The election of the new Head of the Foundation of Regional Initiatives took place in September 2022. Oleh Hrebeniuk became the new Head of the organization. In this interview, we will tell you how Oleh’s life has changed after the promotion, which major goals he has set for himself and which obstacles he has already faced on his way. You will also find out more about Ukrainians surviving war and constant power cuts in their daily life.
Can you describe the first months of your work as the Head of FRI? How did they look like?
This is actually a question I ask myself a lot. I can say for sure that I have managed to deal with the technical aspects as planned in the span of the first few months. During the time before New Year as a new Head, I was supposed to figure out how the mechanisms in the organization work. I was also dealing with finances and appointments of Heads of Departments and I managed to travel to conferences of branches (the conference of Kharkiv branch in Ivano-Frankivsk, the conferences of Kyiv, Odesa, and Cherkasy branches), etc. This means that I already understand how these technical issues work.
In general, I have dealt with what I had to do and there are no slowdowns on my part. During this time, I have also decided to get to know FRI members better and to investigate how communication in the branches is built, namely how people work there and which tasks they set for themselves. I have set a goal to listen to the reports of the Departments because without a global understanding of what is happening at the regional level, it is impossible to develop high-quality solutions at the national level.
How has FRI impacted your life?
Certainly, as much as possible. A lot of things that I was wondering about or simply didn’t know before I started my public activities, I learned from FRI itself. I have been a member of the organization for 4 years, since 2017. Before that, I had no idea what the public sector and volunteering were. Here I gained this awareness as I started meeting people from other regions. Earlier I had a certain bubble in Kharkiv, and that was it. After I started doing public activities, I made a lot of acquaintances and friends from other parts of Ukraine. It helped me to feel more free and calm anywhere in Ukraine, knowing that I could get help or that I could have a good time somewhere.
Obviously, you get skills, experience, and so on but probably the most valuable thing you get from FRI is the community. I have gained some organizational experience, and this influences the fact that I can find a prestigious job vacancy. For example, in 2021, I was employed in an educational company as a project manager purely because of my experience.
How do you see the organization during your presidency?
First and foremost, we will preserve the main features that have allowed us to work for all these 20 years. For example, we will remain an organization independent from business, politics, political forces, and so on; we will be able to preserve what is most important for us, namely, our principles of work. If not for them, we would have not existed anymore. Secondly, I would like to stress on the growth of the organization. Increase in membership, that is, to have more active people is vital nowadays. I really hope that in 2023 we will be able to restore the branches in the de-occupied territories, especially where there is nothing and has been nothing for the past nine years.
I also want to make FRI better known to the youth of Ukraine and the people we work with in different sectors.
What are your main goals for 2023?
The key one is to restore the activities of the branches in the de-occupied territories.
The next one is to create a new permanent large project. It would be something where many people can be involved. I strive to create a new communication strategy so that we can realize who we are and form a vision of the organization, taking into account the circumstances of war.
I want FRI to become the organization which is actively involved in the reconstruction and which works with these categories of young people and helps them develop themselves, and integrate into Ukrainian society and the public sector.
How do (did) the activities of the branches in the de-occupied territories go?
*For the safety of our FRI members, we will not name cities.
There were no active branches in the de-occupied territories. I mean, we did not have any active branches there during the occupation but our FRI members were under occupation and helped to resist the occupation authorities every day and conducted some information work. Some of them are still in the occupied territories. We keep in touch with them. We continue to search for those with whom we have lost contact. These people probably could have died, they could have been kidnapped, deported by force to russia, or taken to concentration camps.
How do planned (emergency) power cuts affect your activities and the activity of the organization?
We are dealing with it. This has a significant impact on project teams because we are now preparing for conventions, and other external/internal projects that will happen in the coming months. Teams working on such events are now suffering the most. After all, they need to meet regularly and frequently because they cannot solve some issues solely in chats or in direct messages. If there is no electricity and no place where those people can get in touch, the work in a certain area slows down a bit and we need to look for options. Project teams try to make communication formats more textual. For example, they write down some tasks and gradually add others. During the preparation for the convention of the Educational Department, we came up with an interesting model for assigning tasks. We gave tasks to people who were in the same city so that they could meet in person, and no electricity was needed for this. They wrote down their ideas, they created something, and then somehow synchronized with the rest of the teams. This is an example of very high-quality crisis management.
In case of a blackout, how do you plan your activities in the future?
In case of a complete blackout, we are preparing a specific protocol of actions for each branch for the national team. We will not stop our activities but we will switch to offline work. We will just continue working in this format as much as it is possible to do so in such conditions. Our projects will also change and will be more relevant to the needs of the community and youth during blackouts and volunteer initiatives.