Maryana Sokha explains the struggles Ukrainian street magazine Prosto Neba faces to support its homeless vendors in Lviv while war rages between pro-Russian rebels and the Ukraine government in the east. Based in Western Ukraine, Prosto Neba’s staff and vendors are far from the conflict but, as Maryana writes, “war…touches everybody here.”
In Ukraine, the homeless have never been a priority. From the 90s until 2006, our state simply ignored them. There was no legislation, no social agencies to offer support and a prevailing, negative attitude inherited from the Soviet era – if you have no job, it means that you don’t want to work, so you are not one of us.
During this time, only a few NGOs operated in Ukraine. The situation started to change after new legislation was introduced in 2006. At least one shelter was opened in every major city, but still, there were always too many problems to solve and a constant lack of finances.
In Lviv, a major city in Western Ukraine, our street magazine Prosto Neba was founded in 2008 with support from the NGO Emmaus – Oselya. We have a community house where 25 homeless people live and work together. We started a street paper to inform society about the problem of homelessness and persuade people to change their negative attitude towards homeless people. Our vendors have become our partners in fighting this injustice and quickly became the voice of our organization.
Today we have five vendors. They do not live in the community house but are involved in different projects like food distribution and charity events. They also receive different kinds of social services through our NGO.
One of our “oldest” vendors Volodymyr Hilenko has sold the magazine for five years. He stays in the municipal night shelter and spends the day at his pitch in the city’s main square. People know him by his yellow jacket and constant good mood. For Volodymyr, it is extremely important to be on good terms with his customers and he is very proud of new friends he’s made while selling Prosto Neba. He also acts as a guide for tourists, introducing them to the sites and history of Lviv. Above all else, he is now the one that homeless people approach to ask for help and advice.
But now we have a war in Ukraine. It’s in another part of the country, but it touches everybody here. Young men are mobilized to go and defend the territory in Eastern Ukraine. During the last few months we have regular planes that bring dead bodies home from there, to be laid to rest at solemn funerals. If they come back alive, they are in the hospital. The whole local community is trying to support them. All the events in our city are charitable now – concerts, fashion shows, marathons, garage sales etc. to collect money for the army or for the treatment of soldiers.
Of course, in this situation we cannot try to put our homelessness issue somewhere high on the priority list. Once again we have more important problems to solve in our country. That would be the official answer on behalf of Ukraine, I guess. The position of our street magazine remains the same – we keep doing our work. Will it help our vendors to move on? I am not sure right now. At least it helps them to survive and stay safe.”