Kolomyya. Knock, and the door will be opened

Child-friendly spaces were established by STAN NGO together with the Czech humanitarian organization People in need with the financial support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Canada. The spaces have been operating for five months. They have already proved themselves as places where small kids and teenagers can spend quality time. Child-friendly spaces have become supportive for parents and have become places to meet each other, to communicate and integrate into the new community. This publication tells how it works in the case of CFS in Kolomyya.

In a foreign city

Olha Yurchenko comes from Irpin in the Kyiv region. She came to Kolomyya with her 7-years old daughter Sofia. They did not come to their relatives or friends. They came to a new, foreign city. 

In Kolomyya, Olha had to get on her feet again. “I concentrated my attention on a search for decent living conditions. For this, I needed a little more money to find a job. So I started to look for it. But I’m here alone with a child, she has to be taken to school. There is no extended day program, that’s why I had no chance to go to a proper work. I don’t remember where I got information about such child spaces. It must have been in some conversations, because I talked about myself being with a child, and somebody told me such a space is going to be opened soon. I think Sofia was here from the space’s first day, she probably was the first child who came here since CFS was opened. Not many people knew about it back then, and Sofia became the first, and the most regular visitor. We have been here since November”, says Olha. 

Some relocations

In Kolomyya, STAN together with partners and donors is creating a CFS in a historical building built in 1907. It is located on Lesya Ukrainka boulevard, in a municipal library # 1, one of the oldest libraries in the region. The renovations are almost finished in the space, but the CFS team started working in Kolomyya in the fall of 2022 in the rooms of the Local history library, and in December they moved to a space in the Palace of culture and arts.

“We’ve traveled quite a lot, but this influences neither the atmosphere we are creating in the CFS, nor our intention to work here”, says Tetiana Oleinyk, facilitator. 

Tetiana, an educator and psychologist by education, is an internally displaced woman. She came with her child from Berdyansk. At first, she lived in a village for five months, but moved to Kolomyya to be able to find a job. She got acquainted with the CFS firstly as a mother, and later she joined the space’s team. 

“I liked the fact I could take my child to a place not just to sit and spend time, like with a babysitter, but to a place where she can develop herself, to learn something. And after a few days I got a call and was invited to join the CFS team. And when I came here and started working, I was excited. Now, many new kids are coming to our CFS. And it’s nice they stay. That means we don’t work in vain. Children are interested. Here they have new acquaintances, they really get closer with the others, and the atmosphere in the CFS is different from the one at school”, says Tetiana. 

How it is and how it will be

CFS is not a school, after all. No regular classes like math or Ukrainian language could be found here. Instead, the CFS provides alternative classes like financial literacy. Children also can just stay in the CFS, play board games, and work on their hometasks. They also participate in quests and workshops. 

“Activities for kids are organized in the CFS, and I’m very glad. My Sofia always comes from the space smiling, always she learns something new. One day they make some handmade things, another day they study, or discuss some serious issues. Facilitators are taking care of the kids in the space. Even when a child is upset, they try (I observed this once) very softly, without a pressure to find a key, and you look – a child cheers up”, says Olha Yurchenko. 

Another valuable thing about the CFS is that local children and those who arrived after February 24th, meet here, communicate, study and play together. “The most interesting thing for me is to make friends with someone and create various handmade things, to draw, to sculpt. And they also have very interesting quests”, says Sofia. 

Every day in the CFS is organized around a special topic. For instance, they had an Eco-friendly day recently. That’s why during various activities children discussed waste sorting and made rubbish boxes to install in the CFS. They visited the garbage sorting station in Kolomyya, met eco-activists from the local NHO Eco-Gvalt, and planted parsley and other plants in the jugs.  

The CFS team together with parents and children was able to organize activities and create a warm atmosphere even on the temporary locations in a Local History Library, or in the Palace of culture and arts. Even the electricity cuts could not discourage them. “Perhaps, blackouts did harm to many, but the CFS team found a solution very fast. They put festoons on the walls and it made an even more pleasant atmosphere in the space. The organizers were able to do everything that was needed even without electricity”, says Olha Yurchenko. 

However, the most expected now is moving from a temporary location to a space in the library on Lesia Ukrayinka boulevard. This space is more adapted for the CFS needs. It has two rooms, 42 and 20 sq.meters. It has a separate entrance, which means the CFS will not depend on the library’s schedule. 

“This space is being constructed according to our needs. Firstly, we would like to have zoning here. A corner where children can play some games independently, a kind of solitude corner. Also, there has to be a zone for the smallest kids. We need a place to play and a table to conduct workshops”, says Tetuana Oleinyk. Also, there must be a space where a psychologist will work with the children, and for this zoning is important too. 

Becoming stronger

Psychologists have group sessions and individual consultations. They work both with children and parents. It is crucial to help people to find strength to move on, and also to adapt in the new environment. 

“I guess the most important for kids and for parents to whom they are tied is a feeling of acceptance. And we are like mediators. We show they are welcomed here and can find support here. Knock – and the door will open, this is what I explain to teenagers and to parents. The world could be very supportive, you could get help if you ask for it in time. I always say I want them to leave the room stronger than they have come. This is my task”, says psychologist Tetiana Beliavtseva. 

Tetiana is also an internally displaced person, she came to Kolomyya from the Kharkiv region. She understands well what people who were forced to leave their home had to go through. By helping other people, in some way, she supports herself too. Because it is important not to stay aside, not to be passive. 

“CFS is a chance for everyone to show their humanity and values. For those who donated money, and those who invested other resources, knowledge, and for those who came here to get help. It’s all about connection inside the community. Everyone gets something. Those who invest any resources see how it pays off. I feel connected to this mission to support Ukrainians. And people who come here, they get support. They get stronger”, says Tetiana Beliavtseva.

A space to communicate

CFS is primarily a space to communicate. For every activity, every workshop, every quest and every repair to have a sense, people had to solve a difficult and at the same time an easy issue – to find a common language. 

“We all come from different regions of Ukraine, from the current and former hotspots. However, they somehow found an approach to the children here. I’m talking about my kid. In peacetime, when she attended classes with a certain teacher, it was very hard to transfer her to another teacher, because she preferred the one she got used to. But here she integrated very quickly. She feels good here. People say that children feel such things. And this environment turned out to be good for her’, says Olha Yurchenko. 

The thing that parents and the team call ‘atmosphere’ or ‘warmness’ of the space was possible due to the whole community. Thanks to the fact no one was ignorant. CFS administrator Yana Parashchuk tells how parents offer their help in the space, and how children join the activities. 

“I’m happy everyone puts something in our space. Children sometimes bring their festoons, saying ‘I want to hand them here’. Or they bring apples: ‘I want to treat everyone with them’. Everyone is somehow involved and everyone gets something. One gets support, and the other – a chance to offer help. Both are valuable. And often one without the other is impossible’, says Yana.