Oleksandra Shchukina is the head of Smart Media, an NDI-supported civil society organization that helps Ukraine’s citizens understand key reforms. She was raised in a family with civic and patriotic values, values which have given her strength during Russia’s war against Ukraine. “I am inspired by how caring our people are, by their desire to help others. My own patriotism and national identity come from my own family,” Oleksandra says. Her parents, grandparents, and great grandparents devoted their careers to civic life in Kharkiv, working as teachers, professors, and priests. Oleksandra founded her organization after she went to Poland in 2017 for her internship organized by NDI to learn more effective and innovative ways of carrying out national campaigns through citizen mobilization and effective party and government outreach. Smart Media then became a long-standing partner of NDI, and NDI continues to support them to this day. With this background and NDI’s support, Oleksandra became a civic leader, fervently believing in and willing to work for Ukraine’s democratic future.
Oleksandra was forced to leave Kharkiv during the early weeks of Russia’s full-scale invasion. Russia’s shelling of the city grew more constant, and shells started to strike closer and closer to her home. “We started spending more and more time in the shelter, as we could hear Russian fighter jets flying right above our house. Once, my one-year-old son got so scared of those terrible sounds that he fell on the floor and started crying. My immediate thought was to save my child, so I decided to relocate to the Chernivtsi region.”
While the safest option would have been to leave the country, Oleksandra decided to stay in Ukraine and support Kharkiv and other war-affected communities from Chernivtsi. Despite difficult wartime conditions, she continued to lead her civil society organization, which focuses on providing information to people in frontline communities and areas that are temporarily occupied by Russia’s forces. Oleksandra and her team coordinated the delivery of humanitarian assistance to people in Kharkiv. During April and May, Smart Media and its network of volunteers helped provide 5,000 families in Kharkiv with non-perishable food, blankets, sleeping bags, power banks, and flashlights.
In order to ensure the smooth and effective operation of humanitarian efforts, Oleksandra rented a warehouse and began to personally oversee the procurement and delivery of humanitarian aid. She also launched a social media platform (@smartmediaKH) that helps people find opportunities to volunteer in support of communities in Kharkiv oblast.
Looking ahead, Smart Media plans to scale up its activities by expanding its cooperation with the Government of Ukraine and the private sector. Despite being temporarily displaced themselves, Oleksandra and her team are fully committed to helping their community and their country. “Despite opportunities, we did not leave the country, we chose to continue working and building civil society in Ukraine,” says Oleksandra.
Like all Ukrainians, Oleksandra has faced immeasurable hardship during the war. Still, she is optimistic about Ukraine’s future and in civil society’s ability to shape things for the better. “I believe in Ukraine as a developed European country with a robust civil society and strong democratic institutions. The war will make Ukraine stronger and it will rise like a phoenix from the ashes,” she says.
NDI's engagement in Ukraine is implemented with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS).
Author: Iryna Kachurivska and Pavlo Cherchatyi who work on the Citizen Engagement team in our Ukraine office.
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.