Project report: Association of wives and mothers of soldiers participating in the war in Eastern Ukraine

Women united by war

Grantee: Association of wives and mothers of soldiers participating in the war in Eastern Ukraine 
Project: “United we are Stronger!” supporting groups of vulnerable elderly women in remote areas of the Donetsk region 

The Women of the Donetsk region are among those most affected by the war. Many of them have lost their loved ones and their homes. They were forced to uproot their settled lives and flee from the war. These women saw their husbands, sons and brothers off to the front line. They were waiting. Unfortunately, not everyone has got their loved ones back. 

Despite these hardships, they did not give up, but united to improve the lives of their families and develop their homeland.  

The war forced women to face a number of painful challenges that they had to solve quickly. Some had to organise their lives from scratch – to take their families out of the territories that were no longer under Ukraine’s control, look for work and housing in a new place, get new documents. 

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Natalia Muzyka, project manager and head of the Association with the participants in ATO’s first training session, who would become leaders of ATO’s mutual-help groups.

Not all these women were ready for such great challenges. In general, few people can be prepared for this. 

The project “United we are stronger!” which was implemented in the Donetsk region by the NGO the “Association of Wives and Mothers of Soldiers Participating in ATO” with support from The BEARR Trust, came to the rescue. 

Since its establishment, the Association has worked on the principle of peer-to-peer assistance. This means we do not help people in need just once but teach them to solve any life problems they might encounter, and then go out to support and teach others.  

As part of the project, the organisation’s experts taught women the principle of peer-to-peer assistance, group dynamics, stress management, and dealing with different stages of emotion. They learnt to communicate with the local authorities, make requests, and how to understand who to appeal to and on which issues.  

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A mutual-help group meeting, where women share their problems, offer one another support, and make plans to address their problems.

Having gained this knowledge and these skills, and – most importantly – friends and like-minded people, they came together on three issues that are extremely important to them. 

The first is the work of the mutual-help network. They created their own mutual support groups, which now work in 10 settlements in the region and take care of more than 100 women. Women meet, support each other, and help solve everyday problems, because they understand that the experience of one can be vital to another, and that no one will understand them better than themselves.  

The second is the problem of displacement from the occupied territories. Housing is among the biggest challenges they face. It was this problem that they got together to begin to solve. Having studied the legislation together, they analysed all the possible programmes and benefits available. They have already made their first appeals, applications and inquiries to the authorities, and have gained a clear understanding of how to achieve the desired result. It is not a quick process, but it is a start. 

The third issue is the desire to preserve the memory of fallen heroes. It is this goal and idea that has become a unifying force for women in the region where the blood of defenders has been shed the most. 

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A meeting between the leaders of mutual-help groups and local authorities, during which the women initiated the creation of a memorial for fallen soldiers.

The mothers and wives of the fallen soldiers decided to initiate the creation of a memorial complex to the Defenders of Ukraine who gave their lives in the war for independence. 

“The memorial complex is a symbol of our honour and gratitude to the liberating soldiers – it reflects our gratitude to parents for raising such sons, it is a place of strength, respect, memory and patriotism. Unfortunately, currently we do not have such a place, except for the cemetery, where families can come and lay flowers, where they can bring a child and tell them about their father’s heroic deeds, where they can commemorate their brothers-in-arms,” says Tetiana Lvova, a participant in the project. 

In cooperation with the city’s authorities, the women have already determined the place where the memorial will be installed. The city’s architects have designed the memorial based on the women’s wishes, and the city authorities have approved the estimate for its construction and allocated the necessary funds in the budget. The women plan to open the memorial officially in 2022 and lay flowers by it in memory of their children for the first time. 

“Together we have proved that it is not difficult to defend our rights and implement our own useful initiatives for the community. This requires only a little bit of our own activity and mutual support” – Svitlana, a participant in the project. 

In addition, women hold commemorative events, celebrations of memorable dates and simple friendly gatherings. Above all, they have realised that together they are stronger, that by joining their efforts their voice has become stronger, and that the authorities will hear them and respond to their needs particular, by involving women in the state administration’s working groups and advisory councils. 

The experience of the Association has shown that mutual-help groups are extremely effective and, even after the official end of projects, they continue to bear fruit. Having learned to change their own lives and the lives of the community for the better, women do not stop, but constantly take their ideas into the world. We are always ready to help and support. 


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