One of our program interns, Andrew Steck, had the immense pleasure to meet with one of our Professional Fellow Program (PFP) fellows (a program sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. State Department), Eugenia (Zhenya) Mazurenko from Ukraine, who has been working with Women’s Empowerment International in San Diego for the last several weeks. Before attending graduate school at the University of San Diego, Steck was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine, working on tourism and cultural development, anti-corruption and local development workshops, youth development, and English language camps. He’s since found a professional and academic interest in Ukraine and was keen to meet with Zhenya to discuss her experiences there, her role as CEO of a national philanthropic organization, and developments on Russia’s war in Ukraine since February 2022.
Zhenya is the CEO of the Zagoriy Foundation, a national philanthropic organization in Ukraine that funds and supports projects and grants for Ukrainian civil society organizations. Since Russia’s re-invasion of Ukraine in February, many civil society organizations have ceased operations, as many staff and resources have left the country for their safety. Nonetheless, Zhenya recognizes that the needs that CSOs fill have not gone away. Many Ukrainians still need support for education, healthcare, disability needs, internet access, food sustainability, civic education, emotional support, and war efforts.
A small Zagoriy staff of 15, led by Zhenya, have continued to support civil society organizations through grants. They are working to make domestic and international resources more accessible, connecting at-need Ukrainians with service organizations, and distributing aid resources in their communities. Zhenya believes in the power of grassroots organizing and impact, and specifically guides Zagoriy to fund local, civic leader-led, robust, driven organizations and support their projects. While in San Diego, she has connected with a variety of American and Ukrainian civic leaders around the city, even in San Fransisco, Seattle, and Washington D.C. She hopes to collaborate with these organizations to further Zagoriy’s impact in Ukraine and provide as much assistance and engagement as possible.
As astounding and inspiring Zhenya’s work is, her story is rather grievous. She is from Bucha, a suburb slightly west of Kyiv, and the place of the Bucha massacre during Russian occupation in March 2022. Fortunately, she fled to western Ukraine just days after the initial attacks on Kyiv. Since then, she has sought refuge with friends and family there since. Their home, and many others in Bucha, was ransacked by Russian occupants. The experience led to missing valuables, broken windows and doors, malfunctioning heating and gas pipes, etc. Many neighbors’ homes were destroyed as a result of indiscriminate Russian bombs and missiles.
Although her loved ones are safe, she says all Ukrainians, home or abroad, feel a national sense of guilt for “not doing more”. There is always more to be done during war, and she feels all Ukrainians want to do everything necessary to support their compatriots and country.
Eugenia has large plans for her return to Ukraine upon completion of the PFP fellowship. She wishes to establish a resource-mapping platform through Zagoriy for verified international organizations, Ukrainian organizations, and Ukrainian beneficiaries. Any donor, individual, or organization, can select from a range of guidelines to choose where they would like to send their donation or aid. Similarly, Ukrainians in need would be able to access this platform to find resources, organizations, and services they need in wartime, like healthcare, education, transportation, among others. Zhenya hopes to collaborate with partners she’s met in San Diego, to maximize the impact Zagoriy can have on Ukrainians.
The San Diego Diplomacy Council is privileged and fortunate to have hosted Zhenya in San Diego. We love connecting fellows with staff and interns that share similar interests and come together for the sake of peace. We wish Zhenya and the Zagoriy Foundation the best of luck upon her return to Ukraine and their continued work amidst the war.
By SDDC Program Intern, Andrew Steck