Ukrainian students on exchange at UofG have garnered support for appeals sending essentials to people in their country from preloved Baby Boxes to rechargeable power banks.
Niviena Kharlanova completed a semester abroad at the University of Glasgow in semester one of the last academic year, and has since used her new home in Scotland as a base to help her home country after Russia’s invasion by organising an aid campaign. The Scot Baby Box appeal was born in March 2022, sending preloved baby boxes from Scotland to aid Ukrainian mothers and children affected by the war. The baby box is a hand out from the Scottish Government to all newborns containing baby clothes, bath towels and a changing mat, amongst other essentials. The appeal was set up by Jacqueline Crawford, who was awarded Trailblazer Woman of the Year 2022 from the UK Parliament for her efforts. Initially, the boxes were delivered to Poland for mothers and babies fleeing Ukraine in the early days of the war. But it was Niviena who organised for the boxes to go beyond refugee camps and cross the border into her country. After having helped in the initial stages by sorting donations and translating lists, her father came up with the idea of setting up a charity hub in their hometown which allowed the campaign to access Ukraine directly, an Niviena became the Ukraine coordinator for the appeal.
“I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else as I was fascinated with all the efforts people in Scotland were making”, Niviena told The Glasgow Guardian, and added that it helped deal with the “feeling of being safe and far from home”.
Logistics were a challenge as the campaign was finding its feet, with donations coming to 50 drop-off points around Scotland, from as far away as the Isle of Skye and the Highlands having to reach Ukraine. Friends sharing contacts within the University and promoting events on the Ukrainian Society’s social media accounts proved vital for recruiting new helpers to process items at the warehouse in Glasgow, even reaching support from the University of Strathclyde, and fortifying the already strong sense of community amongst Ukrainians in Glasgow. “The support is unbelievable as this initiative united so many regular people willing to show their solidarity as well as local businesses providing their products to help Ukraine through Scott Baby Box Appeal” Niviena told The Glasgow Guardian. She continued: “There is no better relief and feeling of proudness when you see babies receiving aid in Ukraine and those wee smiles when you can’t even imagine what has already happened to them because of this terrible invasion.”
The initiative from Scotland is officially recognised by local authorities in Ukraine, making Niviena proud to have played a role in connecting the two countries she is tied to. A bond has also been fostered – when the city of Kherson was liberated in November, a flag signed by all of the towns in Scotland where aid had come from was sent as a gift, along with more aid. Since the beginning of the project, additional aid to baby boxes has been sent, such as prams, tinned foods and warm winter clothes.
Niviena is involved in another project called Svytlo, meaning light in Ukrainian. This is the purpose of the campaign – to send rechargeable lights and powerbanks to Ukraine. She founded the project alongside UofG student Mark, who told The Glasgow Guardian: “The idea appeared spontaneously after talking to my brother and several friends about the struggles they are facing each day. To go about in the absence of the most basic amenities — without light or electricity for cooking, sometimes without mobile connection or hot water — for days and weeks, to me it is unimaginable. “How can we help?” — I’ve asked them. Rechargeable lights, powerbanks were the first things they mentioned. So I’ve reached out to my friends in Glasgow — and we came up with “Svytlo”, “light” in Ukrainian. After a few days we’ve got an idea for the Jazz night, and in about 2 weeks we organised it. The venue, the band, poster designs and movies — everything was provided by volunteers.This event alone allowed us to buy 40 rechargeable lights. For 40 people that means they will have light for Christmas. And I hope this is just the beginning of Svytlo.”
Of the Svytlo project, Niviena said: “There are numerous volunteering initiatives around Scotland gathering aid for Ukraine, however we were always lacking some kind of gathering for people under more positive circumstances. Obviously, Ukraine is undergoing rough times now and it’s horrible to see people suffering, however we wanted to make locals acquainted with the country we knew before occupation. Our culture is enormously rich with folk music, a growing film industry and long-lasting traditions. Ukraine has been independent for a short time compared to other states, therefore awareness about us is significantly lower except from that of political articles. I was always told at my home uni that youth and students will play a crucial role in rebuilding Ukraine one day and I feel as if we have already made our small contributions. “Svytlo” is an initiative that came up as an idea between friends willing to share the gems of Ukrainian heritage and fundraise simultaneously. It is a unique project.”