Anželika Marija Zuba is a Latvian youth worker, co-founder of the “3D Friends LV” NGO, and holder of a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and European studies. She also manages different youth educational projects in the field of non-formal education. In 2020, Anželika became a Eurodesk multiplayer, member of the Baltic Sea Youth Platform (BSYP), World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and European Student Think Tank Ambassador to Latvia. She is a mentor in the European Social Fund (ESF) programme “KNOW and DO” and a mentor for volunteers in European Solidarity Corps (ESC) programmes. Her main interests are youth empowerment, active citizenship and social inclusion.
Since 24 February, when Russia invaded Ukraine, Anželika has done her best to support Ukraine and its people, both inside and outside Latvia. She has been active in her local organisation 3D friends, and with the Red Cross.
We spoke to Anželika to understand what young people in Latvia can do and how they can support Ukrainians.
Hello Anželika, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. We know you have been working on different projects during these weeks, but could you maybe list some of them and explain what they consisted of?
Like any young person in this troubled time, I tried to help in any way I could and with what is in my power. Thanks to the fact that I recently became part of the Red Cross, I quickly accepted the mission to help people. In the early days, my help consisted in giving information to people as soon as possible about how to help and where to look for information and who to contact on what issues. Then my and my team’s help became more practical when the refugee centre opened. No one expected such a number of people and we had to act on the situation, coordinate where they could get information, my colleagues and I saw how many children were in the centre and created a corner for children with colouring books, toys, books as the children spend a lot of time there. Then it was necessary to distribute food, coordinate the flow and much more. Every time we came to help because there were not enough volunteers.
At the same time, my friends and I realised that at this time we need to stick together and as a youth organisation, we began to support young people. We made an evening of conversations “Let’s talk”, where just everyone could speak out and talk about their fears or opinions and experiences, then later we had an evening of board games to distract ourselves from all the information.
Then, based on our resources, we made donations and delivered clothes and groceries. We shared information, participated in protests. We participated in a discussion against the hate speech addressed to Russian speakers in Latvia (we have more than 34% of them and this has become an acute issue for young people in schools) and with other organisations came up with what activities can be done for integration.
Then a girl from Lviv came to us and we organised dances to support her and make a donation with her to the Ukrainian Red Cross. Then we were offered to help with the drawings of children from Ukraine and collect donations.
In order to show people against the background of all the hostilities that we should unite and do something together, we organised a cultural evening where our friends and volunteers from different countries participated – Latvia, France, Italy, Ukraine, Austria, Russia and others, and we danced together, tasted national food and learned new facts – a kind of celebration of peace and friendship of cultures. This is what everyone is missing right now. And of course, I wanted to support our fellow YEAs from Ukraine and, like many EU-based YEAs, recorded a video with support words and shared a statement!
Wow, that’s impressive! As a lot of work done was with and for young people, how important would you say it is for European youth to volunteer and organise such activities?
It is very necessary. I believe that by continuing our work, it is possible not to lose the progress that has already been made. This is not happening somewhere far away, but on our continent, here somewhere close, so we have to do what we can. Share verified information, make donations, speak with close ones, go to protests in support of residents of Ukraine, help in organisations, in refugee centres. It will definitely work like a butterfly effect!
I think, the participation of young people in decision-making at the local level, the fight against disinformation and participation in volunteering, is what is necessary for young people in the future and will contribute not only to solidarity but also to the development of different skills, to adapt to a new situation and quickly look for new solutions.
Moreover, due to the fact that this is the European Year of Youth, we are all in the spotlight, we have a voice and we can loudly declare that we want a world without war, we want a stable and secure future. We want equal rights to education and opportunities for everyone in Europe. Young people have faced a pandemic since the beginning and it has affected our mental health, so we still do not know how the war in Ukraine will affect us.
We can only agree with that. What would you suggest to someone who wants to participate for the first time?
Even small steps will help now. Try to contact different organisations and search the Internet for what help people in Ukraine need. There are a lot of announcements about the necessary assistance in Latvia and I am sure that there are coordinators in every country. I would definitely advise people not to panic, not to read all the news in a row, but to think critically. And before helping others, evaluate and take care of their mental health.
Thank you, that’s almost all! What are your plans for the next weeks?
It is very difficult to say, the situation is constantly changing. I will definitely continue to help in the refugee centre, work on integration and inclusion, work on the mental health of young people, so very soon we plan to go on a “mindfulness” hike. I will continue to create opportunities for young people and hope for the speedy restoration of peace <3