There’s only one place in New York City where you can find such a diverse, motivated group of people coming together to meet, learn, and discuss projects impacting Ukrainians worldwide. That place is the Razom Annual Meeting.
This year’s Razom Annual Meeting (RAM), the fifth since Razom was formed in 2014, took place on October 6, 2019 at Civic Hall in Chelsea, Manhattan. Razomers and friends came together to learn about recent updates from Razom volunteers and meet with a variety of special guests and panelists. The goal of the Razom Annual Meeting is threefold – to showcase Razom achievements in the past year, show appreciation for donors, and to recruit new volunteers.
This year’s attendees were comprised of a mixture of demographics. As usual, a portion of the attendees were already familiar with Razom; some of them were active volunteers who volunteer on a weekly basis with Razom, and others were volunteers who are occasionally involved in Razom projects, attend certain events, or simply help out when they have the opportunity. Besides Razom volunteers, there were also many attendees who had recently discovered Razom, many of them being new to New York City and looking for a way to stay connected with Ukrainians and give back to Ukraine. To our delight, many of these new guests approached project leaders and expressed interest in volunteering for the many projects and initiatives presented at this year’s Razom Annual Meeting. The attendees also came from a variety of backgrounds. There were those who just came from Ukraine recently, those who immigrated to New York years ago, and even a handful, like me, who were not born in Ukraine. (As an aside, this is one of my favorite aspects of Razom – how inclusive and welcoming Razom is to a variety of people, Ukrainian-born or not).
At this year’s Annual Meeting, presentations on current Razom projects were centered around story-telling; each speaker informed the audience about project updates through a personal lens. Natalia Bruslanova Hertel shared her connection to Razom Think by telling us about an event she helped curate — an art exhibit that displayed paintings by Roman Suschenko, a former political prisoner in Russia, during his time in jail. Andriana Susak explained her experience with the Bohdan Radchenko Stipend by telling guests how she and fellow students were directly impacted by the Stipends for Veterans. Maryna Prykhodko gave updates on the Partners Meeting held in Kharkiv this past summer. Born and raised in Kharkiv herself, Maryna was excited about the opportunity to show Razom Partners (Serhiy Zhadan Foundation, Ukrainian Leadership Academy, Building Ukraine Together, just to name a few) around her city, and bring these brilliant people together to discuss current and future initiatives with Razom. Yurii Piadyk showcased the Razom Ticket project by sharing his own connection to STEM competitions, having grown up participating in these types of competitions in Ukraine. I (Uliana Bilash) presented about Razom Culture, specifically focusing on my experience organizing the Razom Lounge at the Ukrainian Festival in New York, becoming the project lead for this, shortly after joining Razom. Oleksandra Kashyrina recorded a video for RAM all the way from California, where she shared her admiration for and involvement in the Co-Pilot Project and how much she has learned from neurosurgeons who volunteer their time performing brain surgeries in Ukraine. Lastly, Sasha Shulzhenko told his story of eConsul, and how it has simplified booking appointments with Ukrainian consulates and renewing passports, by streamlining the process online. By showcasing their personal stories around the Razom projects, the volunteers were able to connect with the audience and show attendees the positive experiences and emotions that these projects brought them, how it takes just a few dedicated volunteers to make a difference.
The personal stories of volunteers were followed by the 2019 Financial Report, presented by Oksana Falenchuk. Some notable data that was shared included that Razom has raised over $750K in the past five years, thanks to the contributions by 2,450 individual donors. Razom volunteers expressed their gratitude to many donors and sponsors during the meeting, including Self Reliance, Veselka, Fresco, Flying Solo, Bevza, Immigrant Porada, and many more, thanking them for their donations, skills, space, and overall generosity.
It is only through the support Razom receives from its volunteers, donors, partners, and sponsors that we were able to welcome Ukrainian Parliamentarian Sviatoslav Yurash to this year’s Razom Annual Meeting. Sviatoslav flew in from Kyiv to join Razom’s board members Dora Chomiak and Lyuba Shipovich in conversation about how Ukrainians abroad could engage with the new Ukrainian government. Sviatoslav Yurash, a member of the Servant of the People party, is (among his many accomplishments) the youngest member of Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada and also the Head of the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Communication and Protection of Rights and Interests of Ukrainians Abroad. Sviatoslav aptly spoke with Dora and Lyuba on how Ukrainians abroad could cooperate with the Ukrainian government to represent the interests of all Ukrainians and how to best represent Ukraine abroad.
Razom was also honored to have five Ukrainian veterans join us at this year’s Razom Annual Meeting. Razom has many projects and initiatives that address the needs of veterans, especially the Invisible Battalion project, and we always cherish the opportunity for our Razom community to meet with Ukrainian veterans here in New York so that they can speak about their experiences on the front and relay first-hand information on the ongoing war in Ukraine. We welcomed the veterans, Andriana Susak, Yulia Matvienko, Yuliya Mykytenko, Olena Maksymenko, and Katia Lucyk, to the stage during the Razom Annual Meeting to thank them for their service and their bravery in protecting Ukraine. The veterans made a detour from the NDI-sponsored program they were attending in Washington D.C. to be with us for the Razom Annual Meeting.
Another highlight of the day was the Volunteer Awards, where volunteers were awarded in categories including Razom Ambassador, Razom Snapshot, Best Party Planner, Razom Picasso, Facebook Fundraising Champion, Always on Duty, Best Coverage of Razom, among others.
As always, the event allowed for networking and an exchange of ideas between guest and speakers. Aside from updates from the Razom team, guests were given the chance to mingle during icebreakers and coffee breaks. A notable exercise during this year’s meeting was the group “Map” Activity. Upon entering Civic Hall and checking in at the front desk, guests were pointed to a map of Ukraine, and invited to mark their city of origin with a post-it. Later during the event, the map was digitized and displayed for guests to see how many attendees came from each Ukrainian Oblast (or beyond). Some of the Oblasts with the most attendees included Kyiv, Lviv, Zaporizhia, and Dnipro.
The night ended with more mingling at the after party held at Westside Tavern. Razom served – you guessed it! – pizza and Veselka varenyky, the perfect mixture of our New York-Ukrainian culture that we have here at Razom.
Photos: Bogdan Grytsiv