Western Saimaa 4H Association quickly seized the opportunity to accept young Ukrainians as volunteers

Experiences Civic activity Youth EU youth programmes European Solidarity Corps
Olha and Sofiia from Ukraine decided to volunteer in order to improve their skills and feel useful – and above all, safe. Despite the situation in their home country, they are highly motivated to participate in voluntary work and have received a warm welcome in Luumäki.
Ukrainalaiset vapaaehtoiset tekevät kukkaseppeleitä lasten ympäröimänä.
Volunteers Olha and Sofiia making dandelion garlands with children in Kuukanniemi 4H Association in Lemi.

“If it could in some way help their situation”

The volunteers came to Western Saimaa 4H Association through Finnish National Youth Council Allianssi’s youth exchange programme. The original group of young people who applied to the volunteer programme this spring managed very well, which gave rise to the idea of opening the applications especially for Ukrainians afflicted by the war.

Merja Kuukka, Executive Director of Western Saimaa 4H Association, finds that even if Ukrainian young people were not inevitably part of the most disadvantaged groups, in the new situation receiving Ukrainian volunteers is an excellent fit with the ethos of the European Solidarity Corps.

“This could definitely be one way in which organisations can help. If you think about the Solidarity Corps’ idea of also making participation possible for disadvantaged young people, the war meets this criterion. Perhaps this could help the situation of individual Ukrainian young people, at least in some way”, Kuukka hopes.

As a mentor, Kuukka has also considered the volunteers’ needs and potential traumas. 

“The testing of the warning signal, which happens on a Monday every month and sounds like an air raid alarm, was enough to give the young people a fright. However, I had expected that some kinds of traumas could be closer to the surface and that the young people would be worried about what is going on at home, but these two have never really brought up such topics. I am no expert in dealing with trauma, but if they every suffer from anxiety, we will find help for them. One of my friends is an instructor of trauma sensitive yoga. It is one thing we could also try it if the young people were interested in processing matters through such methods," Kuukka reflects.

On the other hand, Kuukka believes that you should not be asking questions just to satisfy your personal curiosity if the young persons do not themselves appear to be willing to talk about the situation and share their experiences. 

“We must let them lead normal lives. Their focus on the work has indeed been incredible. Maybe it also distracts them from what is happening in their home country. I've been really impressed – sometimes they feel more competent than me!”

Warm welcome in a cold country took the volunteers by surprise

Olha Potapchuk, 21, and Sofiia Sydorenko, 18, arrived as volunteers in Luumäki, South Karelia, in early May. 

Both had already been interested in international activities before. Olha had worked as an au pair in Spain and Sofiia in fund-raising tasks in Romania. They both choose similar words to describe their decision to come to Finland:

“I registered with the Solidarity Corps and my goal was to go somewhere safe. The first offer, which also felt like the best, came from Finland. The call for applications mentioned Ukrainians specifically. It felt good and I'm grateful”, Olha smiles.

“I also had many projects to choose from, but for some reason Finland was all I could see! I want to be useful while living in a safe place and with peace of mind. At home I am nervous because the situation in our country puts a strain on your mental and physical health. It does not suit a sensitive person like me. I also want to be with someone from Ukraine so that I don't forget about home”, Sofiia explains.

The two young people seem very happy because they are together and can share the volunteering experience with each other – even though they only met little more than a week ago.


We really clicked right away. We can communicate in our mother tongue and even without words. We have a spiritual connection!” they laugh, and Olga wraps her arm around Sofiia’s shoulders.

“We are happy that many people and even children here understand the real situation in Ukraine and support us. It is important to us.”

Apart from the changeable and cool spring weather, they also seem to have adapted to life in Finland without difficulty. The fact that they are accommodated in a separate house rather than a small dorm room or similar came as a pleasant surprise. The locals also caught them by surprise.

“I expected people in a colder country to be introverts, but my ideas have definitely changed. It turns out that people are open. Merja, our mentor, is also a very good person”, Olha stresses.

“Yeah, when we told her we were freezing, she brought us warm scarves and socks. When I said I was a Harry Potter fan, she gave me three Harry Potter books”, slightly incredulous Sofiia reminisces.

“I saw Ukrainian refugees arriving in Finland at the airport. The people at the day-care centre also donated supplies to us when they heard that we were from Ukraine. I had not expected people to be so caring”, Olha adds. 

To their surprise, the young people have also discovered that even children in Finland seem to know about the military aggression in Ukraine.

“We are happy that so many people understand the real situation and support us. It is important to us”, Sofiia sums up.

Invaluable experience and competence for a partly unknown future

When asked about the content of their voluntary work, Sofiia exclaims:

“We are learning to do all sorts of things! For the last three days, we've been making outfits for an escape room game. And we've already been to the sauna for the first time. We will definitely be different people when we go home!”

The idea is that as volunteers, Olha and Sofiia can play with the children, instruct them in crafts and cooking, and participate in camps and the animal group’s activities.

“We have lots of things planned: a Harry Potter theme day, a Ukraine day and weekend camps at a summer cottage with the children. We are prepared to help this organisation in many different areas”, Olha adds. 

“I believe this experience is good for all those involved in the programme – us, the children and the organisation. The children learn English, and learning to interact with children and young people is useful for me because I want to be a mathematics and physics teacher”, Sofiia plans ahead.

The young people believe that after their two-month volunteering period, they might continue in another project or programme. At home in Ukraine, finding work and living independently would be difficult right now. The fact that the Solidarity Corps covers their travel expenses, living costs and pocket money also makes things easier for their families.

“In this situation, it is difficult to make big plans for the future. But the war will end some day. Now we can gather experience and build up our skills, and some day when we go home, we can share our skills and help develop society," Olha reflects.

However, she is crystal clear about her plans for the next few weeks: she would like try riding at nearby stables, and travel at least to Lapland and Helsinki together with her new friend, Sofiia.


Author: Laura Mettälä