Vlad and Roma, foundation «Obiymy»



On the first days of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, Vlad joined Kyiv's territorial defense and, at the same time, raised money for humanitarian aid and the purchase of ammunition. He started an «Obiymy» (in Ukrainian hug) charity foundation with like-minded people and continues his volunteer activity. «Humans of Kyiv» team recorded a conversation with Vlad at the fund storage, where we met other team members.


In the photo, Vlad is with Roma, a PR manager, and communication manager of the fund «Obiymy.»



Volunteering


On the 24th, I woke up at 8:30 am and saw a message from my assistant that the war had begun and there were missile attacks. I can’t change this word now. I was pissed. My mom and I packed up at once, as she lives in a neighboring house. We bought some goods. The first two days we spent at home. However, we understood if we stayed at home, we could go crazy so we should do something helpful. We thought about donating blood, but it didn’t work out, so on the third day my acquaintance and I joined the territorial defense.


At first, we were added to the unit, but almost at once, we understood we were better at organizing and searching. We raised nearly 190 thousand hryvnias on the first day and fed soldiers. There was such chaos in that battalion, and I guess the same situation was in all territorial defense. Anyone wasn’t ready for that. There wasn’t any kitchen, and we needed to feed almost a thousand people. There was a shop «Silpo» under our headquarters, and for raised money, we bought meat, cheese, bread, tea, coffee, and vegetables that were available yet and made sandwiches. As a vegetarian, I never thought I would have callus after cutting sausage. That’s how my mother and I started working for our country’s and territorial defense’s sake on the third day.


Then we left the battalion we were part of from the beginning till the end of March as we discovered that a part of goods was dumped, and at that point, we delivered tons of goods in trucks. We separated with the people we worked with and switched to another battalion, where we met wonderful soldiers. So we also became soldiers, joined the volunteer construction battalion, and started helping civilians.




We helped people on just de-occupied territories. As we are military, we had an opportunity to get there first, which is essential. Also every week lots of pensioners call me, we provide them with dry ratio, medicine. We helped some animal shelters. We constantly help the Institute of Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynecology, and moms with newborn kids and infants because diapers and baby food are expensive and difficult to find. We provided and continue to support some animal shelters with food. We drove to the villages and helped people there. We collect trucks with food and medicine from time to time and send them to Kharkiv and the Mykolaiv region. We provide the military of our battalion with food and ammunition.


Personally, I do something new every day and search for resources.

Europe has now become less loyal to humanitarian aid. During the first month, they gave to everyone, and now Europeans say, «We are pacifists, we don’t want to help the military.» And that’s so absurd because every Ukrainian knows that the majority of the military in Territorial defense, Armed forces of Ukraine and Dobrobut are civilians who had to take weapons and defend their country not because they chose it but because an enemy came to our country. After all, our people are killed.


A question of starting a charity foundation arose to have an opportunity to work with international organizations freely, the way they like it, they have lots of rules for co-working. So we decided to organize a structure that would be more common for them.


I invested a part of my money in armor plate production; I found a place abroad where we could buy high-quality metal for armor plates of 5+ level. Thanks to my connections and acquaintances during the war, I had an opportunity to do it for less money and sell it cheaper. In Europe, such a set costs 700-800 euros, and we sold it for 300-500 dollars. That’s how we were able to provide our soldiers with that money. And also had the opportunity to sell 100 bulletproof vests with high-quality plates at a low price, so we did two good things at once.



After the sale of the first batch, we invested in the purchase of two more batches. There was not enough money, so now we are running a fundraising campaign to provide another 200 soldiers, which are 400 plates, two in a set. We already found a part of the means, about 40 sets went in the direction of Bakhmut and Mykolayiv, and 5 sets were sent to Kharkiv.


Money is something that is constantly spent somewhere and should be replenished. During this time, my team and I collected and spent about 10 million hryvnias. In a peaceful life, 10 million hryvnias sounds like a significant sum, but during the war, it is almost nothing because just to dress 4,000 soldiers in summer uniforms, and shoes are already a lot. In winter we prepared winter uniforms, and as it became warm, we realized that we needed summer ones. And I am not counting helmets, bulletproof vests, thermal imagers, sights, and cars, all of that cost a lot of money.


Money is something that is constantly spent somewhere and should be replenished. During this time, my team and I collected and spent about 10 million hryvnias. In a peaceful life, 10 million hryvnias sounds like a significant sum, but during the war, it is almost nothing because just to dress 4,000 soldiers in summer uniforms, and shoes are already a lot. In winter we prepared winter uniforms, and as it became warm, we realized that we needed summer ones. And I am not counting helmets, bulletproof vests, thermal imagers, sights, and cars, all of that cost a lot of money.


You constantly look for something, search for resources to provide the military, resources to help civilians. I can't highlight a certain social group because they are all people and all of them need help. Some of them left their homes and they need help to settle, someone went to war and they need more effective help.

Now all volunteers help elderly people, and moms with kids and there is a part of middle-aged people who lost their jobs and they simply can’t buy products. I have one wonderful woman with a 6 years old son and she doesn’t have a job because of what, she couldn’t feed her child. When we came to her for the first time she burst out crying. She was ashamed to ask for help. And lots of people are ashamed, the majority of people who call us start with the words «We are really embarrassed but…». You shouldn’t be ashamed, it’s such a time and it’s normal to ask for help it’s normal that we can make groups and help. Now this woman finds people in her district who also need help and we bring her products she distributes them and sends us photo reports.


Now you need photo reports to work with philanthropists and funds which is not common for me. I volunteered before the war too, I took care of children with disabilities and children suffering from cancer. Most of the time I did not post anything on the internet because it was unethical, I posted something only when we raised funds for them. I think if you help a person you do it not to show yourself or boast. But the war changed this aspect too, now you need to record and fix everything to prove that you rationally distribute resources that are given. I am ready to do anything that’s needed so the resources continue to be provided and still have the opportunity to help people who need. them


In the third month of war, we found a lot of people with huge hearts, we joined and created a charity foundation «Obiymy». Everything in order to be able to hug as many people as possible, to help those who are in a difficult situation now, to support everyone who needs support. Now it's just very important.



Now I am surrounded by a wonderful team of 20 people and each person is unique and special in their own way. Everyone does something better than they can for our common aim, to help together, and hug as many people as we can. The only dream now is victory.


Сhildhood and moving to Kyiv


Before the war, I had several activities. I was a commercial stylist, I shoot commercials for big companies, which brought me money. I was also a queer performer, performing in nightclubs, and at festivals, I did small performances mostly without words with scenery and changing costumes that I created myself. And I am a master of meditation.


My favorite performance was last year at the festival «Iskra» (spark in Ukrainian). It was based on my own life. It was a performance about a fat boy-gay, none comes to his birthday party, he doesn’t have friends and instead of congratulations, he receives only abuse. At some point, a prayer, and contact with greater power saves him and tells him to find a spark inside of him. He founds it and discovers that he is unique, strong, and bright, he founds the same weirdos and feels love and respect.


I grew up in the Kirovohrad region in a small town Bobrynets’ with a population of 15 thousand people. My life there was complete hell. Once I was invited to an internet group «Let Shast-faggot dies» there was a poll if people want me to be dead. And they massively voted for it. I remember after my prom, I was walking on the main street with a high school diploma in my hand and a golden medal, I know that I will get out of there and I guys throw chestnuts at me.


All my childhood I was different from all the boys who play football and computer games. From the age of 4, I was engaged in ballroom dancing, singing, and performed at every concert, I was an excellent student and wanted to dress differently. My mother helped me, we went to Kropyvnytskyi, where we bought, for example, a T-shirt with rhinestones, even then I had my own taste. I didn't talk openly about my orientation when I realized I was gay. It was impossible to be one there. I even tried to create the illusion that I was in love with some girls so that they let me a little bit, but it didn't work.


Since childhood my mother told me that I could do anything, I just had to believe and do it. It saved me, I knew from childhood what I was capable of. Every time I was told something unpleasant when I was spat at, I just kept saying to myself: something big is waiting for me.


I shout at every pride that human rights come first.

People just understand it very badly, especially in our Ukrainian society. I saw several posts on the Internet that LGBT people were beaten, in the comments, people say that's what they needed. Society doesn’t understand that they treat LGBT Ukrainians the same way racists treat our people. Society absolutely refuses to listen to the LGBT people's position, instead, there is anger, hatred, aggression, and a desire to destroy.


I understood that I wanted to move to Kyiv, there were already people waiting for me whom I met on the Internet, and there was a community. When I was in 10th grade my mother and I came to Kyiv and I went for the first time with a group of adults to a gay club, I was 15 and they were 23. I told my mother where I was going, and when she asked me why I went there I replied that it was safe there, because there were no drunk and insane men.



Before the age of 17 I didn’t come out until one unrequited love, I got drunk and came out to my mom. And later I called her from a gay club and said that I was performing on stage in high heels and would do it.


I fell in love with Kyiv because I found my people here who understood me. Here, when I say somewhere in the company that I am gay, people answer: “Cool! Dude, me too» instead of punching my face on the pavement.




LGBT activism


I performed in gay clubs with the pseudonym Guppy. I started a completely new direction for Ukraine. Relatively speaking, I brought a queer culture, which was not openly called queer, into the underground at the time. And somehow, little by little, I formed together with the club world of Kyiv. We formed each other. At some point, I realized that I have a superpower to inspire. People approached me and said they saw how much I enjoyed myself. One day a girl came to me and said that she did not dare to wear a dress with open shoulders for a long time, but thanks to me, she dared.



Wherever I am, when people see me as real and reject stereotyping, I no longer explain to someone that I am the same as they are, but those people around me who see me as a person do it. That's great.

I am very proud of the people from the LGBT community who are currently serving in the military. And we know only about those who speak openly, and imagine that at least a tenth of those who serve are gay and lesbian. According to statistics, one-tenth of men are gay. There is a large number of people who are silent, who are still afraid. And those who speak openly show that we are the same people as others, have the same values and want to defend our country.


I have no intention of hiding myself, even though the war came and I am stressed. How dare you tell me something about my orientation or that I am too mannered? Come on. I sleep for three hours. I sacrifice my health. And during the first month, we really worked non-stop drinking energetics. That’s what actually happened. Most people lost all their questions because they saw my work.




I believe in the laws of karma and the way the universe is arranged. None has the right to violate someone else's will, someone else's borders, and commit violence. If you destroy, you lose a human status. I stay here precisely because our land is ruined now. I have my own relations with Ukraine, but I paused anger and resentment because people are dying, there is genocide of the nation, and none has the right to do that. How can I go to another country to build my life, knowing that people are dying here? For me, this is nonsense. I do not know how I would forgive myself. And I understand that now Ukraine is a protective barrier for the whole civilized world. The war works against progress, against freedom. If Ukraine lies down, this war will come where I would go.




The material was created by:

Authors and Transcriber:

Transcriber and Interviewer:

Sofia Kotovych

Bogdana Gorban

Proofreader:

Photographer:

Anna Pastushyna

Khrystyna Kulakovska

​Translator:

​Tonya Smyrnova


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