We launched Draftsy in June 2021 and chose Home as the first topic of the month. The search for our roots, homelessness, and migration are all deeply intertwined. December 18 is the International Migrants Day. We would like to finish the year by talking about migration and complete the conversation about home, belonging, and looking for a better future.
In this issue, we will talk about migration in France, Russia, and the world in general. We will discuss the difficulties people who are forced to leave their countries face in search of a better life and asylum.
We will try to understand the issues of migration policy and social problems. It seems essential to us to draw readers’ attention to this topic because, in the modern world, the division of migrants into “good” and “bad” into legal and illegal is taking root more and more.
Society is banalizing rhetoric about building a wall on the US-Mexico border and erecting barbed wire and barriers along European borders to “protect” the countries from illegal migration.
The Mediterranean Sea has been the center of tragic events for several years, where thousands of migrants die trying to cross it. In France and other European countries, laws are tightened against citizens who distribute food to illegal migrants, who help them move from one point to another and give them shelter.
Migrants cross borders to escape from military conflicts. They leave their countries for political, economic, and climatic reasons and risk their lives by choosing this path. This month we want to tell their stories.
The pandemic has been brutal for everyone, but performers who make their living doing live shows have suffered immensely. Draftsy talked to Miss Velvet LeNore, a newly crowned Miss Florida Female Impersonation At Large, about the community coming together to support the artists during the lockdowns.
A gorgeous drag queen with 27 years of experience, Miss LeNore is well known and respected in South Florida for building recognition for the LGBTQ community and supporting other artists.
Draftsy: Miss LeNore, how did the pandemic affect your art? Was it a negative influence, did it affect your ability to be in shows and support yourself with your act?
LeNore: Fortunately, I am one of the ladies who are not afraid to save the money, so I personally was ok, but the pandemic had hurt many people in the drag community. Many performers were scared and did not think they could survive it. Thank God for our community and the fact that we were able to do shows online from our homes. We had so much support during the lockdown.
D: Online shows? That must have been a significant change.
L: Yes, we found a friend who was computer savvy and helped us get online and link all the performers from their houses. We got all the ladies together and started doing shows. People were very supportive and paid us through instant money transfer apps.
D: Being in the lockdown, how did it challenge or change your art and creativity?
L: Because of the pandemic, I took a step back and thought about the fact that every artist, no matter what art they are creating, must grow and help others. I decided to take people under my wing who wanted to become performers but didn’t know where to start. Many guys want to try a career in entertainment, but there is no platform for them. So, I made my own platform and called it “The Boylesque Show.” It allows new performers to do drag, and it is going really well; the show is blowing up in South Florida!
D: What was the most important feeling in those months during the beginning of the pandemic? What kept you going?
L: What kept me going was knowing that I would be able to see my family and my kids again one day. Not being able to see everyone for a while has made me realize that we need to love each other more, tell them how we feel every day, and spend more time with family. We must make memories with people.
I lost someone to Covid-19 recently, a friend of mine who used to do drag to raise money for kids. We did a benefit in his name, and thousands of people came out. That broke my heart – he was so healthy and strong. For him to be taken from us like that has opened my eyes to the fact that we have to be there for each other in life. You just don’t know what’s going to happen and what tomorrow holds.
D: Do you think the art was more important than usual in the past year and a half?
L: Oh yes, absolutely. When the bars opened back up, I felt like the community embraced us a lot more. Things are actually even better now than before the pandemic. I am working more than I have ever worked. I think the public appreciates us more because they see what we had to go through. They are giving us the love back.
People were in their houses for so long, only able to watch television. They could not wait to go out and see live entertainment once the restrictions were lifted. Every show has been sold out. People want to get out and experience life again. Drag shows are a way for locals to have dinner with family and friends, laugh, celebrate and have a good time. The club where I work has been packed every night.
D: In your opinion, is there an imbalance of people leaning on art in hard times, and at the same time, artists going through difficulties because society is not giving them the means to support themselves?
L: I personally think that the community has done everything to support us through this time. A lot of people were giving the performers gift cards for Publix (local grocery store – ed.). They found ways to help us raise money, kept reaching out every week to see if we needed anything at all. Local restaurants were cooking dinners and giving them out for free to artists that could not afford to buy food.
I feel that the community really did give back to us. They supported us more than ever before. It just shows that people care, and they understand that we had no way to make money. A lot of girls live from show to show, so it was difficult for them. Not everyone was able to save for a rainy day. We were sharing everything and helping each other out. At times like these, we must stick together.
Last year turned the world upside down and changed our lives forever. We learned to socialize differently, work from home, wear masks and greet each other from afar.
For many people, art in its many forms has become a comfort and salvation. Favorite music and books, old movies, and online galleries had become a solace in moments when pretty much everything else in the world was uncertain.
At the same time, with theaters and museums closed, concerts canceled, and banned, many artists found themselves without jobs and on the brink of extinction. In every country in the world, they tried to find a way to survive and continue to create while their support systems were crumbling around them.
This month we would like to tell their stories and talk about art. How it saves us and how sometimes it, too, needs to be saved.
World CleanUp day is celebrated today – millions of people around the world are coming together to make a difference in their communities.
According to the World CleanUp day official website, last year, despite the pandemic, 11 million volunteers in 166 countries participated in the event and collected 43000 tons of garbage. This year the organizers hope to see even more people take part.
The idea to simply get together, go outside and clean up the environment as much as possible was born in 2008 in Estonia. A local grass-roots organization Let’s Do It called for a national cleanup day. Fifty thousand people showed up and picked up ten thousand tons of trash, ultimately “cleaning up” the country. The event quickly made the news, but what is even more important, it inspired millions of people (and even whole governments) to follow suit.
Members of the initial Estonian group have created an international Let’s Do It World movement in 2011. In 2018 they naturally progressed from the idea of “cleaning up” individual countries and organized the first World CleanUp Day. According to the movement’s 2020 annual report, participants specifically concentrated on plastic bottles and cigarette butts. However, during last year’s cleanup, volunteers around the world unearthed some interesting finds. In the Cayman Islands, they collected a lot of abandoned shopping carts; in France, a washing machine was pulled out of a canal; and in Ukraine, volunteers found a motorcycle buried in the mud.
In my home state of Florida, thousands of volunteers will go out today to clean up local parks and beaches – World CleanUp day coincides in the US with the International Coastal Cleanup, which urges people to pick up trash on the shore and stop plastic pollution of the ocean at the source.
Even if your Cleanup Day will consist of picking up a plastic bottle from the sidewalk or taking a bucket for your morning beach walk – we can all do our small part. Let’s clean up the world!
To learn more, check out https://www.worldcleanupday.org/
When I was a little girl, I thought I would have two kids by the time I was 25. Granted, I grew up in Russia, where getting married young and having children young has been an accepted tradition for a very long time. Instead, I went to college, worked as a journalist for a while, and then moved to the US.
In my early twenties, the last thing on my mind was, “where do I find a fine man who can be the father to my future children?” Instead, I was thinking about how to get the tickets to the latest DJ set or use my journalist ID to get to the backstage of concerts (after using it first to get in for free). I traveled, I made friends, I fell in love. I made stupid decisions. Probably some good ones, too. But the twenties seem like the perfect time for screwing things up and learning from your mistakes.
I did get married for the first time when I was 27. He was much older than me, and having kids right away just wasn’t something we discussed. I felt I had a lot of time, and our financial situation was far from ideal. When I got divorced two years later, not having children (or any property together) was more of a blessing than a regret.
Only in my early thirties did I finally find myself, learned to listen to my desires, and treat my body and mind with the love they deserved all along. I moved across the country, traveled even more, got a new job. I started going to therapy (that divorce was a great thing for me but still left me in shambles).
I am trying to say that up until I was about 31-32, I wasn’t too concerned about having kids. I was hoping to meet someone soon, who would be a good husband and a father. I knew I was getting close to the moment when I would want to become a mom. But I also enjoyed being single, discovering the world, and learning how to be genuinely happy on my own. In other words, I was growing up and becoming the person I was meant to be.
Maybe it is the privilege of our comfortable times and both countries where I grew up and now live. We don’t have to do farm work from an early age; we can get good education, travel, build careers and write dissertations. We are not required to marry a wealthy neighbor to help our family out or birth half a dozen kids to help with the chores around the house. Times are changing, and in many countries, women have kids much later in life.
I am one of those women, and I think it’s ok. I also think people need to stop asking us when we will finally start pushing babies out, “like we are supposed to.”
One of the Russian politicians went viral last year when she said that women should ideally have kids before the age of 25, so maybe the schools need to do a better job at explaining to girls how important this is. Women who give birth later than that she called “the old birth givers.” The term is not new and was widely used in Soviet times. It refers to women who become mothers after they turn 27.
Russian society did not take her comments lightly and suggested she leaves it to women to decide what to do with their bodies and instead focuses on astonishing levels of poverty amongst single mothers in Russia. While the attitudes of younger generations are certainly changing, a doctor in a Russian infertility clinic still might suggest a husband (of any age) chooses a younger wife if the current “after 30” partner is not successful in conceiving a firstborn.
A couple of years ago I went for a walk with a friend. He lives in Madrid; we have known each other for many years but never had a chance to meet. I was in town for work, and we decided to go for a stroll and grab dinner together. It was a perfectly lovely evening, up until we started talking about our personal lives. I told him I was dating someone, and I believed we would get married at some point and start a family. To this, my perfectly kind and well-meaning friend said, “Oh yeah, it is time to start trying for kids, no? How old are you, 33? 34?”
Because I was going to therapy for years and was able to react to things better, I did not burst into tears or scream at him. I calmly explained how inappropriate this question was and suggested he should never say that to another woman. He apologized profusely and felt so bad he insisted on paying for dinner.
I don’t think my friend is a horrible person. I think it is just too normalized to ask such questions and make jokes about the subject. People rarely realize that they might be hurting others with their unwelcome inquiries.
Yes, we are having kids when we are much older. Our lives and attitudes towards motherhood are changing. Still, our bodies are largely the same as they always were, with the exception of the availability of much better nutrition and medicine. This means that having kids can be difficult at any age, but it sometimes becomes even more difficult later in life.
I have friends who have been trying to conceive for years. I know a few girls that are currently going through IVF treatments and a few others that just gave birth after it. I know women who suffered miscarriages. Fertility is a difficult subject, and problems with it can be devastating to the family. It is also not something couples might discuss with friends or acquaintances in a casual conversation.
When someone asks, “when the babies are coming,” or comments on a woman’s weight gain with suggestions of pregnancy (which can be completely random or a result of hormone therapy to battle infertility), they don’t know how much pain they are causing.
Not everyone is ready to have kids at the same time. Some people decide not to have them at all, and that is also ok. Some families wait years to have a kid and focus on other things in life. Others have six children and are universally hated by everyone who has the misfortune to dine at the same restaurant with their large brood.
Let’s agree not to ask stupid questions about fertility, lack of kids, not enough kids, kids of opposite gender “to finally have a boy/girl,” and all other things that are none of our damn business. Let’s learn as a society to be better and do better. We must remember that even the questions that come from the most loving heart of a good friend or an elderly relative can be hurtful and most definitely unnecessary.
Let’s learn different ways to ask married couples about how they are doing and to check in on single female friends approaching their mid-thirties. Talk to them about their favorite Netflix shows. Discuss plants and dogs – no one will get mad at you if you ask people when they are going to finally get a puppy. Devise the plan to take the patriarchy down and solve the climate change crisis. Just stop asking women about having kids.
Osy Milian is a contemporary Cuban artist from Havana with a strong presence in the international art world. Her works depict the complexities of both personal and cultural experiences of modern citizens of Cuba, expressed through a vibrant artistic reflection. In this exclusive material for Draftsy, Osy agreed to tell us about her latest project – “The Grays,” a series of paintings currently on exhibition in Boca Raton, Florida.
While Cuba is currently going through a period of upheaval and disquietude, and Osy’s works in many ways remain relevant and match the mood of the moment, “The Grays” were actually created prior to the recent protests, during the pandemic and are inspired by it. The paintings reflect the uncertainty and disorientation of young Cubans affected by the virus and the further havoc it wrecked on their country.
Osy normally uses vibrant colors to create her paintings, and yet the series live up to their name and are mostly done in grays and pastels, with rare splashes of brighter hues. The works are meant to convey a gray moment in the Cuban panorama, full of uncertainty, fear, and change.
“The figures on the paintings are translucent, they look and feel like ghosts. They are anxious, waiting for a change, waiting for something to happen in the country, for the things to get better” – explains the artist.
In one of the paintings (“Karma” – ed.) a woman is holding a horse head, an oversized knight chess piece in her lap. The authority and strength of this powerful animal create a metaphor for the woman having full control of decisions in her life. The red hue over her eyes represents her anger. (Osy uses red for this emotion throughout the series). Ms. Milian adds that we also need to control the animal within us, the instincts of it – hence the red rage encompassing the head of the woman in the painting. We must be in balance with it and with the world around us.
The red color is visibly more prevalent in the paintings depicting young girls, demonstrating that the new generation is more aggressive than the old ones and is willing to fight for their rights. The repeating theme of the birds represents the concept of migration, the flight that most Cubans cannot make. The inability to get away.
Some of Osy’s figures are meditative, looking calmly back at the viewer. According to her, this calmness is also about control. In this case, control of emotions as the pandemic was making people in Cuba (and all over the world) anxious and crazy. The artist offers to meditate on the passing of time and realize that one day this period in our lives will be just a stage in the history of the world.
When asked about the subjects of her paintings (they are all women or young girls), Osy explained that she considers herself a feminist artist and wants to speak for all women in the world.
“My subjects are beautiful and strong women; my art represents them and the struggles they go through. I am also including myself in my paintings. Female artists deal with sexualization and the male gaze, we carry the weight of experiences that male artists don’t have to ever encounter. Women don’t want to be perceived as sexual objects. That is another theme of the series – you can see it specifically in the “Lilith” painting”, – added the artist.
Osy Milian’s “The Grays” exhibition is presented by NCO Creative. It is on view at The Gallery Lounge of Boca Raton, in the Town Center Mall, and will be featured until Friday, August 20th. For viewings by appointment, please contact Natalie O’Connor at Natalie@ncocreative.com.
Draftsy would like to thank Natalie O’Connor for her help with this article. Natalie is the founder of NCO Creative, a boutique art consulting company dedicated to procuring international works, with a special focus on Cuban art. NCO provides services, such as art acquisitions, select artist representation, exhibition coordination, and the curation of Cuban art tours.
If you have grown up reading Narnia books and dreaming of the secret gardens, as I did, you know you will always love a good book about a magic door (or a closet) that leads into another world. The writers (and publishers) know this fact well, and so they keep supplying us with lovely stories of what can be found behind those mysterious doors. I am certainly not complaining.
So here are three somewhat recent books about magical doors that lead… elsewhere.
Ten thousand doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
January Scaller finds a lonely blue door in the middle of the hayfield when she is a child. She steals a glimpse through it and sees a city on the edge of the ocean. Even when she steps back into her own reality, she can still smell the salty air of that other world. Unfortunately, her wealthy guardian Mr. Locke shows up just then, and she makes the mistake of telling him the truth about the door. Hours later, it is burnt to the ground.
January’s father is always away, employed by Mr.Locke and traveling the world in search of peculiar items and antique treasures for the rich man’s collection. His little girl grows up in the Locke House, surrounded by all the luxury the money can buy in the early 1900s. But she is not very happy and is constantly told to “be a good girl” and to “know her place”. Cue to me continuing to read the book at least to see her rebel.
Why read it
It is a beautiful coming-of-age book and a great specimen of YA literature. The story is well thought through and has a few surprising twists. Harrow writes about the racism of early 20th century America and how January, who is mixed raced, is treated differently when she is alone and not next to her wealthy white guardian.
It was hard at times to read long inner monologues of January, trying to follow what was supposed to be the teenage angst and failed logic without cringing: “I am not his good girl anymore!” But that, I suppose, is an inevitable part of the genre. You can’t bite into a cherry cake and complain about the cherries in it, can you?
The world that Harrow built is gorgeous and full of wonders – there are birds with feathers that grant invisibility and a whole different reality with matriarchy led by leopard women. Even though Ten thousand doors is not presented as series, I hope Alix Harrow writes another book that follows January on her journey.
Last Bus to Everland by Sophie Cameron
Brody Fair is a Scottish teenager that lives in Edinburgh. He is not yet out of the closet, unsure of himself and where he belongs. Life at home is not great. His brother seems to be better at everything and thus is a favorite child (at least that is how Brody feels). His Dad has a severe case of agoraphobia and hasn’t left the house in years. His Mom is the only breadwinner and is struggling to make ends meet. Two of Brody’s neighbors, older girls, bully him at school and when they see him outside of the apartment building.
So, it is no wonder that when he finds out there is a magic door that opens inside National Monument on Calton Hill every Thursday night at precisely 11.21 pm, Brody is eager to escape through it.
Why read it (Spoilers alert!)
Last Bus to Everland is very good at describing self-search and uncertainty that teenagers deal with, especially LGBTQ kids. It is a well-written story where no characters are ultimately good or ultimately bad. Everyone has a past and issues they deal with, so many things are not what they appear to be.
Everland exists in this story as an escape latch that gives characters a place and a time to hang out, explore their passions, forget about the problems at home and meet new friends. Some people choose to stay there forever, but I did get the feeling that Cameron wanted to clearly send the message that while this fairytale “knock-off Narnia” is a nice place to be, serious young people need to choose reality over it and get their shit together.
Cameron’s characters deal with poverty, immigration issues, mental health, meeting society’s and parents’ expectations, eating disorders, growing up gay, and coming out, so there are a lot of themes that readers of all ages can relate to.
I am a little upset that Everland seems more of a clutch for the story and Cameron does not fully explore the magic of it. Spoiler alert – at some point doors to Everland start to close all over the world. There isn’t really an explanation for it but it is a serious matter. People can only exit through the same door they used to enter, so many realize that they might get stuck in Everland forever, should the door close while they are inside. Others decide to never come back home on their own.
This starts to happen right after Brody finds a first edition “Peter Pan” book in Everland’s library and takes it home. Peter Pan? The boy who never wanted to grow up? The old book that symbolizes the whole idea of Everland, taken away from it, like a beating heart ripped out of a still-breathing body?
Until the very last pages, I thought Brody would figure it out, bring the book back behind the magic door, and save Everland. Instead, the door closed, separating the main character from his love interest. Forced to deal with real life, Brody realizes that his brother is not the worst and that his family loves him.
It is a good book and I enjoyed it. But the magic-loving part of me is still salty that this sub-plot with Peter Pan book did not come to be. It was so fitting.
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Let’s start by saying that if you have read and liked The Night Circus, you would love this Morgenstern book as well. In Starless Sea she brings the same mix of adventure and devastating love stories peppered with magic.
Zachary Ezra Rawlins, just like January, also found a magic door when he was a boy. But unlike her, he decided not to open the door (lest he would learn that the magic is not real). The door, however, or rather, the universe behind the door, does not let him off the hook so easily. Years later, Zachary is a student at a New England University. He finds a strange book in the library and in it a very specific story about him finding that door and missing his chance to see the Starless Sea. Zachary is not willing to let the magic slip away again and finally decides to follow it.
Why read it (some spoilers for Starless Sea and Ten Thousand Doors)
The Starless Sea might not be an easy read for some. It is built like a kaleidoscope of beautiful little shards of glass that give the reader a glimpse into different stories and dimensions. For me, finding the connections between the narratives was half the fun. (Even if I had to repeatedly go back and forth between the chapters and pages, looking for clues). Morgenstern does not tie up all the loose ends, but the story, in general, is cohesive and captivating.
There is a beautiful gay love story at the forefront, but also some heterosexual sub-plots. The book is full of longing – for the loved ones and the magic of the hidden library.
Just like in Ten Thousand Doors, there is an evil organization that believes itself the protector of order and peace. The Guardians here, like the Mr. Locke’s archeological society, want to close the doors from our world to the Starless Sea – to protect the library from changing. (Mr. Locke wanted to ensure that our reality stays protected from other worlds that through the open doors bring change and unrest – like the fight for equality, for example). In both books, the characters realize that chaos and change are inevitable and good for the world as a whole.
Enchanted doors, closets that lead to snowed-in forests, or fountains that bring you to other worlds, – we all like a bit of magical escapism. The closest thing to it are the books themselves (sometimes quite literally, like in Matt Haig’s Midnight Library). I hope you enjoyed this selection. I am off to find more doors… I mean books!
Once we know where our home is, we are often tempted to wander. For the second volume of Draftsy creative efforts we have chosen the topic of Freedom.
There are many reasons why we wanted to talk about it – in most basic meaning of it, as freedom of choice and freedom from being enslaved, to freedom of expression and opinion.
This month we will write about the victims of sex trafficking in France and the long difficult road they have to walk to live as free citizens of the country. July 30th is also World Day against human trafficking. The fact that it is still happening quite often right beside us – no matter what country we live in – might be outside of our everyday worries. We would like to talk about the reality of human trafficking happening in the world.
We will also return to our Kazan story about Yulia Hakimova who helps homeless and needy and write about beggars on the Russian streets that found themselves enslaved by the local mafia.
We hope to have a guest writer and artist present a photo project about the crisis in Cuba and Cubans’ most recent fight for freedom.
We invite our readers to reach out to us via firstname.lastname@example.org with more stories and visual projects.
Every house starts with a door, a threshold. What lays behind it, what secrets it keeps, what stories it remembers? All we can do is wonder and imagine.
I am fascinated with the old doors of ancient cities. To me, it is a big part of their charm.
I spent two weeks in Lisbon in January of last year, just before the world had shut down. The capital of Portugal is one of the oldest cities in continental Europe, older than even Rome by 400 years.
I walked around the city the way I always do when I come somewhere new. I usually have a few places in mind that I want to see, but otherwise, let the streets lead me away. I take the wrong turns and follow the crooked alleys until the outline of the old town imprints on my mind.
I like to take walking tours with locals, see the city through their eyes, hear their stories. The tour I took in Lisbon lead me and a dozen other tourists up and down the narrow streets that often become literal staircases. The tour guide, a local historian, knew all the shortcuts around the hills and little nooks in the alleys by the sea where grandmas sell their homemade cherry ginjinha in chocolate cups, euro a shot.
On that tour, on my second day in the city, I started noticing all the beautiful doors. Adorned by traditional tiles, with heavy brass knockers, beautiful arches, and stone steps that have been worn out by thousands of feet coming in and going out.
I saw simple, well-made doors of the old Alfama district with historical signs above them often covered by laundry drying on the clotheslines. I admired the gorgeous doors of shops on Rua do Carmo, some of which still sell the same fare as they did a hundred years ago. I saw so many, I started looking for them and collecting them on my camera roll.
I hope you like the doors of Lisbon with their colorful tiles and rusted hinges. I hope they make you think of foreign streets you have wandered about in the past, and inspire you to take new trips once the world is open again.
Private charity focused on helping the homeless and the poor have always existed in Russia. Before the revolution, it was customary and honorable for wealthy citizens to help the homeless, build almshouses and hospitals. During the Soviet era, the state took upon itself all the obligations to help those in need, and yet I remember how adults in my family would always tell me, then a little girl: “the hand of the giver shall never be empty,” when we saw beggars at churches or in metro stations. We were not a religious family, so I think that was more about the Russian spirit of giving to those who are in need, without asking for justification.
My mom and grandmother explained to me from a very early age that we all should always help others when presented with an opportunity. Regardless of what kind of story a person has. The sheer number of small private charitable groups in Russia, which are found in almost every city, suggests that many Russians hold the same position.
I found out about Yulia Khakimova from my friends in Kazan, where she lives as well. Growing up, I have spent every summer there. Yulia has been helping the homeless and poor in the capital of Tatarstan for over ten years. Nowadays, she has a page on Instagram that shares the news of people in need and helps find funding for various projects. Yulia goes above and beyond in helping others and is often the last resort before a family loses their rental flat for unpaid bills or a retired grandma runs out of groceries and medicine.
The story of one of the people she had helped has gone viral in Russia. An elderly Soviet officer Vladimir Alekseevich ended up in a Kazan shelter for the homeless with a severe disability and without documents. After desperately trying to help him, Yulia invited the old man to live in her own house and was able to raise funds for an expensive surgery, which restored the veteran’s eyesight and hope for life.
Yulia agreed to give Draftsy an exclusive interview about her work.
D: Yulia, how did you start helping people?
Y: We have been helping those in need for the past 12 years. I wanted to help kids, so I started going to orphanages, eventually, friends and like-minded people have joined me. At the very beginning, our work consisted mainly of trips to nursing homes, boarding schools, and shelters. We brought the essentials and basic medicine to lonely veterans and helped low-income families with home repairs and groceries.
In 2014, the war began in Donbas (Russia-Ukraine conflict – Ed.). I remember we were sitting in a cafe, having lunch. The news was playing on TV, with reporters saying there was a shooting in Ukraine, bombs have exploded. Residents could not leave the country, because the banks were closed, and it was impossible to withdraw money for a ticket.
The server brought me a check for lunch. I looked at it and realized that for the same two thousand rubles that I have spent right there, someone could buy a train ticket from Donbas to Kazan. I was dumbfounded that while we eat at the restaurants and have our lives generally go on without a change, people in Ukraine live under bullets and have no way out from the country. From that day on, my family and friends began to save money and help Ukrainians in whatever way they could.
My children even opened their piggy banks, gave me the money that they were saving for the summer holidays, and asked me to transfer it all to Donbas.
We then sent all the funds we had to civilians that we found through online chats. How we transferred money to them is a whole different story. We sent funds through other cities and middlemen, who all took a fee for their services.
At first, all those who came from Donbas stayed in my house and with our friends. Then, when we had too many people and not enough houses, I had to look for other accommodations. We have organized a free cafe and a clothing distribution point. I will never forget the women who were coming to us, saying that their families had finished their last groceries and they have no money or means to get more. It was a terrible time; I have never seen so many hungry people in my life.
Of those who then came to Kazan from Ukraine, most remained in our city. They found work and received citizenship.
Afterward, not only refugees from Donbas but also local people in need began to come to our help center. We began to realize (with much surprise) that town officials often sent people to us, saying, “go to this organization, they will help you”. At the same time, we did not receive any state support or funds for our social work. We helped people with our own money, and when the funds ran out, we sold our cars. At that time, we only accepted food and clothing from those who wanted to help. We did not ask for donations or money in general.
At some point, we had too many people coming in for help, and we could no longer keep up. We had to close our Help Center and go back to normal life. However, it was impossible for my team and I to return to our main jobs (Yulia owns a small business producing cemetery monuments – Ed.) and leave charity behind. People still found us and asked for help, and there was always someone who had no one but us to rescue them. Since then, we have all been combining our main occupations with charity work.
D: What problems do you face most often?
Y: The main problem, in my opinion, is the attitude of society towards helping those in need. When we find a person or family who desperately needs help, we share their story and call for action, beg people for support. They give it to us, feel like they accomplished something good, and move on. Unfortunately, this emotional response and the desire of people to help both disappear very quickly and everyone except us forgets about the person in need. But a lot of people require financial help and assistance for weeks and months. Some veterans that can barely survive on their pension remain with us for many years.
We cannot leave someone until their life is back to normal and they can go on without help.
Our workload is growing, we have more and more people that need our assistance. We are always looking for new opportunities to find support from others.
D: Do the local authorities help you, is there enough social support in general?
Y: In my opinion, Tatarstan has a good system of social assistance. These are shelters for the homeless, soup kitchens, and centers that provide groceries for low-income citizens. People on the streets can get food and a roof over their heads.
The needy themselves are different as well. Some people end up homeless but do not want to change anything in their lives. They go to the soup kitchens, beg and continue to live on the streets.
Some have a normal pension, a good apartment, and grown-up children that help them. But they still go to support centers, come up with tales about their misfortunes and take whatever they can, in any way possible. I will never know why they do it.
Some people in difficult situations receive help and quickly get back on their feet. After a month or two, they themselves come to us with an offer of support, they want to help someone else get out of the same tough spot.
There are people who really are in dire need, but they are very ashamed of their poverty. They are afraid that someone will find out that sometimes they don’t even have food in the house. They will not ask for help, they will not go out into the streets to beg, and they will endure the unendurable. We help this particular category of people the most.
They trust us because they know that we will not share their stories on social media, we will not show their faces and not try to pry into their private lives. We will simply give them a bag full of groceries and ask how else we can help. Sometimes it is enough. Other times people open up and share their struggles and pain. We try to do what we can to make their lives better.
To sum up, we try to help most people on our own and contact government agencies only in extreme cases. We always receive support from the authorities and solve the problems together, when necessary.
D: Why do you think we are returning to private charity to help the homeless and the poor?
Y: There have been poor people in Russia at all times, no matter the government and the regime; as well as private benefactors striving to help them. In previous years, the homeless and the needy may not have been so visible, because there were fewer places where they could get help. Now there are many more support centers, soup kitchens, and people willing to help. Naturally, underprivileged citizens who take advantage of these services have become much more visible. Social media also helps to draw attention to this issue. With Instagram, it is easier to spread the word about people who urgently need help. It also helps us inform our followers about what has already been done. Positive examples of other people doing charity work are contagious, others see it and want to join in. It is the spiritual responsiveness of people that sometimes moves me to tears.
D: Yulia, what should happen to make your work with the homeless and needy a little easier?
Y: Our work can become easier if people start to notice those who need help and not pass them by. I wish we would not need an Instagram post to bring our attention to an underprivileged family or an older neighbor that could use some help. We have had dozens of cases when someone brought food for those in need, and we ended up taking the donations to the veterans living in the same building with these benefactors.
Yulia continues to help the homeless and poor of Kazan and refuses to give up in the face of any obstacles. Vladimir Alekseevich, once a homeless disabled officer and veteran, still lives with Yulia and her family. He teaches her children what he knows about wild herbs and surviving in the forest. Vladimir Alekseevuch had become a real grandfather to them.
Yulia says that help with new cases mostly comes from friends and acquaintances. Social media (Yulia is active on Instagram) helps to attract people who want to help volunteers with food, building materials, or money.
If you want to help those in need in Kazan, you can transfer funds to PayPal: radif–email@example.com or send funds to a Sberbank card via the number +79872963373 (inside Russia only).