Elina Beketova: Hello and welcome to CEPA Forum 2023, Winning the War, Winning the Peace. My name is Elina Beketova, and I’m a Democracy Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, CEPA. We are in New York, and it’s my pleasure to welcome and speak with Dora Chomiak, CEO of Razom. Hi, Dora.
Dora Chomiak Hello.
Beketova: It’s a pleasure having you here.
Chomiak: It’s great to be here. Thank you. It’s a privilege to be able to work alongside the immensely talented Ukrainians that really drive all our work.
Beketova: Well, before we start our conversation, I would like to thank you for everything you’re doing for Ukrainians, it’s very vital for all of us. Let’s start with the mission of your organization. Because Razom provides vital support to Ukrainians, including, you know, medical supplies, equipment, and everything that Ukrainians need right now. So if we speak about your work, how do you target your work, and what is the other aid that Ukrainians need in the immediate term?
Chomiak: Razom came out of the Revolution of Dignity in 2014. So a relatively new organization. And we’re different from other organizations in that we do three things that organizations don’t always do at the same time. We do deliver aid, which I’ll talk about in a little bit. We also educate people on how to use the aid and that’s education in Ukraine, as well as outside of Ukraine. And perhaps what sets us apart is we also do advocacy. So we have an active advocacy team focused on Washington DC right now, and the people who elected, but by delivering aid, by delivering education, by delivering advocacy, we do all of these things. We have always been focused on Ukraine. But since we came out of Maidan, since we came out of the Revolution of Dignity, we’ve always had this side-by-side approach. So we don’t deliver information or aid in one direction or another very much in the spirit of the Revolution of Dignity.
It’s “everyone’s a drop in the ocean;” do what you can, be concrete, get it done, collaborate with who you need to move on to the next thing. And that’s really been guiding our work since 2014. In 2022, with the full-scale invasion, we accelerated our work considerably. And the number of people who were involved just grew exponentially, starting with just only 4000 donors initially, we now have over 200,000 people, really on our team for whom we’re immensely grateful because they enable a lot of the work to be done. So we are delivering tactical medicine to the first responders on the front lines, communications equipment, vehicles, we’re delivering hospital supplies and medicine to over 400 hospitals in Ukraine, and working through 140 NGOs, mostly in Kherson and Kharkiv. We’re delivering basic supplies to the civilian population, and helping people who’ve been in recently occupied zones get back on their feet. Our approach in all of that is ‘go Ukrainian,’ so we try and procure as much as we can from manufacturers in Ukraine. So we’re simultaneously strengthening the economy and building the fabric of the civil society.
Beketova: And thank you so much for doing everything that you’re doing. You know, Razom in Ukrainian means “together.” And when we talk about it, and when we speak about the transatlantic community, do you see that it’s going to be staying with Ukraine? Because Ukrainians need not only to win the war, but to win the long-term prosperity and stability.
Chomiak: Well, looking at the transatlantic community, and the contribution that Ukraine is making to it is really tremendous. It’s just like, in the 30+ years that I’ve been traveling to Ukraine, from the United States, I’ve never seen such unity and awareness. And this is this, again, collaboration where Ukraine, people in Ukraine, have a lot to contribute to be part of the solution to strengthen the transatlantic dialogue. And as we all find ways to work more effectively together and support international systems and rule of law and predictability and civil society and all these things that you and I are enjoying right now, just by virtue of being able to have a conversation and know that fairly certain there isn’t going to be an air raid alert or the lights aren’t gonna go out. We’re able to do this because we’ve signed on to this fundamental principle of rule of law and human rights and so forth. And so I think Ukraine has contributed a lot and is continuing to contribute. And I think as more and more people start to understand Ukraine as part of the solution, and the innovation and creativity that it brings to the table, I do think the transatlantic community will remain ‘razom,’ will remain together in developing our global relations.
Beketova: And what do you think motivates European, American, or other donors to keep on supporting Ukraine’s resilience, even after more than one year and a half of the full-scale Russian invasion?
Chomiak: You know, my sense is initially it is sort of this moral clarity of an invasion straight up. That’s not okay. An invasion of a sovereign country and an invasion of a way of organizing society. I think there’s self-interest as well because we’re all tackling really tough problems and thinking about climate change, food insecurity, you know, we on the planet have a lot to solve for. And I think what people are seeing is how people in Ukraine in this crisis can help become part of the solution. How do you innovate? How do you look at things differently? How do you use existing tools, international organizations’ dialogues? How do you innovate them to be relevant for the world that we live in now so that we can continue to function successfully?
Beketova: And do you see that the support exists and that it will last for some time or as long as it takes?
Chomiak: So I’ve studied just enough history to know you can’t take anything for granted. And so it’s every day, it’s every hour, encouraging people to be curious about Ukraine, encouraging people to continue to hear voices from Ukraine, to make donations to travel there, to include people from Ukraine in conferences, such as this one so that the connections can be genuine and strong and lasting. So unfortunately, if we just take even Ukraine’s history, you know, after World War I, my grandfather who helped raise me, he was a lawyer, and he too had to take up arms to fight for an independent Ukraine, the world didn’t see him then. And it didn’t work out. And here we are, same invaders, a lot of the same arguments. But what we do have is a global community of really curious and educated people who have contributed their time and their money and their interest and who are not silent. And so I just encourage people to learn and to speak and to advocate in their countries, with their policymakers, in their workforce, in their theatres, in their bookstores, to hear more from Ukraine.
Beketova: It’s great because we have the supporters, obviously, who donate, who fundraise, who help us. But also, what would you tell some policymakers or donors who might have some concerns? What are the consequences of failing to maintain the support to Ukraine, and to maintain the resilience of Ukraine?
Chomiak: The consequences of failing to support Ukraine is that we send a signal to the bad guys that it’s okay to behave in a way that I for one would not want my kids to have to navigate their careers and their lives in an unpredictable force based, you know, just brute force based system. So that’s the sort of, that’s the worst consequence. On top of that the consequence is that we’re not able to tackle the other really big problems of food insecurity and climate change that very much will just keep aggravating the situation.
Beketova: And so well, coming back to the question that traveling to Ukraine, for instance, I know that you travel to Ukraine, you’re very often there. So what makes you personally happy when you see the results of your work?
Chomiak: So I’ve been traveling to Ukraine, I got my first visa in the Soviet period in 1989. And most recently, I was there in August, and I’m going next week, where I got this great shirt. Resilience is such a hard word, but I’m motivated by it, the authenticity of people in Ukraine and the diversity of people but each authentic in their own ways. And what I’ve seen over the past 18 months is a shift in a real, even more sense of place, and knowing sort of, where did I come from and where am I going and what do I want to do? And there’s this clarity in Ukraine right now like an astringent, like a witch hazel astringent clarity that like “I am choosing, I know who I am, and I have a right to be here.” And that informs so many people’s behavior and it’s really motivating and certainly it’s motivating. I’m a big foodie so all the fantastic restaurants and coffee shops and stores and the architecture and the art and the music and the literature and the films of Ukraine. The things that are being created in this time of invasion is even more motivating because people aren’t passive. People are saying, “This is who I am, this is what I want.” And there’s lots of different voices. And I think that’s terrific. And the diversity, the diversity in so many different ways of Ukraine, is its big strength. But the authenticity is what really motivates me.
Beketova: What I have also noticed is that people who are from temporarily occupied territories, they understand what is happening right now, because that’s an attack on all our identity right now. And people who might have had absolutely different outlooks or views are, I mean, a lot of people switched to Ukrainian, even though they could speak whatever language, Russian or Surzhyk, they speak Ukrainian right now because it’s very important. And it’s like the mark. A lot of people started realizing what you’re talking about, that authenticity, you know, that it doesn’t matter that people can be different, but we’re all Ukrainians, you know. And what is this trait, do you think, that makes all Ukrainians resilient? What is the secret? Because people are talking about it, Ukraine’s resilience, but what does it actually mean?
Chomiak: My way of understanding it is this clarity. The resilience comes from this authenticity and this realization that, like someone is just trying to destroy you, just make you go away. And so the choice, and if you want to live then live, and so it’s almost like, the choice is very clear. It’s like you and I don’t need to agree on everything, but you have a right to your Ukraine connection, I have a different Ukraine connection. We both have a Ukraine connection, it’s tied to a particular part of this planet. And I noticed also in April, when I was in Kyiv, it was the first time in all my years going that I heard more Ukrainian than ever before. And it’s not language for the sake of language, it’s language, I see it as language as the sake of saying like, this is part of it. It’s not the only thing. And so, you know, when I worked in Ukraine in the early 90s, I wanted things to change very, very fast. I think I have an appreciation for, I think the reason it’s working for Ukraine, is because Ukrainians have been doing the work. It’s been decades of understanding what is a citizenship-based, kind of, sovereign country. It’s been nine years of trying to come up with a fair peaceful resolution with an aggressor. And so now, it’s been nine years, like, all the talking has happened. Now, it’s got to just be “Hey, uninvited guests. Stop the invasion. Go back home. Sovereignty matters.” So I think it’s again, it’s that authenticity. It’s that depth that makes it all work.
Beketova: Wonderful. And probably our final question; if someone hears us right now and doesn’t know how to help Ukraine, what would you suggest to this person?
Chomiak: Well, the first is being curious, and you can be curious and participate by going to razomforukraine.org. We have a lot of information there. We have a lot of ways to donate. And I really want to take the opportunity to thank everyone who’s made a contribution of any size, these 200,000+ individuals from all around the world are an immensely important part of our ability to develop a prosperous, successful Ukraine that contributes to the world. So those are two things I would say.
Beketova: Well, thank you so much for this wonderful conversation, Dora.
Chomiak: Thank you.
Beketova: Thank you. Well, and for all the other speakers and information please visit our website cepa.org. Thank you for watching and stay tuned.