“Beehive of Meanings”: about an atypical shelter, motivated IDPs, and the “bees” team
Publication date: February 24, 2023
In March 2022, they began with the emergency resettlement of people fleeing the war in Ivano-Frankivsk oblast. In the year that has passed since the beginning of the large-scale invasion, they have mastered 8 relevant areas of work with displaced persons, opened a shelter for them with an atypical concept, and are constantly working to create decent, non-discriminatory living conditions in the host community, which will help people to easily adapt and socialize. Inna Kolesnyk, a lawyer of the initiative and NGO “Triangle”, told the Legal Development Network about “Vulyk Zmistiv” (Beehive of Meanings)* from Kolomyia and its team.
Inna Kolesnyk, a lawyer of the initiative and NGO “Triangle”
“We started with the most urgent need – settlement”
“Beehive of Meanings” became operational in March 2022, that is, in the first days of the full-scale russian invasion of Ukraine. People from all over Ukraine began to arrive in large streams to the Kolomyia community. They were resettled in places of emergency settlement, under which city schools and kindergartens were taken. Still, there were not enough places to sleep, and not everyone is able to sleep on mattresses in school gymnasiums or classrooms. Many people wanted to settle in the private sector, especially families with small children and elderly people, or people with disabilities.
At that time, our NGO “Triangle” got to know the (at that time) program manager of the Legal Development Network (LDN) Vitalii Okhrimenko, who also came to Kolomyia as an IDP. And we had a common idea to unite the efforts and capabilities of public activists, volunteers, and various organizations around the idea of comprehensive social assistance to forcibly displaced people.
We started with the most urgent need – settlement. We began to form a database of those who offer housing and those who need it, and brought these people together. There were more and more requests. We opened a hotline and rapidly expanded the range of activities.
As soon as people settled down, they started asking for help with basic administrative and legal issues.
In addition, there was a large layer of work in the humanitarian sector: providing families with furniture and food, arranging leisure activities for children, guiding people in finding a job, and providing psychological help.
And then everything turned around and developed according to the challenges we faced.
Shelter: from a temporary refuge to a development center for IDPs
During January-February 2023, we focused on opening our own shelter. As we planned, the first family moved in on February 19, the second on the 20th, and three more families by February 24. Now 14 people live here. And we will officially and solemnly open the shelter on March 3.
Actually, the history of this activity began at the end of May last year, when we realized that the places of emergency settlement in schools and kindergartens were closing. People were partially resettled in two shelters opened by local authorities, which were converted from former medical institutions. Caritas Ukraine, which has its own shelters in the city and district, also had no free places. Some of the IDPs, of course, left the community, but more than 250 requests for settlement remained in our database. The private sector has provided a lot of free and subsidized housing, but there are also those who have significantly raised rental prices. That’s when the ambitious idea of opening our own shelter was born.
The head of our NGO “Triangle” Solomiia Zinets-Matsyshyn and Vitalii Okhrimenko, having experience in cooperation with the Building Ukraine Together (BUT) organization, and having obtained support from international donors, were able to find about 7 million UAH to finance such an idea. We signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Kolomyia City Council — it granted permission to repair and equip the communal premises. It is possible not only to accommodate at least 50 people for free in decent, comfortable conditions, but also to create a kind of development center for IDPs with training rooms and a children’s space for classes.
Helped with the supervision of such a “big construction”, commented the head of the NGO “Space UP”, lawyer Mykhailo Danyshchuk. And some members of our team have almost settled in the facility since then, solving current housework issues, such as Denys Vynnychuk.
The renovation of the premises, which was done by the volunteers of Building Ukraine Together (BUT), the installation of all utilities, the attraction of new donors, and the overcoming of unforeseen, but usual challenges for construction and repairs, lasted 8 months. Now everything has been washed and cleaned, we are at the stage of furnishing and installing household appliances.
An important point. Adhering to the concept of the activity of the “Beehive of Meanings” social initiative, we will conduct conversations with candidates for settlement in it, since only motivated individuals and families – who are ready to take an active part in the activities of the community, attend psychological and other trainings, look for a job or start their own business, interested in their own self-development – will be able to live in the “Beehive”. We do not want to create passive consumers of humanitarian aid but seek to help people get back on their feet and develop the society they are a part of.
“Beehive of Meanings” is not only about shelter, or Flexibility as the secret of success
Two areas of work are ongoing in our social initiative: settlement of displaced persons in the community and provision of free legal aid. Other areas of activity develop organically in accordance with the requests of IDPs.
It is thanks to the project activities that we have the opportunity to implement various activities and effectively respond to the challenges of the times and the requests of people who come to the “Beehive”. As soon as we understand that a certain activity is relevant right now, we look for opportunities and partners who have the resources for it and are ready to join the social initiative. Our success lies in this flexibility.
The number of people in our team is constantly changing because different numbers of volunteers and specialists join different activities. From time to time some leave, and others come. However, everyone feels like bees of the “Beehive of Meanings”. The base consists of about 10 people.
The NGO “Triangle” is the coordinator of the “Beehive of Meanings” in the Kolomyia territorial community and district. But for almost a year of work, such organizations as Legal Development Network, Youth NGO “Stan”, NGO “D.O.M.48.24” became (and remain in some projects) our partners, without whom we would not have managed, NGO “Space UP”, Media resource “Gluzd”, Czech charitable organization “People in neen”, Ukrainian educational platform, Building Ukraine together, NGO “Strength of the community”, Ukrainian Women’s Fund and others.
In general, thanks to the work of “Beehive of Meanings” in 2022, it was possible to settle about 270 people in decent conditions in the Kolomyia community, to provide qualified legal assistance to 348 people. In various areas of work, we consulted, responded to inquiries, or involved 4,783 people in activities, not to mention outreach through legal education or participation in the media.
In the course of the war, requests are transformed
A request for basic legal advice is the very first request we receive after a person closes his basic need in a new place of residence, i.e. settlement.
Usually, these are issues related to the registration of IDP status and benefits, registration of various types of social assistance, the conclusion of housing lease agreements, and restoration of lost documents.
In the first months, there were many questions regarding the rules for crossing the border and exemption from mobilization. Subsequently, most of the questions came about the postponement of mobilization, delivery of summonses, military registration, and passing of the military medical commission.
Already in the summer, we were especially often approached about family issues (marriage, divorce, collection of alimony) and registration of inheritance, as well as regulation of labor relations (remote dismissal, registration of layoff or vacation for 90 days, etc.).
Then there were requests from IDPs to be accompanied in court, to establish the facts of death or birth, and requests to submit documents for compensation for destroyed or damaged property. We have cases of supporting the issues of booking employees by enterprises, as well as issues related to state support for business relocation, and obtaining grants for running one’s own business.
And by the end of 2022, requests for consultations related to the norms of military law and the settlement of issues of challenging the actions of the command or the conclusions of the military medical commission, establishing the status of a participant in hostilities, assistance to family members of participants in hostilities, and the like became more frequent.
Assistance to job seekers and relocated businesses
The “Beehive of Meanings” team has done a lot of work in the field of legal education and legal literacy training in the community, as well as advocacy on IDP issues and business relocation. We cooperated with the city council on the IDP Assistance Platform created by them – it is a kind of hub where you could get quick answers to urgent questions during April-June. “Beehive” provided consultations there as well.
Starting around June 2022, we began collecting requests for job search assistance. They showed great interest among the beneficiaries, so they began to develop innovative approaches in this matter that could improve the employment process. The Legal Development Network joined this work, and within three months, together with HR specialists and with the help of service design tools, research, and in cooperation with the Employment Center, businesses, and job seekers, we developed an improved job search mechanism specifically in the context of martial law and with a focus on IDPs.
Work with relocated businesses was a separate project for a long time. Our lawyers advised both at the relocation planning stage and accompanied the on-site adaptation process. We conducted online consultations, webinars for a wide range of people, and offline events.
The “Beehive” is a space that is friendly to everyone
For more than two months, we have been successfully implementing several projects in cooperation with three organizations aimed at improving children’s leisure time and informal education for them. These are various master classes, dances, yoga, games, visiting exhibitions, and other entertainment. The construction of a separate “Child-Friendly Space” facility with furniture, computer equipment, and toys is in progress, which will function on a permanent basis in the community thanks to funding from the NGO “Stan”. We involved four specialists who are IDPs in this work, which already indicates the successful outcome of our mission.
Recently, there has been an increase in requests from IDP women who come to our “Beehive” for psychological help and group therapy. Such a request speaks of trust in us, because it is difficult for people to open up to strangers. We are implementing a project aimed at helping women who have suffered from domestic violence, we are conducting educational work.
All activities cannot be described. You can also highlight work with youth and teenagers, legal literacy trainings, pre-medical care courses, cultural and historical activities, parties…
The humanitarian direction does not stop
The humanitarian direction does not stop working, certainly not for a day. Locals also already trust our team, so they know that all the things donated by them will really be used for their intended purpose, that is, the displaced people will have furniture, dishes, household appliances, books, appliances, or food.
“Beehive of Meanings” is almost the only one in the community that regularly carries out targeted delivery of humanitarian aid to remote places of residence of IDPs and people who are unable to come for it. This is very resource-intensive, so we are always happy to get support in this direction. With the distribution of humanitarian aid, we are always helped by local partners – the NGO “Strength of the Community”. And when we receive separate kits with products and household chemicals from charitable organizations, then it is really noisy here, like in a real beehive, because hundreds of IDPs come for help.
“All our activities are a response to the requests of IDPs”
Thus, as of now, we work in at least two basic areas, and in total – in 8 different directions. And we see the main goal of creating decent, non-discriminatory living conditions for IDPs in the host community, which will help them easily adapt and socialize.
You see, at first, people thought of nothing but settling down and waiting out the war. Later, unfortunately, it became obvious that hostilities drag on for a long time, many people lost their homes and have nowhere to return, and the occupation of territories continues. Therefore, the settlers began to settle in a new place. Some have found a job and need advice on how to quit their previous one, and the issue of enrolling children in educational institutions and transferring them from previous places of study has become more frequent.
Besides, people just want communication. That’s why we created the “Language circle” every Monday, where the Ukrainian language teacher gives interesting talks and teaches those who expressed a desire to switch to Ukrainian and immerse themselves in the rules of the language.
Psychological group meetings, co-working spaces between businesses and job seekers… There is always something going on at the “Beehive”. And these activities are not far-fetched – they are a response to the requests of people who are displaced people in the Kolomyia community. So, for example, if suddenly tomorrow IDPs come to us with an offer to help them open a bakery or an educational institution, we will look for resources to help them.
For 2023, of course, our priority remains the administration of the “Beehive of Meanings” hotline – it is thanks to it and through counseling and active direct communication with displaced persons that we are able to quickly respond to the challenges we face in this difficult wartime. We plan to further develop the direction of legal consulting and legal education, and work with businesses and job seekers. We have many plans. We are always open to cooperation and new ideas.
* The social initiative “Vulyk Zmistiv” (Beehive of Meanings) is being implemented with the support of the Legal Development Network in three communities of Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, and Vinnytsia oblasts. All of them help IDPs to find a new home or at least a temporary shelter, solve urgent housing needs, and adapt and socialize in a new community.
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