Valerie Stulikova, the president of IWCK (International Women's Club in Kyiv) and one of the organizers of the Charity Bazar in Kyiv, shares her impressions about Ukraine, expat community in Kyiv and her expectations about the future of this country.
Valerie, for how long have you been living in Ukraine and do you see any noticeable changes in people’s mentality here?
Now I’ve been in Ukraine for 10 years and I think that changes are noticeable. People became more confident, more aware that they have some rights they should stand by. Especially young people believe that they can change something and they don’t need just to give up, they have their own opinion and they can go for it. I think this has changed for better and the civil society is growing and is getting more active. It is very inspiring for the other countries.
People are more open now. Sometimes I don’t like to generalize speaking about the countries, but anyway. I remember when I came to Kyiv in 2007, I could not speak Ukrainian or Russian and I tried to ask some people on Maidan location of Bessarabka, but people just refused to talk, they were a kind of scared. They were more closed, not ready to be in contact with foreigners. Now young people speak English pretty well and they are more open. People are friendlier now and they care about each other more.
You are from Czech Republic that has common Slavic roots with Ukraine. On that basis what unites us and what is totally different about mentality of our nations?
I think not only our languages are similar but also some of our past unites us. In both countries we care a lot about family values, we are still not so much materialistic (I hope). We care about families, friendship and how to enjoy the life, to be happy. What I like in Ukraine that people are very optimistic here in spite of all difficulties and they appreciate simple small things that can make them happy. May be this is funny, but I’ve noticed that Ukrainians love plants and flowers and they care about them a lot. The same is in Czech Republic since communism times. People had no opportunity to travel that time and each family tried to have dacha with a lot of plants where they spent weekends and summer seasons. It is still in our roots, we like nature, we like to go to dachas. The same in Ukraine. We also have some similar parts of history, especially Soviet times. Now thanks to its geographical location and small size Czech Republic develops to European direction faster. For us all the reforms were easier than for big Ukraine. The Czech people had a good opportunity to travel in 90s and it was very easy to cross the border only with passport. Everything is close to us in terms of distance. So people traveled, they experienced new things and they got inspired, they brought the good ideas in Czech Republic that helped us to move faster with reforms. Now the same is happening to Ukraine thanks to Schengen visa free regime even that it is still very expensive for Ukrainians and the distance to European countries is larger. But anyway things are changing for better now for this country.
Let us talk about IWCK - International Women’s Club in Kyiv. What is its main idea?
The main idea is the integration of the foreign families to Kyiv, their socializing with the help of different interest groups from cooking to language classes and table games, walking tours and ski club.
The second part is the charity work. It is everywhere in the world that spouses of the diplomats usually don’t work but they spend many hours on doing charity activities. For our Charity Bazar we invite Embassies. So the diplomats’ wives are responsible for Embassies’ boots to be ready for the Charity Bazar. This year it will be on the 2nd of December in Olympic NSC. Everyone is welcome. Thanks to this event we are raising money for charity. We have charity committee in our club. After this Bazar up to January our representatives visit Ukrainian organizations who applied for a grant. So we don’t know before to which projects we give money. After these organizations send the requests, our committee makes a selection and visits them, asking questions and watching the real conditions of that organization with our own eyes and we check everything. Later the committee sits about 3 days with all that paper work and we select the best projects we can support. It is a long process because usually we get much more requests than we can support. Our club supports mainly children, handicapped children, older people and women in difficult situations.
This Charity Bazar is a huge event and we are not just a Facebook group, but official organization. So we have to follow the laws. Due to that fact that we receive a big amount of money we have to be transparent and to follow the rules. That is why people who join us, pay a membership and they support our club and IWCK Charity Bazar. Actually IWCK organizes this event on the basis of international community because in our club we have about 200 members and on Charity Bazar there are about 1000 foreigners. So we collaborate. Our members are happy to help running the club all the year round and in the end of the year we have the possibility to organize the Bazar. We have some continuity and some structure.
What is the evolution of this club since 1992 and how do you see its perspectives?
I’ve been involved in IWCK for the past 9 years. At first I was just a member who was attending a baby group because I had small babies and that is why I was not very active that time. I know that it is not so easy at the beginning when you come to a new country when you don’t know anyone but you don’t want to be alone, especially when you are a young mom, so you need that kind of communication a lot. I’ve joined IWCK and their basic activities help people to get to know such people like you who search for new friends. And this unites us in IWCK and we try to help each other. So at the beginning I attended a baby group, then I started my art class for moms and kids, although I am not art teacher but I like to do some crafts. We spend our mornings doing something together: cooking, making crafts or something else. Then I took some volunteer jobs helping within IWCK. We have every year elections and then they asked me if I can help to organize Charity Bazar. I agreed. This helped me to do more professional work. I was dealing with Ukrainian suppliers arranging something with Ukrainian business. It helped me to get more involved into this country’s real life and it was good experience. We are stable, that is good and you meet here some constant members and old friends. It is a kind of a family.
How do you see the audience of expats in Ukraine now? How did it change?
I think after Revolution of Dignity 2014 we could notice that many foreign businesses were closed and many expats left. But I think now situation is changing for better. More foreigners are coming to Ukraine now. There are many expat groups on Facebook, there are many forums where people help each other. They organize a lot of events and clubs of interests. But I think that in our club we expect from people more commitment and we want them to appreciate the work of other people. But what is important that now people can meet new friends not only with IWCK but through the Facebook as well thanks to these groups.
What kind of message would you like to convey to foreigners and expats regarding Ukraine?
I would recommend anyone to stay positive and if you have a glass of wine think that it is half-full rather than half-empty. I think that people who come here have to like some adventure, because the surprises can happen every day. You have to perceive this country the way it is, it has some evolution and historical background different from other countries. This is time of changes and most of them are positive ones. I like living in Ukraine and, of course, there are some things I don’t understand, the ones that I don’t like, but the same happens in my country as well. And yes Ukraine is still not so popular destination but it changes now. It has a very nice nature but not so well developed infrastructure. Anyway, all our friends who visited us here were positively surprised with this country. People, Kyiv with its architecture, venues, history and cuisine. It is really a great destination.
Interviewed by Anna Vishtak
Photos provided by IWCK, Anna Vishtak