Sunflower Relief’s extensive volunteer network spans the continent. Natali Gorak has lived all over the world and now supports Sunflower’s mission from her base in Barcelona. She closes cases, updates Sunflower’s website, and finds and verifies receiving organisations on the ground, inspired by her younger brother - a soldier on the frontline fighting for Ukraine’s freedom.
Please tell me a bit about your background.
I’m originally from Kyiv, Ukraine, but currently live in Barcelona. In the last five years, I’ve resided all across Asia and Europe; I enjoy experiencing new places and lifestyles. I speak Ukrainian, English, Spanish, and Russian.
I work in the animation industry creating 3D animations and have done so for the last five years. I specialise in Character Animation and have contributed to both feature films and TV series, amongst other projects. I’m a very artistic person. I never expected my life to change as much as it has since 24 February 2022.
When did you first get involved with Sunflower? How did it happen?
I met Irra Ariella Khi (CEO of Sunflower) through a mutual friend in the very early days of the war. My friend invited me to join a Zoom call with an organisation still in the process of setting up - Sunflower Relief. I was looking for a group of volunteers to join, where we could collectively make a difference to people suffering war in Ukraine.
I’ve worked with Irra from the beginning - just shortly after Sunflower was officially founded. We met in Barcelona after speaking over Telegram and Zoom calls for a month. It was great to see each other in person - to understand each other and the common cause more deeply. She is a great person with a big heart.
Sunflower is an amazing team of people. Despite everything, we continue to accept and action aid requests, even as funding tailed off over the summer. We have developed strong relationships with volunteer organisations in Ukraine, which are fundamental to delivering aid to civilians on the ground.
What attracted you to Sunflower?
The compulsion to help my closest friends and family in Ukraine drove me to Sunflower, but also the opportunity to help such large numbers of people who desperately need us. The system Sunflower has built to match aid to what people really need is incredible. Our reliable volunteer groups guarantee that aid reaches the end receiver - the exact civilians it was sent for.
What are your activities within Sunflower?
I am a volunteer and Ukrainian activist. My role within Sunflower is very varied. I set up logistics for transporting humanitarian aid and complete due diligence procedures on the Ukrainian NGOs we hope to work with. I have created a database that will be used by future volunteers.
I also have a technical role. I update Sunflower’s website and add content to the blog pages. I contribute to our social media presence by searching for and translating text and subtitles, and editing videos, that are then used in posts across multiple platforms.
My casework spans several cases including case #304 delivering medicine and food to people in the Kharkiv region. We help people who suffered as a result of hostilities in the Kyiv region, the cities of Bucha, Irpin, Borodyanka, and Gostomel. I also worked on case #199 – delivering specialised hospital beds to Kharkiv Hospital, which is within an active conflict zone.
What motivates you to stay involved?
Volunteering helps to counteract the stress, anger, and anxiety I’ve felt since the war started. The social contact aspect of helping and working with others can have a profound effect on your overall psychological well-being. Nothing relieves stress better than giving meaningful help to another person.
Nothing is achieved by one person alone - we have to band together to make the changes we want to see in the world. Volunteerism has been the fuel to the fires of change on international and local fronts. Volunteering your time, skills, and resources is one of the most powerful ways to make a difference, help others, and as it turns out, enhance your well-being.
Does anyone in your life inspire you to keep working with Sunflower?
On the night of February 23-24, my younger brother called me on the phone to tell me he was going to volunteer in the battalion Azov to defend our country. I had no choice but to support him and help him in any way I could. My brother is only 30 years old and he has a seven-year-old disabled daughter who was also under fire in Kyiv. As a Ukrainian man, he chose to protect our country, our home, and his family.
My brother fought on the front line in an anti-tank battalion. He is alive and well, but was severely concussed by a blast wave and is somewhat weaker. He motivated me to become a Sunflower volunteer. Although I do not help him personally (it is outside of our Sunflower policy; we provide aid to civilians only) he inspires me to do what I can to help people in Ukraine.
The story of my younger brother was captured on a GoPro. It’s a video of him as an ex-employee of the patrol police, and now a fighter of a separate anti-tank battalion of the Azov. It shows the realities of a warrior on the front line, trench life, and humour.
Do you have a final message for everyone?
I would like to thank everyone for their participation and the help given to Ukraine. It is so important and so human.