Resilience is our capacity to recover and thrive even in the hardest of times. This term is particularly important for our story today as we will come to know a very special person. Her name is Alina Revenko, and she volunteers at YMCA Kremenchuk, a big industrial city 320 kilometres south-east of Kyiv, on the River Dnipro.
Alina is a yoga and mental health instructor. She’s also a committed YMCA volunteer, having participated in various international programs within the YMCA such as ‘Roots for Peace’ and ‘Change Agents’. She is remarkable in her confidence, composure and candour, not least because she is visually impaired. We took the opportunity to ask her a few questions.
Alina, how would you describe your YMCA background?
‘I have been in the YMCA for almost forever, I can say. I am part of a small but dedicated team at YMCA Kremenchuk. The team consists of Anna Cheverdakova, our president and a professional psychologist; Valentina, who is responsible for the admin and paperwork; and our young leaders: Ivan, Asya, and Dan, who are providing non-formal education workshops for the young people attending our youth club. I am a board member of the national YMCA movement in Ukraine, and a youth trainer. I would always say that I am passionate about helping the community, and especially young people who are struggling with mental health issues.’
How do you feel during these difficult and uncertain times?
‘I would say I am OK. It has been a while since the beginning of the war, and I can say that I have got used to this situation that we are in. Yes, it is uncertain, but many of us are becoming used to this. My city is quite far from the frontlines, and thank God, the war did not reach us. I also spent this time with my family and our cat; just like that, life goes on for all of us. We spend a lot of time volunteering and helping out our community. But what I realized is that self-reflection exercises and yoga have healing properties, especially during times when we are all afraid of what will happen tomorrow.’
Can you tell us a little bit about the project you are currently working on in your YMCA?
Yes, of course, our project is entitled ‘The Resilience Project’. Initiated together with Anna, our president, we created a set of yoga and mental health workshops. It aims to provide psychological support groups for children and young people, individual psychological consultations and assistance for mothers with young children, group meditations (online and offline), and yoga classes. We would like to engage refugees and people from different parts of Ukraine and show them the activities of our YMCA group.’
Having such a difficult situation in your country – people fleeing, a war going on – how did you find the strength to implement the program?
‘We just realized that it is our duty to share our knowledge and skills. The meditation techniques, yoga classes, and psychological counselling helped us to overcome our struggles, so we thought why not share it with others who need it as well. In a crisis like this, the only thing you could do is care for one another. It fulfills you spiritually.’
What is motivating you to carry on with this program?
‘Our inspiration and drive to carry on comes from seeing how happy all our children and young people are. We are making a difference by talking to them, listening to their stories, and allowing them to express their emotions and deep feelings. We must always create a safe space, a hub where we enable young people to free themselves and discuss.’
Who is the main audience of your program?
‘Our program has several target groups. Mothers with children aged 1-10 years, teenagers 10-14, youths 15-25, and adults 25+. Up until now, we have 107 participants of different age groups. Some of them live in Ukraine, but a lot of people have been displaced to different parts of the world, mostly European countries.’
How do you think the sessions are impacting young people?
‘Among all our participants, 73 are between 14-35 years old. They join our activities, they have a safe space to share their thoughts and feelings. And one of the most essential aspects is that they are not left alone. They do not have to face Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or depression, by themselves. They learn and try something new about their body, mind, and spirit. This can help them to be more confident in their families and friends’ communities. ‘
What’s your message to everyone out there?
We must reinforce the idea that war is the worst thing that could happen in the world. It destroys everything on its way. It takes away thousands of innocent lives. It divides everything between them and us, black and white. The life of so many innocent people will be affected. Mental health and PTSD will be long-term implications for children and grown-ups alike. But, I am sure Ukraine will prevail. And after all this, we will have a lot of work to do. We will rebuild our country and our lives.’