Bohdan Pechenyak, Philadelphia
This is a story about how a seemingly random group of mostly unacquainted people quite spontaneously found common purpose and created something bigger than the sum of their individual parts. This is a story about an organization called “Razom” (“Together”).
Although some of the Razom founders knew each other before the organization’s founding, they came together spontaneously in response to the challenges of the day, faced by their ancestral land. That common cause united the founders’ disparate personalities in a single-minded pursuit. Their beloved Ukraine embarked on the road to realize her European aspirations, including democratic governance, strong civil society, and, above all, freedom from Empire – and the founders were determined to help her.
The decision to create a new organization came naturally, after several weeks of vigorous support of the EuroMaidan in Ukraine. The earliest efforts involved fundraising to deliver clothing, food, and protection for the protesters in the Maidan throughout the winter and organizing protests continually in cities around the world, to draw attention to the events in Ukraine. Soon afterwards, the activist groups, which had emerged in cities across the U.S. and the world, started to coordinate their efforts: crowdfunding, Unity Marches, anti-violence protests, candle-lit vigils for the victims of state violence, and other public events and rallies. Within this activist environment, Razom was born.
Who are the founders? What has Razom done to date? The organization’s Board of Directors consists of successful professionals from many spheres: marketing and public relations, jurisprudence, information technology, social work and public health, business management, biomedical sciences, and finance and accounting. Razom also draws on a much wider pool of talent from the growing community of activists centered primarily in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., but also from the members across the U.S. and the world, including, of course, Ukraine. Taking advantage of the social media capabilities, Razom has established a network of 15,000 supporters from all over the world, a base of experts and dedicated individuals which will continue to grow and evolve.
Since its humble ad hoc activist beginnings in November 2013, Razom has managed to deliver over $130,000 to Ukraine in aid, monitoring the supply chain every step of the way: identifying needs, locating and purchasing the needed items, and delivering them directly to the protesters on Maidan. The extraordinary efficiency, transparency, and reliability of this effort was made possible thanks to personal contacts, established trust, and the extraordinary support of volunteers in Ukraine. Funds gathered globally led to the delivery of over 6,000 liters of fuel, over 5,000 medications, over 500 helmets, and over 700 items of bulletproof vests, masks, and other protective gear – and every single dollar was tracked to the final delivery of goods.
Building on their initial efforts, Razom has moved on to longer-term and higher-impact projects, centered on humanitarian assistance and advocacy. In the spring, for example, Razom released the White Paper “The Crisis in Ukraine: Its Legal Dimensions”, outlining legal conclusions on Eastern Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea by Russia, the Budapest Memorandum on international security guarantees, and the human rights and humanitarian law at issue. This report was prepared pro bono by an invaluable international team of lawyers at the New York University (NYU) School of Law. The report was presented at various forums, most prominently to the legal community in USA in April (at NYU), the international diplomatic community at the United Nations in May, and the legal community in Brazil in August (at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro). The report has been translated into Ukrainian, and parts have also been translated into French and Portuguese.
Also, shortly after the invasion and annexation of Crimea, Razom helped compile a reference of “Experts on Ukraine and FAQs on Ukraine Crisis”, to make accurate information about Ukraine and its history available and accessible to international media. The list was prepared in collaboration with such eminent scholarly communities as the American Association of Ukrainian Studies (AAUS), the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS), the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute (HURI), and the Shevchenko Scientific Society. Distributed to a wide network of media contacts and published online, the references invariably helped dispel some of the myths and propaganda surrounding the events in Ukraine.
Another example of the second-generation Razom projects is the “MedContainer” initiative, which aims to send three 40-ft containers of medical supplies and equipment specifically requested by hospitals in Dnipropetrovsk, Kyiv and Kharkiv, Ukraine. This initiative will help meet many acute needs the healthcare and public health systems are stressed by the demands of the war in the east.
The estimated value of this surplus of medical equipment from U.S. hospitals is $1.2 million, while the cost of shipping is $20,000 per container. To ensure full transparency, quick turnaround and lowest cost, Razom is collaborating with a organizations such as Project C.U.R.E., which is responsible for collecting the surplus and packing the containers, and New Life Church (Kyiv, Ukraine), which manages duty-free customs clearance and in-country logistics. Razom continues to emphasize transparency and accountability in its financial operations, placing a premium on the trust of its cherished donors, sponsors, and the community at large.
Other initiatives include the Toy Drive for the children of the injured or fallen soldiers, and the Personal Care Drive for the Ukrainian soldiers. These projects prepare and ship care packages – toys, winter clothing and shoes, basic toiletries – directly to those fighting for Ukraine, and to their families, to show them love, support and appreciation of their ultimate sacrifice for the common good.
These initiatives represent only the beginning. Razom has always been intent on developing sustained efforts to provide the necessary expertise, advice, and resources needed to rebuild the Ukrainian society and state. Economic, social, labor, legal and judicial, public health, educational and civil service reforms, are all indispensable to ensure a brighter future for Ukraine without systemic corruption and exploitation. Any successful approach to the implementation of these complex tasks will have to be comprehensive and multi-faceted. And this is exactly what Razom founders have set out to do, hoping to make a meaningful contribution to the overall process.
The Revolution of Dignity
After the riot police savagely beat peaceful protestors, the EuroMaidan movement grew into a full-scale Revolution of Dignity. The European spark ignited a powder keg of public indignation, which lit a bonfire of radical social change, another attempt at the “breakthrough to democracy,” as the Orange Revolution of 2004 had been called at one time. This time, however, the people seemed to learn the lessons of the past, not looking for new saviors, but relying on the power of the people, the civic duty, the primal solidarity of the human community striving for dignity and freedom. This factor was ultimately the deciding one in ensuring the successful outcome of the Maidan – the removal of the criminal regime.
It is said that revolutions are started by the romantics and taken advantage of by the scoundrels, who eventually come to power. This was confirmed by the aftermath of the Orange Revolution, and it remains a distinct danger today, as members of the former criminal regime jockeyed for positions on the eve of the crucial parliamentary election. Some of them managed to get elected yet again. While the society seems to be more vigilant this time around, many dysfunctional mechanisms still exist and many corrupt officials still occupy their positions, especially in the middle tiers of state bureaucracy, threatening the possibility of a truly democratic transformation. This threat is all the more real because of the war waged by Putin’s regime in Eastern Ukraine, frequently used as an excuse to delay reforms and distract from the backroom politics and shady deals that inevitably take place behind the scenes.
Ultimately, the responsibility to stop such things from happening rests with each of us. Each citizen of Ukraine, each Ukrainian living abroad with wider access to free media and additional resources, each non-Ukrainian who cares for human rights, values liberty, and understands that it’s not just Ukraine’s future that is at stake, but that of Europe and the world order as a whole. The building of democracy, of a strong new state and nation, of a lasting civil society is an effort for multitudes, a process of evolution and innovation, and an arduous task to undertake.
For that very reason, the founders of Razom in the U.S. realized the need to create a long-term vehicle for their efforts to assist Ukraine on its road to freedom. In this, they are not unique by any means. The Ukrainian communities across the world – the Americas, Europe, and Australia – have been engaging in similar activities and aiming at the same goals for many preceding decades. The only difference, perhaps, is that this new generation of concerned Ukrainians has the unique advantage of new technologies and social mechanisms with which to advance these goals.
We began our story by emphasizing the diversity behind the united front of Razom members. While the future cannot be foretold, it is very likely that the lives of these people will follow different paths: some intend to return and live in Ukraine for good, others will probably stay abroad. In any case, each founder has a strong, immediate spiritual and material connection to their homeland: being born and raised in Ukraine, having extended families and close friends living there, or even simply paying frequent visits to Ukraine. In each of them, the spark of Maidan will shimmer on, until Ukraine becomes truly free and democratic. In other words, the Revolution of Dignity continues.