"When you act, you are less afraid"

Since the large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the country has been resisting. Civil society organizations in particular are indispensable in ensuring society's resilience. In this Zeitenwende interview, activist Kseniia Bukshyna provides insights into her work.

The questions were asked by Felix Kösterke.


Ksenia, could you tell us a little bit about your organization? What kind of work do you do and how is it structured?


I am the founder of two NGOs in Ukraine. One is called Constructive Journalism and New Media Institute. This organization had already been working for four years before Russia’s full-scale invasion. We are focused on media, communication and sociological research of social problems in Ukraine, and have been deeply engaged with gender topics and the WPS (Women Peace Security) Agenda for the last two years connected to the challenges women face in Ukraine – poverty, domestic violence, child care burden, inequality and abuse. 


This is the background to why we started the second NGO called “Tak Shtab”. “Tak'' means “Yes“ in Ukrainian. And by our activities and long-term support we say “Yes” to women in vulnerable conditions. The NGO was founded on the second day of the full-scale attack. I just understood that we need to do something practical to help people here and now. When you act, you are less afraid and you at least have the illusion of control. 


The story of our start was like that: we had a big office in the center of Kyiv – we shared it with a few teams, it was a “home type” of coworking. After the invasion many people left, the space was empty. I went to the landlord and asked to let us stay there for free for a couple of months until we knew what to do and use the basement as storage for goods and as a safe place in case of attacks. He agreed, and we turned the office into a humanitarian center.


So, you found a space and then what? What was the work you were doing? 


When we decided it would be the humanitarian center, I just posted on Facebook telling people where we were and that we had enough space so that they could deliver goods or claim them if they needed anything. That is how we became a base for volunteers to come and pick-up goods to help others or to join us. Lots of people started messaging me saying that they were lost and didn’t know what to do. “Can we just please come to your place and join you?”


In the first weeks we were distributing everything: from frozen chicken to goods for the army, from medicine to dog food. Around 30 people joined us in the first days and very quickly thanks to the experience of people it turned into a working machine.  I was very lucky that I had and still have the right network of people in Ukraine and lots of very smart and professional people joined us. We really have fantastic volunteers with great skills and big hearts. We developed branding quickly thanks to the people from the creative industries. The manager of a few factories brought structure to the organization and made it work precisely and quickly. Technical professionals developed software for us. They made volunteering easy. People could just come and receive all the information they needed on what to pack and where to deliver via chat. 


That sounds incredible. How did your work then change towards being more focused on women and their needs? 


Two weeks into the war, one of my friends who had a baby goods shop messaged saying that she had some high-quality goods which she didn’t want to sell because she was planning to leave Ukraine with her kids. She wanted to donate 200 packs of diapers and 150 packs of wet wipes. 


Fortunately, I had been working on a media for conscious parents called Promum. It is a famous niche media in Ukraine focusing on new approaches to kids’ upbringing, family relations and gender order. We posted on social media and asked women in need to leave their requests for help. We were already aware of lots of the challenges Ukrainian mothers were facing from the first UN assessments coming in and knew that women not only lacked security but also needed very basic goods. So, we tried to help. The next morning, I woke up and I opened the application form and we already had 5000 requests. 


That was the moment when I realized that we should focus our efforts exclusively on women with kids. Women empowerment had been my passion all along and this was the area where I had enough knowledge. When I saw all these requests, I thought: “Oh my God, I need trucks filled with diapers and baby food!”. I felt a mixture of despair, anger and desire to act at that moment. 


Fortunately, a couple of days later, one of my friends called me and said that they had a truck for us. Actually, it all started with that first truck.

We have changed a lot since then. After a few months we realized that, actually, the more we do, the more demands we receive. 


I started to think about what to do next and what actions could be sustainable. So we went back to one of our core activity – research. We wanted to know everything about our women. In February 2022 we started polling. We needed around 1000 first responses through online forms to analyze. Half a day after the announcement on social media we had already received 2700 answers. We could really see lots of problems, lots of challenges, but at the same time we saw lots of possibilities and the coping mechanisms that these women have. Then we went to the field. Our sociologists and social workers visited and interviewed 30 mothers all over Ukraine. We saw that challenges often intersected. For example, many mothers became single parents because their husbands are in the army or they lost their jobs, or they have to take care of all the family. Women in Ukraine faced lots of difficulties even before the war started. The drastic situation with social housing made the lives of 4 million women (number of displaced women in Ukraine) unbearable. Now they are in a drastic situation: 20% have kids with disabilities, 77% don’t have jobs, 63% of women have kids less than 3 years old.


Additionally, they are always on the move. This is a hidden challenge but 23% of our beneficiaries have already moved more than three times during the war. So, every time, they spend money, they spend energy, they come to a new place, have to find some job or assistance. This is very, very tricky. We understood that these women are very vulnerable and they are not seen because of the militarization of society. Even with independent media now in Ukraine, these problems remain hidden and are not often publicized. Also, Ukraine, despite proclaiming to be a social welfare state in the constitution, has never really had a strong welfare system, so that such social problems are very, very hard to solve.


After conducting your research what did you conclude would be the right approach to adressing these issues? 


We developed a three-step model to support these women. The first step is called TakBox sustainable and tailored humanitarian support. This is a very hard job, and I would prefer not to do it. It is very expensive and takes a lot of resources – time, money, people's efforts. But, this is the only way for a woman to feel at least a bit comfortable and secure. 


The second step TakData is constant polling to understand their needs. We usually open surveys to ask those who we already support to fill in. Additionally, we poll women face-to-face. It is very important for us to see the dynamics and understand what is going on right now. We aim to conduct this as longitudinal research. We want to keep it going for at least five years since we know there was a lack of statistics and data even before the war, which has now gotten worse. 


The third step TakTion, which we have started to develop and plan to fully implement in 2024, aims to provide what we call ‘sustainable support programs’. Starting with mental health support, continuing with media literacy and finishing with career empowerment. 


Mothers in Ukraine are in quite difficult conditions. But there is a very important thing about them. Their kids are the key to their empowerment.  And I think this knowledge is very important for recovery and reconstruction. Kids are a great motivation even for women who might not see a future, might not want to do anything. They still have to wake up in the morning and take care of their kid(s).


And what I want to see is these women empowered within their communities. This is our plan and this is actually my dream. This also nicely intersects with a decentralization reform started in 2017. 


Could you describe this intersection a bit more in detail? What does your program have to do with decentralization?


I want women to get power in their communities, both politically and on the local level, running schools, running enterprises, running local power offices. Research tells us that women invest their resources in education, social welfare and better life in their communities.


Empowering women in their local communities starting right now will be very visible and positive in the future when we need new political leaders and when unfortunately, we will lack men after the war ends. Concerning reconstruction and recovery, I really think that women will be in power in Ukraine just because they will be in the majority and many men will come back from the war really scarred, mentally or physically. That is why, I think that it is very critical to have this local political empowerment component in our educational programs. Because Ukrainian women can do lots of things rooted in their resilience and their readiness to work 24/7. They already show that they fight equally both at the frontline and in civil society to help others. There is just an understanding, a social stereotype, a feeling that “I'm a woman, I should step aside to cook borsch or something like that”. Yes, you can cook borsch, of course, but that doesn't make you incapable of building a community to unite with other women.


We really want to empower and support our beneficiaries to become self-reliant. And really believe in our three-step model. This is not very difficult. It doesn't cost much money. It's really cheaper than just sending these boxes to people constantly. Our aim is not only to give the TakBox to women, but to help her to not need it in the future.


Would you recommend big international donors such as the German government or policy makers in Germany also adopt more of that approach? Or would you have any other suggestions or demands towards German policymakers?


From my perspective the best that can be done is strengthening institutions and civil society with a focus on women’s rights organizations and initiatives that provide help to vulnerable groups in Ukraine. Civil society leaders in our country have shown amazing power and strength working both to address “on the ground problems” and advocating, communicating for the people in Ukraine. But despite their immense input these women and organization they lead face diverse challenges starting with burnout and ending with the lack of capacity and resources to continue working. They need to be supported.


The second thing we lack and need is investing in research. Researching social problems has never been the focus in Ukraine, unfortunately. Now we see the great need for that, as we don’t know for sure what is happening and how it will impact the future. Helping Ukrainian NGOs to map their beneficiaries, to understand their needs, to know what type of help is needed is crucial both for sustaining this help and for the advocacy, communication and promotion of change. I truly believe only a powerful and strong civil society, equipped with knowledge, expertise and allies will make Ukraine prosperous in the long term.

Further links:
TakShtab Web site

TakShtab Facebook
TakShtab presentation

Research report: Ukrainian mothers during full-scale war: vulnerability factors and changing dynamics



Felix Kösterke

+49 40 26935-7520


Shaping a Just World

back to top