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Sunflower Stories: Nataliya Mykhalchenko

Speaking to Nataliya, it’s impossible not to feel inspired by her incredible motivation to make a difference to those blighted by war in Ukraine. Originally from Vinnytsia, the war reached her hometown - and her immediate family still residing there – when the city was hit by a Russian missile attack on 14 July. Despite the pain of watching the war unfold, she remains determined to support those trapped in any way she can, and to fight the humanitarian crisis currently engulfing her beloved country.

Please tell us a little about your background.

I’m originally from Ukraine – I lived in Vinnytsia in the west-central part of the country until I moved to Ireland aged 11. Seven years later I moved to England, where I studied International Development at the University of Leeds, and later Social Research, Law, and Legal Studies at Birkbeck, University of London.

I currently work full-time as a Customer Insight Executive for Scope, the UK’s disability equality charity. I run research projects and gather feedback from disabled people and their carers to improve the services we provide them.

When did you first get involved with Sunflower Relief? What initially attracted you to the organisation?

I was actively looking for a volunteer role at the end of March and reached out to Sunflower after seeing an advertisement on Google Jobs urgently calling for volunteers – I formally joined them in April. I’m based in London, as is Sunflower, but I do all the work remotely, which really helps me fit it in around full-time employment.

I was attracted by the idea of helping to connect organisations and improve the logistical chains. I have friends helping humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, and regularly see posts that they have collected aid but simply can’t get it to those who need it. Sunflower is solving that problem – it is connecting people who can provide help to those who desperately need it. Sunflower has a lot of potential to make a huge impact.

What is your role within Sunflower?

I work on Sunflower’s open cases, ultimately to close them by coordinating the delivery of aid to hospitals and NGOs in Ukraine. Each case is very different and requires input specific to the needs of the civilians in that particular area of Ukraine.

I research organisations on the ground in Ukraine that could potentially be a good match for foreign aid looking for a way in. I speak English, Ukrainian, and Russian, which allows me to communicate directly with local organisations to set the ball rolling and move cases forward. I project manage, chase multiple parties for regular progress updates, and help unblock cases in any way I can.

Sunflower has strong due diligence procedures to verify all new contacts in Ukraine. This reduces the risk of aid being used fraudulently. I play a part in this by placing multiple calls to contacts on the ground in Ukraine in order to validate prospective aid receivers.

My work is very dynamic, and requires a lot of initiative. Aid cases are very time-sensitive, as Ukrainian civilians displaced from their homes need food and basic things just to survive. I’ve worked with several charities before, but humanitarian aid is different – you have to react at speed; it’s very fast paced.

In your opinion, what is the most important work Sunflower does?

Sunflower Relief has amazing reach within the investment and venture capital world; it can access considerable sums of money. Irra Ariella Khi (CEO of Sunflower) has generated incredible exposure, which has enabled Sunflower to assist in delivery of expensive equipment (hospital beds, refrigerators, microwave ovens) and bulk humanitarian aid.

Sunflower is an organisation that can be trusted; it can vet, trace and demonstrate exactly where the aid or aid funding ends up. As we continue to build our network, Sunflower will only improve in terms of reach and speed – with more resources and volunteers we can help so many more people.

What motivates you to stay involved?

I have immediate family in Ukraine; us Ukrainians can’t sit aside and do nothing. It helps on a mental health level to help in some way - whatever way you can – and to see precise results.

I hope to make a positive impact on the lives of people affected by war, to make their awful situation a little bit easier to deal with. There is a constant feeling that a lot more needs to be done. It never feels like our work is enough.

Which contribution or achievement are you most proud of?

There are three cases that really stand out in my mind.

I was recently involved in the delivery of electrical appliances to in-country Ukrainian refugees - people displaced from their homes who can’t access foreign borders or help. I was grateful for an opportunity to give these people access to essential items and help them feel a little more independent and dignified. They need food to survive, but once this is delivered there are so many other things they must do as part of everyday life, such as wash their clothes. Millions of people are living through stressful times away from their families; we hope that this equipment will make basic needs in life a bit more manageable for them.

The second case is a delivery of aid to mothers and new-borns in the Kyiv region. New-born babies are already so vulnerable and dependent on others for survival – to face the terror of war at such a young age is utterly heart-breaking. I was glad to support the delivery of essentials, including food and medicine, for these new-born babies and their brave mothers.

The third case is one I’m currently working on – supplying a medical centre in Kyiv with medical supplies for civilians. It’s difficult to secure funding for this within Ukraine, as it’s a significant requirement for a country where an active warzone sucks up all medical resources (that, and medical supplies and equipment are in themselves expensive).

Do you support any other organisations?

I support a friend in Kyiv, Oksana Nabok, in her mission to improve life for children traumatised by the war. An artist, with many years of experience, she is running art workshops for children in Kyiv, and in the worst affected areas around Kyiv, including Borodyanka. She uses art therapy to help children overcome the trauma of war. She also puts together art boxes for the children to take with them to practice art in their own time, helping to strengthen the effect of art therapy.

The cost to run this project for a month, with two workshops per week, benefiting close to 100 children is approximately £1,000. This money will be used to purchase art material, materials for the art boxes, and cover the cost of travel and time. At the moment, the workshops are run through her own, limited means, and she is looking for long-term support with this project.

She has a Crowdfunder page – please support her if you can.

I recently helped to organise a Ukrainian culture charity event in London, to fundraise money for two support organisations in Lviv and Vinnytsia. We arranged a line-up of excellent performers, including Oleksandr Balabanov who represented Ukraine in the children’s Eurovision Song Contest, and the Chorus Director of the Royal Opera House, William Spaulding. The evening raised almost £1,000.

Do you have a final message you would like to share with everyone?

War is an act of evil; evil can be overcome with love and compassion. By raising awareness and supporting the most vulnerable civilians stuck in Ukraine, we are amplifying the love and strengthening the force that will stop this war. We must keep going.


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