Jonas Schmidt is doing his bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Sociology at the Technical University of Dresden. Before starting his academic path, he worked as a German and English teacher at the German cultural centre for one year in the southern Ukrainian city of Odesa. Moreover, in his capacity as an interpreter, he organised various events, such as exhibitions, and worked as a tour guide for high-profile representatives of the Goethe Institute and the German Embassy in Ukraine. During his stay in Odesa, Jonas decided not only to improve his Russian but also to start learning Ukrainian. Jonas is not only engaged voluntarily as a Young European Ambassador, but is also a member of the civil defence system of Germany as a volunteer of the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW). Moreover, he acts as a facilitator between the THW and its youth organisation, is a regional leader of the Saxony branch and is responsible for organising youth and skilled worker exchanges with partner countries.
Since 24 February, Jonas has done his best to support Ukraine and its people, outside and inside Germany. We decided to have a chat with him to understand what young people in Germany can do and how they can support Ukrainians.
Hello Jonas, 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?
Hello, I honestly don’t know where to start. The 24th of February was a terrible day for me, but I quickly realised that I can’t just sit around. The first thing I did was to donate money to the Ukrainian charity “Come back alive”. I also thought about what else I could do. Soon the first requests came from Ukrainian friends who joined the Territorial Defence. In the beginning, there was a lack of everything there. What they needed most were helmets, bulletproof vests, tourniquets, but also cars to transport the members of the unit. It was not really easy to organise such things, unfortunately, and I did not succeed. In the meantime, however, I have found my vocation: I work as a volunteer for an organisation at the main railway station of Dresden called “Bahnhofsmission”. It’s a Christian organisation that usually helps all people in need. This usually includes homeless people or lost children. They just help anyone who needs help at the main station. Now they have a new area of responsibility: they help refugees with everything they need, such as food, drinks, a warm place to sleep or they take them to the emergency shelter for some days.
I really like the work because I have the opportunity to help people directly. My knowledge of Ukrainian and Russian helps me immensely. I am especially happy when I see people’s reactions when I speak Ukrainian with them because unfortunately only a few of us translators can speak Ukrainian. Now I have started working for my city administration in an emergency shelter for refugees. Actually, I was supposed to answer “general questions” only, but today I ended up translating between refugees and the doctors carrying out checks on them. This was quite stressful and new to me because I didn’t know the Ukrainian for things like “measles” or “tetanus”.
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?
Extremely important, because the state (at least in Germany) has learned nothing from 2015. The first refugees arrived in our city (the distance from the Ukrainian border to Dresden is less than 700 km as the crow flies) and the city had not prepared anything. Many Germans were and are willing to take in the refugees, but at some point, there were so many that emergency shelters were needed, which are now also overcrowded so that we have to send all the refugees further west because we no longer have the capacity to care for them here. At the main station and in the emergency shelters, it is mostly volunteers (among them many young people) who take care of refugees – even at night, in their free time! Our entire aid system would collapse without their help, which is why I am very happy that so many people want to help Ukrainian refugees.
We can only agree with that. What would you suggest to someone who wants to participate for the first time?
Just don’t be afraid to get involved. Volunteers are needed everywhere right now. Even if you don’t know Russian or Ukrainian, you can help. You can take part in #StandWithUkraine marches, organise humanitarian aid convoys, help in refugee shelters, host Ukrainian refugees or simply spread information about the war in your social bubble. Everything helps and everyone will be happy that you’ll support them. Ukrainians value every support, every small gesture, every smile.
Thank you, that’s almost all! What are your plans for the coming weeks?
You ask difficult questions. I’ll probably be working permanently as a translator at Messe Dresden. For how long? No idea. Until the war ends or I find something where I can contribute better. Besides translating, I also try to educate people about what’s going on in Ukraine, mainly using Instagram and Facebook. We also plan to have some sessions on this in the framework of the Young European Ambassadors EU–Ukraine Dialogue Initiative, so stay tuned ;). I also have to start writing my Bachelor’s thesis. Since I’m in my sixth semester, it’s due now. But whether I’ll really be able to write it in this situation is, of course, another matter entirely.
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