Programmed to win: the big soul of a small kindergarten in Kanonychi
Volunteering is a multi-functional activity because there are no restrictions on the professional qualification in this difficult and unromantic status taken voluntarily. Thousands of Ukrainians became forced volunteers. Forced, because, on February 24, 2022, the russian occupier cynically burst into Ukraine, ignoring all possible rules of war and politics. Teachers also joined in the defence.
Training stopped, and volunteer hubs, workshops, and aid centres began to operate in educational institutions. The Varash District is no exception: the Kanonychi community quickly organized itself with the entire educational sector. And not only schools but even kindergartens. The "Sonechko" kindergarten in Kanonychi, run by Nataliia Sakova, became a volunteer kitchen hub as well.
The educational process has already started in the institution, but they have not left their work on defence either. The staff of the institution told how their volunteering began, what they achieved and what they plan for the future.
At the doorway, I was met by Natalia Sakova, Director of the "Sonechko" kindergarten of the Kanonychi community. There are almost 160 students in the institution today. Thirteen employees manage them and the entire institution. The women were working in the rooms – they were washing and painting the walls, and a technical worker with a screwdriver was standing on the stairs, but he, by the way, was not the only man in kindergarten that day. In general, the territory to be serviced is more than one and a half hundred squares of premises.
– Nataliia Valeriivna, tell us how your volunteer hub began.
The idea came up in the spring. We spent a long time thinking about how we can support the army. When there is a war, we have no indifferent people. We thought about it and decided to open a bakery. So, the decision is made – let's get to work: we held a meeting, discussed all the questions, and created a small financial fund. We appointed a responsible person – our teacher Inna Andriivna. We started keeping a book where our income and expenses for cooking were clearly recorded. We brought this proposal to the chairman of the territorial community. He supports us in any good initiative. So, we agreed on the issue of creating a bakery and started working.
At first, we made pastries on our own. And then, when we started reporting on the work done, and the community joined us, people began to help with products and financially. We have established contacts with volunteers in our community and district. The guys took pastries to the front line and to those points where people really needed it. We wanted to make them a little sweet holiday – to bring the warmth of the house to the dug-out shelters.
According to Nataliia, at first, there was nothing in the kindergarten kitchen except equipment. However, quite quickly, volunteers "settled in", and people from the community started to bring groceries. For almost half a year, about ten women worked as confectioners. If at first, they made five or six boxes of cookies, then when they picked up speed, they managed to prepare even seventeen or twenty boxes of different pastries in one day.
– Nataliia Valeriivna, did such a team have enough cooking utensils, stoves, and ovens?
Our equipment really needs to be updated, but when there is a victory, everything will be fine. We didn't focus on that. We sent the call out, and the people of the community brought two more ovens. We plugged them in at the laundry room and medical office. Another one was brought by my employee. We tried and worked all day.
Larysa Volochniuk, a teacher and methodologist, wearing a headscarf and work gloves, carrying a bucket and a rag, was cleaning the children's bedroom. I asked about her work during these months.
– Larysa, how is your volunteer day going in the kindergarten kitchen?
In the morning, we gather and decide what we are going to do, and who is responsible for which processes. Each of us chose recipes for ourselves that everyone has a zest for. I wanted our military to be happy and amused after receiving the package. Therefore, we used decorations and bright colours – for the mood and positivity of the soldiers. So everyone made their own dough and cooked – no one managed us. It was well-coordinated work.
– What were your emotions on February 24?
You know, February 24 is already etched in my memory forever. In the morning, the director called and said that martial law had been introduced, we won't accept children, but we're working. At work, everyone had the feeling that this was already the end, their hands dropped, and everyone was shocked. We panicked and asked each other: what can we do to help? We told the director that we would do everything. Even to the checkpoint, even to the defence!
Larysa shows a children's book, which is still lying on the crib in the children's bedroom – "Ukrainian folk tales". Back on February 23, she read a fairy tale to the children during quiet time. And the kids, out of habit, always asked what kind of fairy tale would be tomorrow. And so far, this little book is unfolded, lying with a bookmark on the fairy tale unfinished on February 23, 2022.
Lidiia Ryzha, the assistant teacher also spoke about the emotions of these months. Her colleagues pointed out to her not accidentally – the woman has a talent for confectionery since childhood. Modest and laconic, she was eager to talk about her work in the volunteer kitchen.
– Lidiia, why was there any need to produce marzipan, decorations on pastries? It is already delicious and homemade.
I want to see beauty in everything, I like to do that. When I bake something colourful and special, it makes me happy. I put candied fruits, poppies, and condensed milk. I make unusual shapes to make it original. I enjoy the fruits of my labour and hope that the military, who savour our pastries, are also happy.
Lidiia Andriivna's husband is mobilized in the Armed Forces of Ukraine since March 11. He advised his wife: sweets are very necessary on the front lines, where it is difficult. So the mistresses found carriers-volunteers who went to the hottest spots and gave them their sweet cargo to be delivered to the military and civilians.
Halyna Ryzha, the nurse, along with others, baked and put the kindergarten premises in order.
– Halyna, were you and your colleagues able to switch from war to work?
At first, everyone was in a panic, stressed and shocked. As we began to bake, thoughts turned to the fact that our help is important. Pastries were delivered to our fellow countrymen in combat units. Mainly in the Donetsk direction. The cargo was heavy. I kept in touch with my classmate and sent delicacies to his unit. He thanked on behalf of all the soldiers.
Many fellow villagers, according to employees of the institution, simply brought funds as a donation with the words: "We don't know what you need, but here is the money, buy what you need." Even people from other villages joined the donations for the volunteer hub. For these funds, the mistresses bought flour and sugar, and various small things for baking.
I found Mariia Volochniuk, an accountant, a laundry and repairing operator, cleaning the kitchen and sink.
– Mariia, were you also a member of the volunteer hub? How did your family react to your work?
Well, we all participated in this volunteer hub. After all, everyone has their own front. Ours is to help. We had to cook, send packages, and do everything.
– What did you think of this volunteer work? Did you know where your sweets were going?
The final day of volunteering was memorable – teachers returned home delighted, joyful and proud to find themselves on the barricades of an uninvited war. With God's blessing, warm hearts and sincere prayers, these workers replaced the kitchen aprons with work gloves to repair their native premises.
Everyone was worried about the guys. We wanted to sweeten their mood. After all, homemade baking gives a sense of calm, as if you are at home. Our sweets were delivered to different points of combat operations. Volunteers delivered pastries not only to soldiers but also to ordinary people who could not reach other help. Food packages were packed for them.
When it was decided to stop the volunteer hub and start repairs and preparation for the school year, in recent days in the kitchen, one of the women said, "Let's weigh how much we do per day?" Colleagues had already joined at the time, so there were enough people interested in summarizing the results. So, all the sweet cargo weighed – forty-five kilograms!
Together with Nataliia Sakova, we went through a well-groomed courtyard to the basement, where the builders were arranging shelters for children. I'm asking:
– Nataliia Valeriivna, the team had to prepare the institution for the academic year. Repairs and baking – how did you combine your work?
Back in the spring, as soon as we started baking and this process moved too fast, the managers informed us that we need to prepare the institution for training in September. It was said that if everything goes well, we should start training for preschoolers and primary schoolers from the first of September. We combined both repairs and baking. But the deadlines were tight, so we were forced to close the bakery for a while and start repairing.
For the elementary school block, we have completely renovated the classroom. The bedroom and reception area were also renovated. Children will have a separate entrance to primary classrooms and will be able to study in the comfort. Funding was allocated for repairs – this is more than 50 thousand hryvnias as of today. But, of course, the work continues. I hope there will be more money. We used those funds – we completely repaired the premises where there was a need.
– Is the volunteer hub ready to resume its work? The inspiration hasn't disappeared yet?
Of course, we are ready! Everything that is done here – both repairs and baking – is done by the employees of our "Sonechko". Everyone is active, everyone is involved, and everyone is trying their best. There are no people who hack or don't work. We like what is made with our own hands. And it's nice to see for ourselves that we can, we tried our best, and everything works out for us. If we manage to bake hundreds of kilograms of cookies, we will be able to defeat any occupier! Because we are Ukraine!
Writer: Lyudmila Bosyk