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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #164: A Recruitment Call



This is an urgent call for recruitment for volunteers to work in a large kitchen facility in Lviv, a cosmopolitan and exciting historical city in western Ukraine that is thoroughly safe. The purpose of the work of the kitchen is to prepare food for frontline communities, both military and civilian. In other words the work we do involves keeping people alive, well fed and avoid malnutrition, in the south and east of the country where the war rages. We use local ingredients to prepare vacuum packed meals for front line communities, and then our informal logistics networks deliver those meals across the communities suffering and struggling and surviving and fighting heroically on the front line. And we need your help.


I want you to understand a few things. I occupy no formal position in this kitchen. I am a volunteer. I receive no money for writing these words or for recruiting you. I am not giving out its name but I will tell you its name if you write to me and express interest in volunteering. I am not asking you for money. I am asking you for your time to come and volunteer and to help us, because we prepare thousands of meals a day and we need volunteers from anywhere and all over the world. We are short of people and we need your help. Or if you cannot travel to Lviv to assist us, then please ask your friends, relatives, loved ones, anyone, to come to Lviv and to help.


Let me tell you what you need to know in order to volunteer. You need no prior experience working in a kitchen or really any other sort of experience. What you need is a good heart, and a willingness to help and contribute what you can. This is the friendliest and most compassionate group of people I have ever worked with in my life. Everyone is giving up their time and spending their own money to volunteer and to help and they are saints, each and every one of them. The work is varied and the hours are whatever you want them to be. You will be shown on your first day how to do the tasks you are assigned to, and they are all of them straightforward. Depending upon your physical strength and your preferences, you might be asked to chop and peel vegetables; put chopped vegetables through a shredder; de-bone chicken (vegetarians will not be asked to do this); carry boxes of vegetables into and out of vehicles; carry around giant squash (pumpkins); lift bags of sugar, onions, potatoes and similar things; maybe cook lunch for the volunteers, or make coffee and tea; help people carry meal products around Lviv in different vehicles; and so on and so forth. Also the construction of a second kitchen is underway and for a limited period of time we are looking for volunteers with construction skills. The kitchen where I work provides no lethal assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. We are not going to ask you to do things that help people kill one-another. That is not what we are about. We are about keeping people alive during a terrible war in which Ukraine has been invaded by her larger neighbour and she is resisting with all her energies. If you believe in that cause and you support what we are doing then we welcome you with open arms.


We do not pay travel expenses or visa expenses (where a visa is required) for travel to Ukraine or to Lviv but we do offer advice and assistance for those making preparations. You need no special work permission to volunteer with us. Many foreigners, particularly those from elsewhere in Europe, can enter Ukraine for 90 days without a visa in advance. If you want to spend longer than 90 days then we recommend that you leave Ukraine before your 90-day period expires and apply for a special volunteers’ visa at a local Ukrainian consulate. The nearest is in Lublin in Poland, about seven hours away by train. We suggest that you hire a lawyer to assist in this process and there is one several volunteers have used. His fees are US$250 and he will arrange an appointment for you at the Consulate and manage all the paperwork for this price, including obtain an invitation letter from a registered NGO. The visa can be issued in 24 hours if all the paperwork is in order and you pay the express consular fee which is slightly less than US$200. The lawyer we know can also arrange a one-year residence permit for an additional US$250 - although you need the visa first, even if you are allowed to enter Ukraine for an initial 90 days without a visa. The one-year residence permit can be extended. Some volunteers have undertaken this paperwork without using a lawyer but it is inevitably moor fiddly and takes longer if you do not use a lawyer.


We do not pay accommodation expenses or daily living expenses. However we will provide advice on how to find accommodation for the duration of your stay in Lviv, whether you want to rent an apartment, a hotel room, a dormitory bed in a hostel or anything else. Our volunteer community is a fount of knowledge and wisdom about the Lviv accommodation, restaurant, shopping and nightlife scenes and we have a busy and exciting WhatsApp messaging group in which we share social plans - that take place virtually every evening.


Working hours are whatever you want - you are a volunteer - but the kitchens are typically open from 8am to 8pm on weekdays and from 12pm to 8pm on weekends. The kitchens operate 365 days a year, because the war is going on 365 days a year. You can come and go as you want - if you want to work seven days a week, you can; if you want to work five, you can; if you want to work one, you can. There is no roster and nobody expects you at any particular time but you will be greeted with a welcoming smile whenever you arrive. You will not be allocated to a particular task before you arrive each day. Mostly volunteers stand or sit around a large outdoor table and laugh, joke and listen to music while performing their daily duties. The environment is perfectly convivial.


You can expect to be fed with lunch when you are working at either of our two sites, both of which are in central Lviv. Cheap and reasonable-quality accommodation is available right in the heart of the historical centre of Lviv, and living in Lviv is cheap, fun and comfortable. Many people do not drink the tap water in Lviv although I do and it does not seem to do me any harm. For those with cultural tastes, the city is full of museums, churches, an amazing opera and other cultural sights. Lviv is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. For those inclined to enjoy the evenings, the city is jam packed with restaurants and bars. Although it helps if you can read Cyrillic, English is widely spoken in Lviv and you will make a wide circle of friends easily if that is what you want.


Working conditions often include working outside and you should bring a heavy waterproof winter coat with a hood, and good waterproof winter gloves, as Ukrainian winters can be cold. You should also bring sturdy boots or wellington boots, as the kitchens can be muddy.


Travel to Lviv is usually overland from Poland. Ukrainian air space is closed to civilian aircraft and the nearest airports are in Rszezów (pronounced “Zhezhov”) and Kraków (pronounced “Krakuf”) both in southeastern Poland. Kraków is a beautiful city and tourist attraction in itself. From Kraków and from the Polish capital Warsaw there are direct trains to Lviv but it can be difficult to buy tickets for the time or date you want. Many people arrive by bus from Kraków or other cities in Poland but there can be delays at the border. Some people walk over the border at Medyka, just to the east of the Polish town of Przemyśl (pronounced “Pshehmish”) and then continue by bus or taxi to Lviv (about an hour and a half, depending on traffic). Walking across the border is always the fastest but it involves walking about 2 kilometres past military installations. It is best done with a rucksack on your back. Przemyśl is a beautiful town and has several hotels and restaurants as well as a long-distance bus station and railway station. We can advise on all these transportation options, and on others, and we can arrange for someone to meet you upon your arrival in Ukraine if that is what you want. Also we can arrange for someone to meet you and bring you to the kitchen on your first day.


Lviv is perfectly safe and despite there being a significant international volunteer community in the city I have never heard of any foreign volunteer being killed or injured in Lviv. You may hear periodic air raid sirens but mostly they are ignored by local people and foreign volunteers alike. There is a curfew between the hours of Midnight and 5am but its enforcement varies widely. There is no problem for a foreigner arriving on a bus or train during curfew hours but you should plan in advance how to travel from the railway station or bus station to your accommodation as it is about 2.5 kilometres and you may not want to walk that distance with your luggage in the middle of the night when the streets are mostly empty.


Some volunteers buy travel insurance for the duration of their stay but frankly it is seldom worth it. It is not a normal requirement for visa-free entrance to Ukraine and in the event that you get sick in Ukraine you may find that the hospitals require payment in cash; they will not accept insurance policies. Also the fact that Ukraine is a country at war may void most foreign insurance policies. You may need a special military insurance policy and those are hard to come by, they may be expensive and they may be ineffective.


Most countries have abandoned the request that their citizens register with their Embassies upon arrival in Ukraine. Lviv in particular is absolutely packed with foreigners, as you will soon discover when you arrive here and walk into a bar jammed to the rafters with people speaking English.


Most foreigners arriving in Ukraine to work as volunteers start their journeys in Lviv. If you have never been to Ukraine before then it might be worth watching a cultural acclimatisation video on YouTube and we can guide you to several. Ukrainian people are warmly friendly towards and appreciative of the presence of foreigners and volunteer workers but there is a heavy war on so there are inevitably some sensitivities. If you want to travel elsewhere in Ukraine after having arrived in Lviv, either to volunteer or for any other reason, then our volunteer community is a rich source of knowledge about how to travel around the country, where to travel, which places are dangerous and which are not. If you are considering signing up to the International Legion (the foreign volunteers in the Ukrainian Armed Forces), then come to speak to us and we can connect you with people who have had this experience and they can tell you what it is like.


As well as foreign volunteers, we need Ukrainian volunteers. If you are Ukrainian, and you are living abroad or in Ukraine, you are very welcome to come to work with us on precisely the same conditions as a foreigner. Approximately 50% of our volunteers are Ukrainian, so it is a mixed community. It helps if you speak English but it is not essential. If you are a Ukrainian male outside the country remember that if you enter the country you may be conscripted at the border if you are between the ages of 25 and 60; and in any event you will not be able to leave.


I am happy to serve as your first point of contact if you are interested in coming to volunteer with us. My name is Matthew and I ask that at the first instance you contact me using one of the methods shown at www.the-paladins.com/contact. I prefer an email communication to thepaladins2021@gmail.com for people making enquiries about volunteering in Ukraine and if I do not read that email address immediately then someone else will and either way we will revert to you quickly. When you contact me, please let me know your full name, your nationality, your gender, your age, your level of physical fitness and whether you have any prior knowledge of travel in Ukraine. A sentence or two about your motivations for coming to volunteer in Ukraine would also be welcome. The kitchen where I work - and remember that I occupy no official or unofficial position in this kitchen; I am not the “boss” and I cannot hire or fire you or anything like that; I am just another volunteer like you - welcomes all people with good will, without discrimination on the basis of age, gender, disability or anything else whatsoever.


Ukraine needs you. We need you. The tens of thousands of people who rely upon the food we produce every day - they need you. Just because it is the winter season does not mean that the war is coming to an end. The suffering and deaths continue every day and we need your support more than ever. Remember: this is not an appeal for money. It is an appeal for you to come to Lviv in Ukraine and give your time and effort to help us. Thank you for your help and thank you for your support. And if you cannot come to Lviv to help at this time, and even if you can, then please post and re-post this message everywhere and anywhere, on the internet, on social media, wherever you can think of, so that people may learn of this opportunity and come to work with us in Lviv. Thank you.

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