Ukraine’s teens volunteer to help families find their way

In the city of Lviv, 16-year-old Solomia is among scores of volunteers helping to greet and assist the thousands fleeing war in Ukraine.

Diana Kolodiazhna
26 April 2022

Every day, thousands of people fleeing the war in Ukraine arrive at Lviv railway station, in the west. Most of them are women with children. Some wait for connecting trains to other parts of Ukraine or abroad, while others stay in Lviv itself.

Volunteers like 16-year-old Solomia work hard to greet the new arrivals, offering food and crucial advice on next steps.

“I remember 24 February very well,” the teenager says. “We talked with a friend about the war. And three hours later the war began. I didn’t know what to do. My father and I packed up and just sat on the ground floor. That’s how we spent the first half of the day. In the afternoon, I felt like I wanted to do something. I couldn't just sit still.”

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Nikita Mekenzin
Volunteer Solomia, 16, meets IDPs from eastern regions of Ukraine on the platform of the railway station in Lviv.
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Nikita Mekenzin
Solomia, 16, allocates her time after classes to volunteer at the station for several hours every day

At first, Solomia, who lives in Lviv, helped in a store where free clothes were distributed to displaced people. Later, she volunteered at the Administrative Service Centre, helping to collect the necessary documents. However, she wanted to engage more with people and eventually found an opportunity at the railway station, helping to distribute food and tea to the thousands who arrived on evacuation trains. 

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Nikita Mekenzin
Большинство из приезжающих во Львов на эвакуационных поездах людей составляют женщины с детьми.

“I can’t believe it’s really happening,” says Solomia. “That these are not the history classes we learn in school. When I see with my own eyes at the station people coming from other cities and the wounded, I feel strongly committed to act.”

Thanks to a joint project from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Ukrainian Volunteer Service (UVS), Solomia and 100,000 other young volunteers are able to coordinate their activities both on-site and remotely, receive and process requests from conflict-affected populations, and offer timely and useful information to those who have suffered as a result of the hostilities in Ukraine.

Olha, Danylo and their 10-year-old son Tymur are among those who desperately need this help. On the platform at Lviv station, the young boy hides behind his parents, terrified.

“They bombed us from planes,” says Olha. “Our son was very scared. To this day, he is afraid of sharp loud sounds.”

Solomia is used to hearing tragic stories like these. Her shifts last six hours on weekends. On weekdays, it is shorter, as she needs to have time to study and work on her own online project called SafeRoom, offering psychological assistance to adolescents.

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Nikita Mekenzin
Internally displaced people approach Solomia, 16, with various questions. Someone may need food and warm clothes, housing or help with changing trains.

Before the war, Solomia had intended to study international relations at university, but has now changed her mind. She is determined to continue volunteering, making a difference and, eventually, helping to rebuild her country.

“You don’t have to be a politician to change the world,” she says. “Maybe I can become a good journalist. For now, I’m here.”

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Nikita Mekenzin
Solomia, 16, plans to continue volunteering after the war – it is important for her to be useful and help others.