The Community Emmaus Oselya is one of the first organizations in Ukraine that has started working with the homeless. Since 2001 volunteers have been helping those who are in need. Now they have a social hostel, a furniture repair shop, a “workshop of good deeds” and a charity shop that sells used items. This community provides not only shelter for the homeless but also becomes a new temporary home and a new family that helps rebuild social bonds and skills.
Community founder Olesia Sanotska used the example of the organization of the international movement “Emmaus”, which supported the creation of the Lviv centre and helped to purchase the first building. On June 12, 2003, the first resident settled in the Community House, and in 2010 “Oselya” joined the Emmaus movement. The founder Hrystyna Kornienko’s daughter and sister Natalia Sanotska continue the work of Olesia, who received the Lviv Pride Award – unfortunately, posthumously.
An artist by profession, Olesia Sanotska together with Roman Prochko decided to implement a project aimed at helping people in need. In the end, she managed to buy a house in a town called Vynnyky, and tells Olesia’s daughter Christina:
“I know that my mom all her life believed that everyone has a second chance, and maybe even a third and a fourth. Because it is very often the case that people who have dropped out of the Community for one reason or another came to our home. But they wanted to go back and start re-socializing again, to try to get that chance again. There were no people that she refused.”
The first event ever organized for the poor and the homeless was a dinner on Holy Night Evening. Thus, volunteers wanted to find out how many people in Lviv needed help and what problems they faced.
Three times more people came than was expected. It turned out there were significantly more people in need of help, and their problems were not exactly what volunteers had envisioned. In addition to the need to eat, take a shower and change their clothes, these people strove to find a cure for solitude. The tradition of festive dinners has been preserved in the Community to this day, as it is an opportunity to become friends.
“We came together, helped to organize. Because we organize a huge table for more than 500 people every Holy Dinner and every Christmas, and everyone in need comes together and we sing and celebrate together.”
Usually, it’s religious organizations that help the needy. The volunteer centers at the churches feed the poor every day, and on big holidays they also gather under the same roof. The Emmaus Oselya mutual aid community helps people not for religious reasons.
In the community named after H.Kofoed, a day-care center for the homeless, those in need can take a shower, wash clothes, get a haircut, get clean clothes, and eat. The center does not offer accommodation. There are almost no such initiatives in Ukraine: there is no such service available as showering or washing clothes. Volunteers usually distribute food, clothes, and medications on a regular basis. Emmaus Oselya volunteers distribute food in Lviv near the Powder Tower once a week, says Krystyna:
“We receive help and we also help others – this is fair. Solidarity is when, for example, I distribute food to the homeless near the Powder Tower and have it with them. Not because I’m hungry, but to be together. What matters to me is what they feel, not what I feel. When they come up and thank me for the food, I thank them for what they are. That is, you see, relationships. ‘Oselya’ is a relationship.”
We receive help and we also help others – this is fair. Solidarity is when, for example, I distribute food to the homeless near the Powder Tower and have it with them. Not because I’m hungry, but to be together. What matters to me is what they feel, not what I feel. When they come up and thank me for the food, I thank them for what they are. That is, you see, relationships. “Oselya” is a relationship.
The International Emmaus Movement supports Emmaus Oselya as its values and ideas are very similar. However, they do not expand in Ukraine on a large scale – such initiatives mostly remain to be on a local level.
Many artists tried to tell the story of Oselya. Among those is Robin Alysha Clemens from the Netherlands, who recently organized a photo exhibition “Oselyata” in collaboration with Ukrainian-Dutch writer Lisa Weeda. Residents of “Oselya” are shown in a different light: they are not avoided, they are admired. Here are the photos:
One of the fields of social enterprise Oselya is a charity shop. You can donate things there and get what you need. There are containers for collecting clothes and household items in Lviv. Most are given to the homeless and the rest goes to the store for sale. The whole community is functioning on the proceeds.
In the shop residents of “Oselya” work along with social workers and volunteers. They have an opportunity to socialize, bring back the communication skills that are usually lost when they live just on the street, and start making money.
“We have everything here. We sell here everything that people give away in a shop. We have a men’s department here. There is a shoe department, there is also furniture here. There are also toys and bags. Nice children’s department: there are things for both boys and girls. There are coats, there are jackets. There is a bedwear in our shop too.”
The furniture in the store is also used as almost all other things that go on sale. Inhabitants of “Oselya” repair, and rebuild old sofas and armchairs on their own, getting paid for it. It was the place where Sashko Horondi, the founder of the Horondi backpack brand, had worked until he started his own business.
Read our article about Sashko Horondi “Backpacks as therapy”. Also, watch the YouTube story:
Volunteers of the community also help low-income families with many children, single mothers, ATO veterans, and their families. Every Friday needed seasonal clothes and other needed things for life are given away. In 2018 eighthy families sought help.
In the mutual aid Community of Emmaus Oselya, there is also “a workshop of good deeds” at the social hostel, where you can attend various cultural events. For example, poetess Halyna Vdovychenko holds literary nights here. Volunteers usually offer a workshop for some masterclasses, movie watching, and theme nights.
We no longer carry out things here as much as we implement our emotions. A lot of people come here just to spend time, just to hang out. A lot of moms come to us because we have a whole children’s department, they also come to have a little rest from kids. To drink delicious coffee from Mrs Lyuba, to read a book. Just to have a pleasant time. So we have not only a shop as we can say, but we have a center of good emotions.
Viacheslav Moskalyov ended up in Oselya 15 years ago when he lost his apartment. The friend who helped to sell it disappeared with all the money. At first, Viacheslav lived at his neighbour’s.
“She told me about ‘Oselya’ – what it is. People who restore furniture and live there in a house in Vynnyky. And there was a contact phone number. She called. It was forbidden to swear, show aggression, and consume any alcohol there. Exactly the place that suits me. This is what I’m, as a well-behaved person, trying not to do. That’s how I got to Oselya. That’s how. In 2004.”
Before you can become a resident of “Oselya”, you must pass a probationary period. Throughout a month, volunteers and other residents of “Oselya” watch over a person to see if he or she really wants and is able to change his or her life. It is forbidden to consume alcohol and drugs, swear and create conflict situations. If a person stinks of alcohol or is drunk, the probationary period will be extended. There will be voting according to the results of the month.
Such conditions are mandatory for everyone. A person must demonstrate that he or she is ready for a change, willing to work, earn a living and make his/her own decisions. Only then a person will be given a place in a social hostel and offered a job. Natalia Sanotska, sister of Emmaus Oselya founder Olesia Sanotska, says:
“There is more physical strength there – then they do more, harder work, yes. And whoever cannot do the hard work there, that one sorting through shoes or something like that. So everyone here finds work that suits the abilities of the person, yes, but simply not working, as they say, ‘bunking off’ is impossible here. Because the community will not tolerate it, yes, because working for ‘Oselya’ is very important. Because at ‘Oselya’, people recover by working.”
Natalia says that work gives a person a sense of dignity. One understands that one cannot beg, but earn money. The residents of “Oselya” also help those who are poorer to encourage people to change their lives.
Viacheslav went through that. It was not easy for him, but the result was positive. In two years he has decided to live with his beloved one, and in five more years, he has returned back to Home. Like, it’s his second home.
“Emmaus Oselya is like … It’s like a ship, you know like in that song? ‘My sail turns white, so lonely against the backdrop of large ships.’ In our small world, it’s really like a community of people helping to survive together during a difficult time. That’s how it is.”
Both residents and social workers, and volunteers talk about support and mutual assistance at “Oselya”. Natalia says that everyone feels dependent on another resident and in need of another resident. The relationship chain is connected among everyone.
“Telling you, it seems to me that in general people who came to the Community and have stayed here even for a probation month only, they are already different. Yes, they could not overcome it, because it is really, well, it is really a very big effort must be done to make a difference in your life. And sometimes, yes, the person could not stand it, broke down, got drunk and so on. But these are the people who got Oselya’s seed fallen into the soul somewhere, and I believe that it will still sprout someday.”
Emmaus Oselya is a true home for anyone who has settled there and is pleased to welcome new residents to work together, relax and help others.
Involved in the preparation of the material 14 volunteersSupport the project