Yana | Social worker | Founder and CEO of Eurasian Union of adolescents and Youth Teenergizer, a non-governmental organization led by youth, created for youth | Activist | Love taking photos, listening to music, cooking nice food and playing tennis | Proudly born in Kyiv, Ukraine with HIV, now refugee in Berlin, Germany
PLEASE TELL US A BIT ABOUT WHAT YOU DO /YOUR PROJECT /CAUSE /ACTIVISM OR SUBJECT CLOSE TO YOUR HEART.
Experiencing the Russian invasion of Ukraine first-hand, I'm truly at a ‘breakthrough moment’ in my life and my career to support young people in Ukraine. Two years ago, I was leading Teenergizer in Kyiv. One year later, I'm a refugee in Berlin, continuing to lead Teenergizer and speaking out against the Russian invasion. During this period, I transformed my work and leadership role to ensure health, safety and security for my family, our staff, and our growing number of clients by making our counselling and support services available online for Ukrainian adolescents and young people. In 2023 Teenergizer has faced many challenges as an organization: fear, stigma, and anxiety are posing too many threats to adolescents and youths, including marginalised adolescents affected by HIV, who are in need of more support from Teenergizer.
We have between 500 to 5000 requests per month, so we had to enrol more than 350 peer counsellors to address the drastically increased demand.
THE BEST THING THAT HAPPENED TO YOU IN THESE PAST 12 MONTHS?
The best thing for Teenergizer was that we have grown and managed to support dozens of thousands of adolescents in Ukraine.
On a personal level there are two things:
Firstly, I finally realized what I wanted to do for the next 10 years of my life and realised how much of a privilege it was to plan my future. When war starts, it seems that this choice no longer exists, since you do not know if you live another second, a minute or an hour. You don't know where the bombs will arrive, or the helicopters crash, and your life begins to depend on the surrounding circumstances. Your future and your loved ones are taken from your hands.
At such moments you begin to value to have at least some sort of plan, even if it is for a year or half a year. And this is the privilege that Russia has been taking from my family, friends and entire generations of Ukrainians inside our country.
Secondly, I'm a part of an amazing project with UCLA, Through Positive Eyes, where I will be showing my life as a HIV activist through photographs.
THE WORST THING THAT HAPPENED TO YOU IN THESE PAST 12 MONTHS?
I realise that as a young person born with HIV, I never expected that one day I would flee my homeland as a refugee. Or that I would live in fear that I will be raped, or tortured, or be killed by Russians – only because I am Ukrainian.
And I continue to fear that it will take years, even decades, for me to recover from these emotional scars. This is the state of mental health for me and for an entire generation of young Ukrainians. Unfortunately there’s a genocide of Ukrainian people as if there is no end and the world is helpless in front of such a dictator as Putin.
YOUR BIGGEST WISH FOR THE NEAR FUTURE?
My biggest wish for the near future are peace and victory to Ukraine, as a victory for democracy.
And finally the end of the AIDS epidemic.
YOUR BIGGEST WORRY FOR THE NEAR FUTURE?
I fear that dictators like Putin and businessmen like Elon Musk will lead and will threaten the freedom and human rights of millions of people.
We live in an inclusive world where everyone, no matter who we love, or how we define our gender or what kind of diagnoses we have, should be treated with respect, dignity, and justice. I am not scared of Russian bombs or bullets and Iranian drones anymore. Today what scares me more is when I look into the eyes of young people in Ukraine and around the world, who have profound fears about our future. If Ukraine loses the war, Putin will go on. I fear that Europe has not understood the dangers of the situation and at least is not prepared to defend its borders.
A CONTEMPORARY WOMAN YOU CURRENTLY ADMIRE?
A SHORT MESSAGE TO OTHER WOMEN?
We live in a world where human rights are under incredible attacks, where women’s rights are at stake again. Because of well-funded and organised anti-rights, anti-women, and anti-gender movements, the aggravation of punitive laws, policies and norms: e.g. recent anti-homosexuality laws and bills and anti-trans court decisions. Violence happens with impunity: against sexual and gender minorities and human rights defenders.
Civic spaces are under attack: civil society vilified, NGOs defunded and closed down. Human rights advocates are persecuted. Attacks on independent media outlets and journalists, the spreading of disinformation are growing.
Polarising narratives are impeding constructive discourse: "non-traditional sexual orientation" vs. "traditional family values“, describing LGBTI+ rights as "colonialism" and "foreign influence". Misuse of elections: they can become populist hate fora. Stigma, discrimination. Violence in cyberspaces: the increased use of digital technologies to identify, target, threaten and attack people living with HIV, key populations and human rights defenders. Young people are particularly vulnerable.
Stay strong, now is the time to be united!
THE WORLD KEEPS CHANGING DRAMATICALLY:
HOW ARE YOU COPING?
I try to look at the world very positively, positive thinking helps me
a lot, not to feel depressed. I also go to psychoanalyse every week.
And of course with my fellow activists when we support each other.
And also with the love of my mom and my cat. And with Yoga.
WHICH RECENT CHANGE/ EVENT HAS AFFECTED YOU THE MOST / HAD THE
BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU PERSONALLY?
I had a meeting with Swami in India, and it helped me to see and accept a lot personally. I would like to share only one thing that changed me a lot :
Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, Realise