontaneously evokes when asked about the reasons for her commitment, the inspiration she draws from her love of music in general: the title I was here (“I was there”), which was sung by the American singer Beyoncé on August 19, 2012 at the United Nations General Assembly on the occasion of World Humanitarian Day. “His performance at the UN was amazing. And there was a sentence: “I want to leave my mark in the sands of time”warns. I believe it increased my motivation to change things, support people and help them take responsibility for themselves. »

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