“It feels like home for me too” – talk with Maryna Hovorukhina

Commit
7 min readSep 15, 2022

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Maryna Hovorukhina is an expert in strategic communication with over 15 years of experience. In Ukraine, Maryna worked for various NGOs and helped them create a communication strategy, also with the media and create a brand. She supports Ukrainian NGOs with communication strategies even now, outside the country.

Meet the fellows of Vidnova Fellowship — an individually designed program for civil society actors from Ukraine that enables them to continue their work and broaden their network with other European and Ukrainian partner organizations.

Where do you come from?

My hometown is Kropyvnytskyi, which was previously called Kirovohrad. I like the actual name more. I lived there for 23 years before moving to Kyiv. Right now, I’m based in Berlin.

Maryna Hovorukhina. Photo credits: Anna Grabarska

Can you recall the moment when the war started? What have you been doing? Which moment of your life was it?

I was asleep; I didn’t know anything. Around 5:00 in the morning, I got a message from my brother, and I felt that something terrible must have happened. My brother is not an early bird. He always sleeps till noon, so he never messages me if something happens at such an early hour. I started to read the news and understood that the war had begun. And then I started thinking about what I should do now.

I wrote on Facebook to find people who needed support or were alone, so we could be together. One girl I didn’t know before messaged me, and we have stayed together since then. When we heard the sirens, we moved into the subway because we feared they would start bombing our district. And then we decided to sleep there, underground.

It was freezing and uncomfortable. I was with my cat. He didn’t feel good in this place. One of the reasons I decided to move from Kyiv was — honestly — that my cat wouldn’t pee in the subway. That’s why I always had to bring him back to the flat, under the sirens. Imagine a situation like this, going back and forth because my cat won’t pee at any other place. I understood that we couldn’t go on like this for a long time, and I couldn’t leave my pet. We decided to move from Kyiv and took the first train to the western part of Ukraine, to Lviv. Finally, we went to Poland, where we stayed at the place of the ex-boyfriend of my new friend, who had been with me since the war started.

At that time, we thought that the war would be over in two or three months. We stayed at the place of my friend’s ex-boyfriend, who lived with his actual girlfriend. The guy was very kind and helpful, but his girlfriend thought my friend was now at their flat not because of the war, but to get him back.

That was a little bit uncomfortable, but in general, people in Poland were very supportive. The owner of the flat where the guy lived gave us money and invited us to his girlfriend’s birthday party. He ensured us to stay at the apartment as long as we needed. He was very understanding and shared the vision that Ukraine and Poland are on the same side.

Then my friend from Berlin wrote to me with an invitation: to look around and check out the city so I could understand better where I wanted to stay. I took my new friend, and we moved to Berlin, almost instantly deciding that we wanted to stay there. My Berlin friend offered her an apartment to stay in, and my friend from Kyiv found a German family who took care of her. This is how I ended up in Berlin.

How does it feel for you to live in Berlin now? What is your routine?

I do projects within my fellowship and the organizations I have worked with for years. Moreover, I attend 4 hours of German courses every day. After all, I play badminton, because I’m in the badminton club. Starting from October, I’ll play in the hobby Bundesliga. For me, badminton is an integral part of my life.

Berlin is the city of foreigners. Some Germans say that Berlin is not Germany. I visited 38 countries but have never been to Berlin before. After I came, I understood I was happy and lucky to be here.

Which organization will host you during the Vidnova Fellowship?

As a branding specialist, I’ll work with the International Alumni Center (iac Berlin). I like how we communicate; when I met with Tobias, Head of Communications & Community Management, we already created several ideas about future projects.

And right now, the next step will be meeting with the organization’s director. He also has expertise working with Ukrainian NGOs. For sure, I’m going to make something beneficial for Ukraine NGOs and also useful for donors. It’s not a project for the sake of the project. It’s something that should serve people. It’ll be related to my strong side and expertise — communication.

We connected through Vidnova’s coordinators — representatives of the program introduced us, and we held a Zoom meeting. When I checked the webpage of iac Berlin, I understood that they have a lot of opportunities and connections, which are crucial for a Public Relation Manager. When I talked with Tobias, we instantly connected on several topics and possible future projects.

What has brought you to Vidnova?

A friend I met during the trip to Yemen connected me to another friend from Berlin, and this person told me about the fellowship. I got interested instantly.

First, I was at the information call about what Vidnova was about. During this meeting, I understood that it’s really for NGOs and gives opportunities to people from the third sector. They moved from Ukraine possibly to do something useful and get something useful. And then, of course, I found more information on the webpage when I wrote an application. Vidnova is powerful; what you’re doing could change people’s lives. Many activists who applied to Vidnova come from smaller cities, losing their connections and friends’ lives. And the program helps them get back on track.

The ‘third sector’ umbrella term covers various organizations with different structures and purposes, belonging neither to the public sector (i.e., the state) nor the private sector (profit-making private enterprise). There are other terms used to describe such organizations — the voluntary sector, non-governmental organizations, non-profit organizations — particularly in public discussions around policy and politics.

This support that Vidnova was going to give and already started to provide is essential because, as participants, we feel that we are not alone and somebody supports us. When we were in Ukraine, we were doing a lot of projects. Right now is the moment to make something for future victory. Because of all these projects and activists, they will return to Ukraine, rebuild the country, and use the knowledge they got from the country they live in with Vidnova. It gives the possibility to learn and to get more knowledge and skills. And it’s crucial to understand that somebody supports them — especially activists, who always help others. Now the situation has changed — somebody wants to help them.

Maryna, among other participants, during the 1st Orientation Meeting of Vidnova. Photo credits: Agata Maziarz

What are your feelings and reflections about the 1st Orientation Meeting in Berlin?

I met many people I knew before, and it was enjoyable because they are Ukrainian activists. They mostly knew each other, which translated into a very comfortable atmosphere. The Vidnova team, who prepared the event, thought about the atmosphere. We felt at home.

There was one moment I especially remember when we stayed in the last circle and said goodbye to each other. And the facilitators start crying because they say it feels like home: to be surrounded by people who do things, that we are continuing their work as usual. It feels like home for me too. It was very tender.

How do you imagine the outcome of your fellowship?

I want to get as many connections as I can. I felt that Ukrainian NGOs have a gap with German organizations and donors. We know several donors, like GFZ or Konrad Adenauer Foundation, but many more compelling initiatives can cooperate. Also, in Ukraine now, according to the statistics, there were around 700 charity organizations in 2021, and in 2022 there are already over 3000. I need to do a worthwhile project for the German and Ukraine sides.

Infographics: Splash of charity organizations in Ukraine (source: http://t.me/uawarinforgraphics)

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