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Teacher Turned Activist: Woman Behind Biggest Ukrainian Protests in NY

October 30th, 2014 Written by | Comments Off on Teacher Turned Activist: Woman Behind Biggest Ukrainian Protests in NY

 I met Valentina Bardakova last February on the Brooklyn Bridge. She appeared as a young beautiful blonde  giving out Ukrainian flags to the crowd that came out to support the Human Chain of Freedom Walk she organized with fellow campaigners. Ms. Bardakova handed me an American flag to hold as a symbol of New York diaspora’s support of the fallen heroes in Kiev. Her notable initiative was a profound moment for the empathetic folks that joined that day.

On a chilling Saturday afternoon the they walked singing Ukrainian National Anthem and occasionally remembered the victims of Maidan in emotional prayers. Ms. Valentina, 38, led the chain through Brooklyn Bridge with slogans echoing “Heroes never die,” or “Glory to the Heroes” and in response the crowd chanted, “Glory to Ukraine.”

Almost a year later, formerly a Ukrainian elementary school teacher from Chernigiv, channeled her patriotic sense of urgency into a small non-profit organization Ukraine Abroad International NGO. The group collects donations in New York for the Ukrainian military and children hospitals. They believe the charity serves an invaluable role to the soldiers and people that predominantly dependent on volunteers as the nation scrambles for federal aid.

Teacher Turned Activist: Woman Behind Ukraine's Biggest Protests in NY
Brooklyn Bridge Unity Walk. February 22, 2014

How did Ukraine Abroad International NGO come about?

It all started with the protests in New York. I was an active participant in various movement that eventually led up the formation of “Ukraine Abroad”.  I started as an observer participating in protests. Soon I came to understand that many people couldn’t give as much support or attention as they could because of other commitments. I didn’t work, so I decided to become one of the NY’s organizers . My first event was upon my return from Kiev in January. I wasn’t active on Facebook at the time so I had to seek out other NY activists from the the Ukrainian diaspora.  I found more support later, after joining the online community. I wanted to do something  when the officials were killing the unarmed protestors and one of my friends told me about many others who want to come out to show support. That quickly formed into the The Human Chain of Freedom walk.

I’ve been an active participant in various movements and now my team and I work on medical and humanitarian aid. As we say it here, it’s now a full time job.

TEACHER TURNED ACTIVIST: WOMAN BEHIND BIGGEST UKRAINIAN PROTESTS IN NY
Ms. Bardakova is organizing medical aid supplies. 

What is the main focus of your team?

Given more opportunities as some sort of organization, the charity work gets easier. Our small group of six activists focuses on charity work for the Ukrainian military currently deployed in the East.

“Ukraine Abroad” works with American hospitals to gather medication, medical equipment to send out to the Ukrainian charitable foundation we co-work with in Kiev. They distribute our packages to the hospitals in Odessa, Kiev, children hospitals and battle grounds in Dnipropetrovsk, Ilovaysk by necessities.

How active is your organization with donations?

Currently, we’re organizing charity work through the web. We just sent out the first batch of tactic backpacks for physicians at the forefront. It’s mostly equipped with surgical apparatus, something that Ukraine lacks. The idea was to work on medical aid first and foremost because of the national shortage. It’s something that we felt would be most helpful as an aid organization.

TEACHER TURNED ACTIVIST: WOMAN BEHIND BIGGEST UKRAINIAN PROTESTS IN NY
Tactic backpacks for Ukrainian physicians. PHOTO CREDIT: Ukraine Abroad Facebook Page.

Where did you find yourself at the time of the November revolt when the ex Ukrainian President declined to sign the association with EU?

I was in New York waiting for something to happen. Tensions were in the air and I predicted his retreat. He wasn’t the kind of person to support European Union. He always listened to Kremlin. So I thought either in this historical moment the people will silently let it happen or we can fight for freedom and European ideals to finally become an absolutely independent nation. I followed the news daily since November. And I also knew I had to be there.

What motivated you to pack up and go to Kiev?

I never felt like a free Ukrainian citizen. When one million Ukrainians gathered in Maidan on December 1st, I felt like people finally woke up. The Ukraine has changed and there is no return. Newly liberated people came together consciously, and I wanted to be a part of that movement. I flew to Kiev on December 31. It was a feeling of one family, free people, and romanticism. I met many from remote places even from Russia who said they came here to feel free for the first time. It was special to see people’s eyes, something extraordinary. So much positive energy surrounding the place that people wanted to come everyday. The crowd was very easygoing.

Did that experience push you to become an activist and do what you are doing today in NY for Ukraine?

The experience changed me. I never considered myself a leader or an activist. Such active persona was unnatural to my being that I’d rather be a background supporter rather than a front woman. Because my role today takes a lot of responsibility for people,  responsibility to motivate and deposit a certain message, I have to be an example and a definition of a leader. After the Maidan, I couldn’t sit at home anymore. When events in Ukraine took a turn for the worst, I had to do something.

How do you describe the feeling that guides your active work?

It’s a feeling of humanity. It makes me a person who desires peace, love, empathy. I’ve met many people who’ve asked to hide the graphic images of the bodies from Maidan, because they’d rather not see them. I said that does not interest me. Some indifferent people that live in a false reality both in New York and at home in Ukraine asked if my life here lacked excitement or an emotional charge that I had to come to Kiev. It’s very scary if a person is indifferent, even scarier than angry.

Tags: activist · Brooklyn Bridge Human Chain of Freedom · PRO PEACE NY · Q&A · UA · ukraine · Ukrainian · Valentina Bardakova

Teacher Turned Activist: Woman Behind Biggest Ukrainian Protests in NY

October 30th, 2014 Written by | Comments Off on Teacher Turned Activist: Woman Behind Biggest Ukrainian Protests in NY

I met Valentina Bardakova last February on the Brooklyn Bridge. She appeared as a young beautiful blonde giving out Ukrainian flags to the crowd that came out to support the Human Chain of Freedom Walk she organized with the fellow campaigners.

Tags: activist · Brooklyn Bridge Human Chain of Freedom · Q&A · UA · ukraine · Ukrainian · Valentina Bardakova

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