Ksenia Negrutsa – Godska from Odesa and her husband Bas Godska paused their business to help Ukrainians non-stop. They created the Netherlands for Ukraine foundation, collected 800 + thousand euros in donations, settled Ukrainians in Dutch families 2-3 days after the application submission, and transported severely ill or wounded civilians and defenders from Ukraine for treatment in the Netherlands. How do they manage it all – find out in the interview.
I run digital marketing agency Acrobator Consultancy with offices in Berlin, Amsterdam and Kyiv. Before starting work at the agency, I was involved in organization of the Odessa International Film Festival as a head of sales department and marketing director in IDCEE conference with TA Ventures. I have expertise in both big events and digital scope.
On the first day of the war, we both paused our businesses. During the first 4 months, Bas’ business continued to be run by partners, now he is slowly starting to combine. I have also completely put the agency on pause, my partner in Berlin created a job search service UA Talents. I wrote a letter to all the clients that I am withholding our work for a while because now there is another priority. We were addressed sympathetically. I can’t imagine how I would come up with marketing strategies or brand identities when my country is being bombed every day.
I was taking a shower, Bas came in and said that the war has begun. I ran out of the shower in a towel and started calling and writing to my family. And I immediately began to look for ways to evacuate them. The only thing is, the first moment you hear this news, you are so shocked that you do a bunch of stupid things. The defensive reaction of the brain is to switch to some action to deal with this information. That is, you still, having found it out, return to the bathroom and continue to apply your face cream.
Bas and I began to actively help the family, my sister, and nephew from Odesa, our godchildren, and the immediate environment. When there were 15 relatives whom we helped to leave, we thought about how to scale it up. Moreover, there was a demand for it – acquaintances began to write with questions themselves.
Then we met at Capital C with Willem Sijthoff and `Barend Raaff, and other acquaintances, and they said that they were with us, and offered to do something together. So they entered the foundation’s board. And we realized that we could get the support of Dutch society.
First, we realized that we want to be useful and influence the situation, but for this to be effective, there must be a structure, an organization. Because when you’re a group of volunteers, you can’t normally raise money, spend it – you can’t do much. It is very difficult to get ANBI status in Holland, but we got it very quickly with the help of brilliant lawyers and our efforts. Then we organized a fundraising event and collected 800 + thousand euros in donations.
– humanitarian aid for migrants. We give new clothes, support financially ( (in special circumstances), provide a system of guides – how to assimilate, and so on. We also have a psychologist on staff.
– sick people: cancer care patients and wounded defenders. This is a very labor-intensive story. Well, it’s not just brought them and settled, they need to be supported constantly, transported, and we have to monitor their situation.
We also partnered with the volunteers who help with the translation for our patients (if a person has complications at night, he calls the hotline and the volunteer provides assistance at night). Some clinics invite interpreters to the meetings themselves. And if they do not invite, then we provide English-speaking volunteers for the sick. Our absolutely fantastic volunteer Iva, who is a Guardian angel of our patients helps them with all kinds of issues. It could be GP arrangement, help with transportation, or simply emotional support.
One of the most sensitive topics for me is our defenders, who are just regular boys and girls, who had normal lives. Many of them end up in a wheelchair without arms or legs or simply paralised. Why would you bring them here? Hospitals in Ukraine are overcrowded. Even if they were well operated, they need proper rehabilitation. Dutch hospitals provide them with treatment that is currently not possible in Ukraine, which means for these guys a completely different quality of life in the future, or even a chance for life itself. We want to mention our partners, who help us with extremely difficult medical transportation. OMWUA, Purple West Mission and other bring Ukrainian defenders on emergency vehicals or in ambulances and believe me, it’s very responsible part.
We began to think like entrepreneurs: in order to scale, we need to break it down into departments: transportation, validation, accommodation, logistics,etc. And you start thinking – okay, I need such and such a number of people for this department. Based on the structure, we began to form departments. Now we have 34 volunteers, including the digital team.
We now have more than 6,000 people in our database who applied for the program, we settled 957 Ukrainians. We have also housed 78 animals, which is important because it is much more difficult to house animals. We sent more than 3 thousand boxes of humanitarian aid – medicine, clothing, and protective aid. 37 severe patients are receiving treatment in the Netherlands with our help.
How do you find Dutch families that welcome Ukrainians?
The Dutch are very imbued with Ukrainians. Because, according to them, it is no longer somewhere abstract and far away, but right around the corner. Secondly, it is close in mentality – we are all Christians, and we are similar to them.
One Dutchman at the event shared that he hosted a Ukrainian family and said that the reason was that “we are afraid that the war will come to us, and we are not as brave as you. And we would rather help you than we ourselves will then have to fight with russians.” Of course, it was a joke. But it’s incredibly important to hear that the Europeans also feel responsible for what is happening and are willing to help.
We are all talking about the fact that this is not a war in Ukraine, but a war in Europe. And how society will react now will determine the course of events and the world’s history. If this happens, then it means that humanity has failed.
The dynamics of the influx of migrants began to subside. But the stay of the first group of people with the Dutch hosts has ended, and they need to look for social housing. And we advise them not to go to us, but to contact the municipality because it has to be mid/long term, and the state must help. We give soft landings here, they move and we support them here. When they come to their senses, it’s time to act. The state has managed to create a certain number of living spaces, but it is not enough. Perhaps they were counting on fewer people. But the issue of mid/long-term settlement is very acute. In addition we keep receiving requests from the newcomers, and as of today they are mostly people from the hottests spots or occupied territories. They are very traumatized. They still need our help. Social accommodation and housing in Dutch host’ places can mean the difference between surviving and living for them. First of all I mean the emotional aspect. We also understand that we can transfer some requests to the municipality or the Red Cross.
Of course, we will continue arranging treatment for Ukrainians as long as the medical system of the Netherlands supports us (now this issue is becoming more acute). We continue to fundraise and purchase humanitarian aid. Now we have sent vac machines with the help of our partners. And we are fundraising for a new bunch of VAC machines. These are devices that help to heal wounds much more effectively.
We need money to make targeted purchases according to requests. We do know how to manage the money. Initially, the fund had zero overhead, but now we are spending a micro base amount on four employees. Because it’s overtime work.
We are also in dire need of accommodation. We know that there are organizations that have a lot of housing in their database, but their processes do not allow Ukrainians to settle so effectively. But we are ready to settle in a few days, just give us the housing. We need hosts to come and apply to us.
We are not considering any other scenario but to return to Ukraine and rebuild it. And the future is tied to it. Even now I really want to come to Kyiv to see and feel such an important period that my country is going through, but I don’t know where to get such a luxury as time.