Feminist Lodge

26 January 2023
Editor: Bozhena Makovska
Translators: Bozhena Makovska, Maryna Isaieva
Photographer: Michael Tulsky

Feminist Lodge was founded in 2017 as a grassroots cultural and educational initiative by feminists, with the aim of supporting young women in a peer-to-peer format.

Nastya: When I was in 10th or 11th grade, I discovered feminism and it became my optics in life. At that time, “feminist” was an insulting word. I wanted to have some kind of supportive environment so that we could get together and do something cool. That’s how the Feminist Lodge was born. My friends and I came up with the project and the name for it when we wanted to give a lecture on feminism at the university. We felt the need to share what we were interested in.

Nastya. Photo by Michael Tulsky

Lesia: I met Nastya at the youth camp for feminists. I remember the motivation I had back then to create a grassroots initiative. Most of the events in Ukraine that claimed to be feminist – whether cultural, educational or any other kind – were disrupted by groups of right-wing radicals. I wanted to resist this, to fight back, to show that it won’t stop such events from happening, and in fact, there will be more of them. I wanted to engage in activism, and an opportunity presented itself when I found a circle of like-minded people.

Nastya: In 2018-2019, we travelled all over Ukraine, organising a series of screenings featuring feminist short films. It’s a great way to introduce people to feminism because, in just an hour and a half, you can showcase numerous different experiences and discuss them. We visited Kharkiv, Zhytomyr, Kremenchuk, Zaporizhzhia, and held screenings in Kyiv three times. It was an extremely exhausting project. That’s when we realised that we didn’t want to burn out. Currently, we’re considering registering an organisation to simplify our communication with donors, but we don’t want to turn our activism into a job.

Lesia. Photo by Michael Tulsky

Nastya: We take extra care to ensure the safety of everyone attending our events. We have a protocol in place where we work closely with the police. While it may not align with our ideological beliefs, the safety of our attendees takes precedence over the desire to stay “true”. This algorithm worked well during the solidarity rally with Polish women, where we were able to avoid clashes with opponents who supported the ban on abortions in Poland. This is also a matter of education; those guys would not have been dragged there to “beat feminists” if they had a basic understanding of what abortion is. That’s why it’s important for us to promote feminism and discuss our activities, even now, when humanitarian work has become such a significant part of our lives.

The war has changed our focus to the basic needs of women and girls, who are the most vulnerable in a humanitarian crisis. Survival becomes a priority when basic needs are not met.

Zhenia: I joined the initiative during the full-scale war. It was the war that motivated me to take action and help people. That was such an eye-opening experience for me. You may know that the world is malfunctioning and that the system is not working properly. But when you experience war personally, you realise that the system is not just dysfunctional. It is actually designed to work this way. Wars are not some extraordinary situations; there are many injustices and oppressions in life in general. It was painful for me to come to this realisation.

Zhenia. Photo by Michael Tulsky

Lesia: When the full-scale invasion began, we were shocked for the first few weeks. But then we realised that we had certain opportunities and contacts within the feminist community and that we could apply for grants and help people. Initially, we planned to collect general supplies such as medicine and hygiene products for women. We sent parcels to Kherson, Kramatorsk, and other cities. And then a post about us was published in a group, and we started receiving numerous individual requests. We decided to try and fulfil them, so we asked volunteers for help.

Zhenia: These parcels often end up in rural areas where IDPs or simply women who have been struggling to make ends meet live. Humanitarian aid typically doesn’t reach such places, so I think it’s really great that we’re able to reach out to those people.

Nastya: Big foundations like UNICEF are helpful, but only in big cities. They would never send aid to the occupied territories. Through our connections, we’ve found individuals who drive there themselves and wait in lines at russian checkpoints. The grants we received were flexible, thus we took a chance and sent some expensive medication, hiding it in a box between the pads, hoping that the russians wouldn’t steal it. Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer funding opportunities like these. While we want to address immediate needs, we also need to consider what will happen when the war ends. It’s time to start thinking strategically about how we can be involved in rebuilding the country. However, the war persists, and the demand for aid is not decreasing.

Feminist Lodge. Photo by Michael Tulsky

The role of the grassroots volunteer movement in Ukraine is hard to overestimate, in fact, it is the circulatory system of the whole country. We want to add a feminist lens to this movement to meet the needs of women and girls.

Zhenia: Volunteering is how I choose to spend my free time, so I prefer to work with people who share my political views. When the struggle has a broad focus, a lot of messages are lost. What’s important to me is being part of a team that collectively identifies problems and develops strategies to solve them. I have always advocated for non-governmental organisations. I thought that institutions could solve all the problems, but now I see that grassroots activism is much more efficient and effective.

Nastya: We are all intersectional feminists, focusing on diverse experiences and acknowledging their non-monolithic nature. First of all, we try to help those people who are most vulnerable and oppressed. Humanitarian work is an example of how we put our values into practice. In our opinion, sharing, caring and solidarity look like this in the context of war. We have been actively expanding our network. For example, we’re collaborating with FemSolution and Bilkis. We are thinking about how we can move from chaotic assistance to a more structured approach. This is our strategic vision. I think there are even more challenges ahead. We have to survive, and we have more joint actions in mind.

Zhenia: With the beginning of the full-scale war, anti-colonial narratives have definitely become more relevant to us.
Nastya: Even though we were aware of the neo-colonial influence, this topic was not in the first place for us before.
Lesia: We also share the same anti-capitalist views.

Feminist Lodge. Photo by Michael Tulsky

Nastya: The month before the start of the full-scale war was like an art house film for me. You’re sitting in Karma with your friends, discussing what the war will be like. You understand that it will happen, but you don’t want to believe it. I vividly remember driving home from a feminist stand-up show in a taxi on the eve of the invasion and seeing an armoured personnel carrier. It made me reflect on how my old life, which I knew would never come back, was actually amazing. I think I used to focus on what we lacked and how to do more, better, and cooler. At that moment, I realised how much has changed in my life over the years of our activity, and that I want to preserve it to prevent our society from regressing.

Lesia. Photo by Michael Tulsky

Lesia: There were a lot of different news stories that made me anxious, so I didn’t keep up with them. The only thing I did to feel better was to prepare an emergency backpack. On February 24th, 2022, I didn’t hear any explosions. I woke up at 9 am, read about what had happened in chats with my girlfriends, and then walked around the apartment and cried. It was very difficult to decide whether to leave Kyiv or stay. I was afraid that if I didn’t leave that day, I wouldn’t be able to leave the next day. Eventually, my parents decided to leave, so I got in their car and we drove to the west of Ukraine. I spent three months in Khmelnytskyi and then returned to Kyiv.

I don’t know if I’m coping mentally. It’s really tough now. I started playing computer games for the first time in my life, and I’m trying new things. I go to yoga and hike. I used to just enjoy going on hikes, but now I feel like going on a hike this weekend could help me.

Zhenia. Photo by Michael Tulsky

Zhenia: I spent four months in evacuation in Lviv and returned to Kyiv in the summer. On the first day of the invasion, I woke up at 5 am to a call from my sister. By 6, a bunch of friends had already gathered in my apartment. We had an idea to set up a survival squat, but by evening my optimism had dissipated, and my partner and I headed to the train station. We got to Vinnytsia on an evacuation train, and at that very moment Vinnytsia was being bombed.

It’s hard to recall my thoughts, but I had a sense that it wouldn’t happen to us and if it did, Europe had to act. For a long time, I had worked in the field of Holocaust studies, which is infused with ideas about “commonality against a common enemy” and the struggle against authoritarian regimes. But when Russia attacked us, government leaders started expressing their concerns, as they had already done in 2014, and as they had done with other countries – ours was no exception.

Nastya. Photo by Michael Tulsky

Nastya: Since I stayed in Kyiv after 24 February, I constantly felt like I could die any moment. I gave Lesia the password to my card so that in case of a missile attack, she could withdraw the donated money.  Every day was like my last, so I really wanted to communicate my experience. And I had this opportunity since activist networks were constantly calling for discussions. Unfortunately, some prominent feminist activists only supported Ukrainian women in words. When I told them about the facts of my life, they simply ignored them because they didn’t fit their perception of the world.

Zhenia: In spring 2022, I got involved in another volunteer initiative, and my friend and I were invited to a feminist conference in Berlin. Being there, abroad, already felt surreal. It was strange to see the white stripes under passenger planes in the sky, like “Wow! People are flying somewhere!” It was very challenging to get there, but here we are. I went to the first event of the conference, and the speaker talked about how shameful it is to involve the police when conflicts arise in the community. Another example of unworthy behaviour they mentioned was when Ukrainian queer people ask for help. “If you are vegan and queer, it doesn’t mean we are the same” — they said. We were all wearing face masks, and I thought, guys, a day and a half ago, a rocket almost hit me in Lviv. Of course, we are not the same. I couldn’t help but cry into my mask and leave. Here in Ukraine, I see that people understand what self-organisation is and how to show solidarity. Overall, one of the revelations of this war for me is that people actually know a lot.

Nastya: This experience gave me a sense of freedom and emancipated me in some way. I realised that no one has the right to dictate anything to me from a patronising position and that I have my own agency. In the past, I learned about feminism through translations of Western activists and scholars, and I always felt a sense of inferiority, as if everything was so feminist and cool elsewhere, and that we should aspire to that. Now, I want to learn more about countries that have a similar colonial experience, because even from the information I have, their struggles are fascinating. The feeling that I am not a victim, that I am helping people, and that I can do something about this situation, helps me to cope.

You can support the humanitarian work of Feminist Lodge through PayPal ([email protected]) or using the bank details found on Instagram.

Feminists of Kyiv is operated by a team of volunteers. We would like to produce more English-language interviews with feminists, LGBTQ+ activists, and other Ukrainian change-makers. You can support us with a one-time donation via PayPal ([email protected]) or on Patreon.

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Bilkis

2 November 2022
Editor: Bozhena Makovska
Translator: Maryna Isaieva
Photographer: Michael Tulsky

Bilkis is a grassroots intersectional feminist initiative that adheres to the anti-capitalist agenda. After the beginning of the full-scale russian invasion in Ukraine, they relocated to Lviv and adjusted their activities to the humanitarian needs of women and LGBTQ+ people. You can support Bilkis using these requisites.

Yevheniia: Yana and I studied at the university and lived together in a dormitory. At that time, I was immersed in the topic of feminism as I saw in it the answer to my problem — an eating disorder. Then I realised how important feminism is politically. We observed how things were going in Kharkiv and exchanged our thoughts, and views. There was only one organisation in the city that covered the topic of women’s rights, and we thought it would be cool to do a grassroots, horizontal, anarchist initiative.

Yana: Then I had already been a feminist for a long time, but I was involved in activism only sporadically. At some point, I realised that I had to do something different, and I shared this idea with Zhenya (Yevheniia). That’s how we created Bilkis. For several years, the two of us have been engaged in online activism, holding street actions dedicated to the topic of gender-based violence. Then we decided to expand and were joined by other members.

Yevheniia: This year in March we planned to hold an interactive lecture for teenage girls (8th-11th grades). Even before February 20, we posted leaflets with invitations around the city. We had been preparing for it for a long time and booked space, but on February 24, a full-scale war began. That morning I woke up to explosions. I asked my partner what those sounds were, he replied that it must be thunder. However, two more rockets flew by and it became clear that it was not thunder. We started packing, I called Yana and offered to go to Poltava together. My father took us there by car. From Poltava, we left for Germany and spent two months there.

Ivanna: I joined Bilkis a little over a year ago. I am from Donetsk region, but I’ve lived in Kharkiv for the last three years. I met the war when I was alone in the apartment. All the bomb shelters marked on the maps of my area were closed and the keys to them were lost. I moved downtown with my friends, and there we shared a bathroom and a hallway. Then I jumped on the evacuation train that was going to Kyiv, but it was extended to Lviv. In recent months, our initiative has done many different humanitarian tasks, in which I’ve been actively involved.

Lisa: I’m from Crimea, but I’ve been living in Kyiv for the past six years. On February 24, I woke up in the apartment where my friend and I lived for six years and saw that she was standing there dressed. She said “it started” and after a few minutes she left, leaving me alone. After that, other friends started calling me, urging me to go, and I started to pack. I went to live with my relatives in the Rivne region for three months, and I had a very difficult time there because they were not ready to live together, especially during the war. At some point, I went to Lviv, met my friends here, and they offered to move in. I joined Bilkis two months ago. Humanitarian aid is currently the main focus of our activity, but we want to get back to educational projects.

Yevheniia: We were constantly in contact with all the participants of our initiative, and we continued to hold meetings and discuss the possibilities of continuing our activities.

Yana: Even before the invasion began, we had applied for a small grant, and in the first days of a full-scale war, they responded that they were ready to provide us with these funds as an emergency. This probably became a catalyst for our humanitarian work.

Ivanna: At first, we provided targeted help, got some requests from relatives and friends, and sent them the necessary things. Then on our social media pages, we shared the message that we were sending humanitarian aid kits.

Yevheniia: This activity became more structured when Yana and I returned to Lviv, got together, and discussed the action plan. But we did not expect that there would be so many requests for help. After the publication, more than a hundred people wrote to us in a few hours. It reached 300-400 messages per day. And although we are no longer accepting new requests, people still reach out to us…

Lisa: Russian aggression continues and the number of requests does not decrease. People are leaving their occupied hometowns, they have no jobs, their children need medicine, and everyone needs food and shelter. And you have to turn all these requests down because you don’t have enough resources to cover them. You read their stories and it tears you apart…

Yana: In cases where evacuation is required, we can still redirect people somewhere, and find the places to stop. But we do not direct requests for humanitarian aid to other initiatives, because their possibilities are also exhausted.

Yevheniia: We spent a lot of money on humanitarian aid, and when the money ran out, we started looking for new opportunities. Then we noticed that all those Western foundations that provided emergency support at the beginning of the invasion were no longer ready to keep on offering it. Now they require us to be officially registered and meet their usual criteria.

Yana: Currently, we are helping using the money from donations and probably will continue to do so in the future. If people keep on donating, we will buy the necessary things and close the requests. I feel exhausted from humanitarian work, I am tired of people who ask us for help, of the fact that it is necessary to coordinate it and to carry heavy boxes. I want to stop doing it because it is unbearable to do it all the time.

Yevheniia: In Kharkiv, we felt that we were building a feminist community. Such a community already exists in Lviv, this way we will concentrate on our projects.

Yana: We now have an office in Lviv, and we decided to allocate one of the rooms for a permanent free market. People can bring their things there that they don’t need or take what they want. I would like in the future for this space to also become a platform for various events dedicated to eco themes.

Yevheniia: The project that I want to host in our space is feminist poetry evening. Once every two weeks, volunteers will gather and talk about their feelings through poetry: their works, or those they like. Since the beginning of the full-scale war, I’ve started to read a lot of Ukrainian poetry. It is difficult for me to express my thoughts in my own words in a conversation with someone, but I can read a poem and understand: this is how I feel.

Lisa: I would like to manage the cultural direction. Many female painters and sculptors lived and worked in Lviv. I would like to create and conduct feminist tours telling people about women artists. I also love cinema and want to hold film screenings about women and for women, including displaced women.

Ivanna: I have a small project that has already started. Together with Yana, I created a cycling club in Lviv. We invite women and nonbinary people on bike rides and ride together. This is something completely new for me, but I’ve been dreaming about it for a long time. I’ve been a solo cyclist all my life, and now I’ve decided it would be cool to build a community open to different groups of people who aren’t cyclists. I am learning to be inclusive and sensitive, and I want to tell people that cycling is not always about competition, so you can just ride and have fun. I enjoy having a sport in my life and I would like to share it with others. In addition, I am a courier for the Lviv Vegan Kitchen. At the beginning of the invasion, I was riding a bicycle to the suburbs of Lviv, and delivering food to the vegans of the Territorial Defence. Now I deliver lunches from them to the Feministychna Maisternia shelter every day.

Yana: If we talk about what kind of help we need, it is, first of all, involvement. I would like feminists from Ukraine to be invited to discussions as experts about their own lives as often as possible. So that they can tell what is happening in Ukraine now and what challenges they are working with, even if they do not know English well or at all.

Yevheniia: We need all the possible attention to Ukraine. Especially to women, queer people, and feminist groups who stayed and keep on working in Ukraine. We need a lot of money, as without it, unfortunately, some things cannot be done within the framework of the capitalist system.

Lisa: We ask people to trust the opinion of Ukrainian feminists and Ukrainian women, and discard some of your liberal, enchanted views about Ukraine and russia. To believe what is happening to us, and maybe even treat it more rationally. Often news about Ukraine is perceived very emotionally by Western communities, but then they offer to “make friends” with the occupiers. People should realise that the problem is not solely with putin, but with the russians.

Yana: Recently, I attended lectures about Rojava and we discussed that now Turkey is starting to escalate the war again. I want countries that have resources, which are often the ones of Western Europe, as they had places to export them from, to pay more attention to all the territories where there are currently some captures or military actions. So that the people living in these countries begin reflecting on the topic of their own colonialism and self-educating on the issues of both the countries of Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

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