June 27, 2023
How does an engineer from Bilbao, Spain end up volunteering 2500 km away in Lviv, Ukraine? Our recent series of videos with Herman help to illustrate the connectedness of communities that may seem distant, but have similarities that build and strengthen bonds across the globe.
Spaniards know all too well the struggles against fascism, as many fought against the Franco regime during the Spanish Civil War so many years ago. Bilbao is in the heart of Basque country and has historically sought to gain and retain autonomy and self-rule just as Lviv has done throughout its long history. Just next door to Bilbao is the town of Guernica, which was bombed by the Fascists during the Spanish Civil War nearly a century ago. The horrific violence in Guernica is immortalized forever in the brutally beautiful Picasso masterpiece of the same name. Today we see the same barbarism in the Russian attacks on cities in Ukraine.
Engineers are skilled and creative types who use their abilities to find solutions to existing problems, and it was natural that Herman chose the path of problem solving when he volunteered at Front Line Kitchen in Lviv, Ukraine. He wanted to do something constructive to show his support for Ukraine and her people by volunteering and contributing to the local economy. He has both old friends and new friends now in Ukraine, and his goals as a volunteer were to show them that we stand with them and to let the world know what is happening there on the ground in the heart of Ukraine.
Herman’s experience volunteering at FLK has been similar to that of Darcy, another dedicated volunteer, and has been overwhelmingly positive. There is no shortage of work to do, volunteers are eager to help newbies get oriented and dive right in to the work, and the sense of community and camaraderie is uplifting and life-changing.
Getting to Lviv presented Herman with a few challenges but overall was not too difficult. Herman flew to Warsaw, took a bus to the border town of Przemysl, and then boarded a train directly to Lviv. Herman recommends connecting with people on social media for travel tips and to connect when you arrive. Volunteers are caring and sharing people and are eager to help other volunteers make the trip.
Volunteering isn’t all hard work, and there are so many fun things to see and do while in Lviv. Herman describes the city as feeling very safe and functioning normally, even if the war is always in the background as people thinks of others – soldiers and civilians – who suffer in the face of Russian aggression. Like Darcy, Herman has fallen in love with the food, and not surprisingly, his favorite is borsch. We wonder, did he think it might be similar to that other bright red dish, the famous Spanish gazpacho? (It’s not!) Because he visited during Orthodox Easter season, he was fortunate to be able to enjoy the traditional Easter foods such as paska cakes and other Easter delights. He also likes varenyky (Ukrainian dumplings), and syrniki, which are small pancakes served with cottage cheese and fruit jams.
Volunteers often ask if language is a barrier when visiting Ukraine, but Herman assures us this is not a problem and shouldn’t deter you from visiting, as many, especially the younger generation, have very good English skills. Herman has learned some basic Ukrainian phrases, an effort which not only allows him to navigate easier, but also shows a sense of goodwill and willingness to learn more about Ukrainian language and culture. This is a great strategy no matter where you travel in the world, and can be highly rewarding as it helps bridge cultural and linguistic divides. Just being able to say “hello” and “thank you” can open the doors to new friendships.
Have you considered volunteering in Ukraine? There are so many different organizations that do great work, and our list is growing as interest in volunteering has accelerated. Whether it’s peeling vegetables in Lviv or Kharkiv, teaching English to dislocated children , or tending to dogs and other animals at a shelter , there is always something that can match your skills and interests. Check out our site for more information.
September 8, 2023
Culture and History