Joint actions. Why communities matter in times of war

March 28, 2022

1 hour and 8 minutes. That is how long it took the representatives of two organizations to agree on the delivery of humanitarian aid. The most needed hygiene products and food were sent from Rivne to Kyiv Region.

Such promptness of decisions has become commonplace for many organizations and volunteers during the month of war. However, the effectiveness of previously established communities, formal and informal ones, is often at the heart of rapid results in wartime conditions.

Olena Matviichuk, an expert on organizational development and coordinator of the Mentoring Program organized by the Centre for Democracy and Rule of Law, spoke about the role that communities play now and why we choose particular organizations and initiatives from among hundreds of options.

“Communities” from “common actions”

“Before the war, we often heard about the need for communication, the need to create communities, joint action,” says Olena Matviichuk. “However, I am sure that when we talk about communities, we rarely ask ourselves: OK, what do we mean?”

According to Ms. Olena, it is important to look at the structure of the word ‘community’. The word is based on the concept of “common”, and therefore it is primarily about common, joint actions.

Before the war, the importance of community building was that it is through joint action that one can see a person or an organization: work style, standards, and values.

“And in this way we can decide, for example: whether or not we’re ready to work further with that organization. For example, it does not meet our principles, our values of activity and then our paths diverge. That’s perfectly normal.”

What happens in wartime?

Just think about our typical days before the full-scale invasion: strategic plans for several months or years ahead, making contacts, finding potential partners for future projects. 

“We had peaceful lives, we planned something, we had some schedules, we had some planned activities and we had enough time to check the organizations or people for this common activity,” says Olena Matviichuk.

In wartime, first of all there is chaos, because there is danger. And in this chaos, the very first thing that happens is the structure collapse. Stable patterns, interactions cease to exist, and there are no new ones yet. 

“It cannot get back to the way it was before. And it is not clear yet which way it should be,” explains Ms. Olena. “Therefore, the first things we grab onto being ordinary, normal people are the contacts we have. That is the ones we had, for example, before the war. These contacts can often be life-saving.”

However, war often becomes a test for both relationships and contacts.

According to the coordinator of the Mentoring Program, which has been building the CSO community for 6 years, if the community had passed the test for community and trust before the war, it is likely to survive in war: “There’s just going to be accelerated communication. And people will establish contact or renew relationships they had before with each other very quickly.”

“In war, every minute counts”

“I saw in our group that Olena NGO Resource Center for the Support of Housing Cooperatives in Rivne Region, Rivne – editor’s note] texted that they were ready to load half a minivan with food and medicine,” says Yurii Voinalovych, executive director of BCD NGO from Nemishaieve, Kyiv Region. “I responded right away because I know we have a place to receive them (warehouse of our Living Word Church), and then I knew there was a need.”

About a day passed from the moment the plans were agreed upon to the moment when the food from Rivne was delivered to the defenders in the fields of Kyiv Region.

“I then arrived at the warehouse literally a day later, the food was ready there. Accordingly, we transferred it to the permanently installed and field points, to our defenders. The guys were pleased. Initially, the request was for something that they could cook and here everything was read-made,” shares the story Yurii Voinalovych. 

Olena Matviichuk emphasizes: in the conditions of war there is no time to check, to find out who is who. That is why we first of all trust the contacts we already had.

“The Mentoring Program has really built and is building a community. This means that there are people in the community who have had or have the same or similar experiences. In our community, they have similar experience in studying and implementing their advocacy plans. We’ve tried to make sure that they share experiences and know about each other.”

How did it work during the war? 

Prompt response to inquiries. 

“One organization, for example, deals with humanitarian aid, another one needs such assistance and literally in 2-3 hours the necessary stuff is collected and sent. This is just one of the many examples, I’m sure,” says Ms. Olena.

Trust is based on four aspects

When Olena Khomych, a member of the board of NGO Resource Center for the Support of Housing Cooperatives in Rivne Region, offered to help, Yurii Voinalovych knew her personally. They both participated in the Mentoring Program 2.0 and knew who was doing what and who had what competencies.

According to Olena Matviichuk, trust is not something that should be taken for granted: “Here we come into a house and start trusting another person we’re seeing for the first time. Of course not.” 

4 factors on which trust is built:

  1. Competencies: “We have confidence in the competence of another person or the competence of another organization. This means that they, this person or this organization, have the knowledge, skills and capabilities. If we don’t have that experience, if we haven’t experienced this – then we probably won’t trust such an organization.”
  2. Respect: “If a person treats us with contempt or an organization does not respect certain principles, those that we respect, we will not trust such an organization either.” An example is the principle of public finance in the work of organizations.
  3. Responsibility: “If a person or organization undertakes something, such as promising to get ammunition or some medicine, they do it. And we are confident that this organization or this person will do this. Because they are responsible for our common, single idea. For example, getting medicines.”
  4. Care: “Trust is impossible when one does not care about the relationship. If in the context of communication I understand, I can see that a person is concerned about keeping in contact with me, then I will trust him or her.”

If such trust has been built in advance, it can be maintained, it will withstand the test of war. 

If there had been no trust in this relationship before the war, then we will trust only those we know, or recommendations from people we know.

“It is very easy to do illegal things in chaos (and we are living in chaos now). And in the midst of chaos, a lot of disguises are stripped away,” adds Ms. Olena. “That is, the style of communication is changing, but the essence stays. And in fact, both organizations and people are different.”

Yurii Voinalovych was subsequently approached by the representatives of Victory Church. They wanted to help one of the villages in the Zhytomyr Region, where a humanitarian catastrophe was imminent. Pan Yurii put them in touch with the Rivne residents. 

The circle of contacts for the preservation of Ukraine continued to expand.

Also find out how organizations-mentors responded to the introduction of martial law.