Almost a year after the steep escalation of the war in Ukraine, Natalka Karbowska and Olesia Bondar from the Ukrainian Women’s Fund (UWF) traveled to Warsaw, in order to join the first in-person meeting since 2019 of Prospera’s European funds. As they left Kyiv Russian missiles and “suicide drones” fell on residential areas resulting in electricity and water supply cuts and numerous civilian casualties. They traveled 20 hours by train joining their fellow Prospera members in yet another demonstration of extraordinary resilience. Despite the UWF team internally becoming displaced people, they haven’t stopped working. Whether from their refuges or their children and pet-friendly offices, they have provided more than 200 grants to women’s rights and grassroots organizations all across Ukraine. At the same time, they have advocated for recovery policies that care for and tend to women, girls and marginalized groups. As Prospera members, they were not alone. When news of the Russian invasion broke last year, the regional Prospera INWF women’s and feminist funds immediately came together to learn and listen about the breaking crisis and what was needed. Through collective reflection and strategizing on the best ways to support their sisters in Ukraine and address the urgent need for resources, they decided to coordinate an advocacy campaign to fundraise and tackle the enormous and unmet humanitarian necessities. The Ukraine crisis turned into a shared priority. Our feminist cooperation quickly decided to redirect funding to the immediately impacted funds, but also to those strategically located to support and provide a rapid response (UWF, FemFund Poland, Bulgarian Fund for Women, Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights)*. Since the Ukrainian Women’s Fund had used their own reserve fund to respond to the emergency, the Prospera secretariat launched a call to network members and other funders to support the UWF, replenishing their reserve and safekeeping it for them.
“Nobody has a reserve fund like Ukrainian Women’s Fund, one that is built on solidarity” – Natalka Karbowska
This call to action was the beginning of a coordinated response that ensured UWF’s institutional resilience. Thanks to the support of the network members’ fundraising campaign, the fund has never stopped providing unrestricted, sustainable, core support to women’s rights and feminist grassroots organizations across Ukraine. With more than 14 million people displaced, regional women’s and feminist funds have tirelessly worked in unison with the UWF. Through frequent and ongoing communication between them and their grantees in the region, the funds members of Prospera have identified and funded the organizations that support refugees, women, girls, trans, non-binary persons and marginalized communities impacted by the war.
Weekly and bi-weekly calls have led to a series of actions such as: – Developing a shared system to support refugee activists that have fled Ukraine and bring them together through local movements. – Address human trafficking and discrimination at the borders. – Sharing learnings and international protocols on documentation and investigation of wartime sexual violence. – Creating strategies to address the movement’s exhaustion and refugee integration.
Crisis response is not our only item on the agenda. Since the war began, we have been working on funding recovery plans, healing, coping with burnout and creating new possibilities for the movements to act inside and outside of the country. And while the war is still not over, the Ukrainian crisis confirms that with trust and care, Prospera’s network collectively offers consistent support to better address emergencies.
Who is best located to help and how can we move the pieces that will ensure the resources reach the communities that need it the most, while thinking of sustainable support, empowerment and movement building beyond crisis?
After Covid-19, a local and regional backlash against women’s rights and gender justice, and the war in Ukraine, Prospera Women’s funds keep on practicing feminist values and showcasing the importance of collaboration and the power of communities. We hold each other through crisis, and we ground ourselves in feminist solidarity as one of our most valuable assets.
We are Prospera.