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Solution 17:35 28 Sep 2022

Fresh start with fitness: how Kharkiv migrant helps women get back to life

Yoga, pilates, and jumping to music during the war? Someone may think that such "entertainment" is at a bad time, but the Hrun territorial community in the Sumy region does not think so. They organized a fitness club in the village library, attended by locals and internally displaced migrants. They say exercise gives them strength and inspiration for other things and helps with social and psychological rehabilitation.

What is the problem?

With the beginning of the full-scale invasion of russian troops into Ukraine, many people found themselves in a state of crisis—the loss of work, property, and the usual way of life. Fear, despair, apathy, anxiety, loss of meaning, panic attacks—many people currently experience these consequences. In June, the Rating sociological group surveyed Ukrainians within the Psychological Markers of War study. It turned out that the most prominent problems of Ukrainians now are fatigue and lack of adequate sleep. The researchers found that the most psychologically exhausted Ukrainians now are women, residents of Ukraine's east, internally displaced persons, the unemployed, and pensioners.

In this challenging time, you should support yourself, your family, and your friends. Psychological state and physical health during wartime are crucial and also related to each other.

What is the solution?

The village of Hrun, the birthplace of Ostap Vyshnia, a famous Ukrainian humor writer, is located next to Okhtyrka, shelled by the russian army. The hostilities and occupation didn't reach the village, but the residents heard how it was "banging" in the neighboring Okhtyrka. Many migrants moved here, fleeing the war. And they're not only from the Sumy region but also from other regions of Ukraine.

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The local library immediately became a kind of comprehensive support center for IDPs. Here, they sorted and delivered humanitarian aid, conducted training on providing psychological assistance to women affected by the war, and provided free secondary legal support for IDPs. They also joined the Gardens of Victory initiative. They helped and continue to help the displaced to draw up the necessary documents. And they continue to work on "pre-war" projects. Thus, as psychological support, the library's Literary and Music Living Room continues its work, where locals and migrants discuss books, sing, and even read their works.

All this became helpful for people who found refuge in the Hrun community. However, they not only use what the district provides but also generate new ideas. For example, Natalia Chut, a migrant from Kharkiv, offered to hold fitness classes in the library. And she became the coach of the newly formed club.

How does it work?

From the beginning of the full-scale war until April, Natalia and her husband were in Kharkiv, having survived the first massive airstrikes on the city. They spent some time in the cellar. And then, when Okhtyrka was freed, they went to their small homeland, where Natalia's old mother lives, finding themselves in the IDP status.

Natalia Chut is a teacher with extensive experience, but not in physical education. She works in an ordinary Kharkiv secondary school, teaching history. A few years ago, Natalia developed a new hobby—fitness and yoga—which turned into a lifestyle.

Наталія Чут

Natalia Chut. Pre-war photo

Sitting in the cellar, constant stress, nervousness, moving—it seemed that she would have to forget fitness for a long time. But body and soul asked for sports. "Somehow, at a new place, the topic of various diseases (hypertension, back pain, neck pain) came up," Natalia recalls. "And I shared what helps me cope with such conditions. That's how the idea arose to try to hold several classes, which could be useful for many in the village."

Natalia Chut shared this idea with librarian Valentyna Holchenko because the library was already a well-known help center in the village. Valentyna got excited about the concept and offered to hold classes in the library. The library director, and the head of the NGO "Hrun Territorial Community Development Fund" Tetiana Sokol, also supported the women.

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"Trial first lesson… I was very nervous! After all, I was never in the role of a coach, and I only attended classes. I felt a great responsibility. I watched many videos, re-read sports articles, and updated my memory on various fitness exercises and the correct execution technique," that's how the Kharkiv teacher started her "library" training.

A space for training was arranged in the reading room. An extensive library carpet worked as fitness mats. They immediately faced other difficulties: they lacked the rest of the sports equipment in addition to fitness mats. However, they found a way out, using chairs and tables for some exercises. Need dumbbells? No problem. Water bottles are great for this!

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The village fitness club has been in existence for two months. Three times a week, after online lessons at a Kharkiv school, the history teacher gets on her bicycle and goes to the library. Women who attend classes are delighted with accessible, carefully selected exercises and inspiring music. Women of all ages gather in the library. They say there were not enough such activities in the village, and they note the positive effect on health and mood.

Does it work?

"It's kind of awkward to brag, but my students like these classes," says Natalia Chut. "Impressions are only positive. And no matter how difficult it may be out of habit, they try to do everything. They say that they started to feel better, their bodies tightened up, and they felt lightness. And they even began to think about proper nutrition! Be that as it may, doing fitness helps you feel healthier in every sense. That's how we are, women!"

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Mrs. Nadia, who attends classes, says that it has become easier to climb the stairs. "During classes, the head is completely cleared of negative thoughts," she adds. And Ms. Valentyna intends to learn how to sit "on the splits" and has already achieved considerable success.

"On the days when you have to miss classes, it feels like you're truant,"  the head of the library Tetiana Sokol, who also joined the classes, jokes. "There is nothing from this project apart from benefit. I am grateful to Natalia for devoting her free time to coaching. And it's free. After all, the community's financial situation is difficult, and since April 1, the financing of culture has also been down."

The librarian says that fitness during the war is one of the elements of peaceful life. "This gives hope that everything will be fine, and we will do splits and get fit by next summer and become healthier. After all, in this way, we also repel the enemy, who wants us to despair, give up, get scared, or panic. Our enemies are fueled by negativity. We are trying to be stronger and attract the best."

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The library is also benefiting from the new activity—everything indicates that the library is working, it is needed in the village. It is no longer just a space where books are stored but one of the centers of unity in the community, which is developing and working. And therefore, the community itself is evolving, including through the forces of internal migrants.

The Hrun Public Library has many plans for the future. Currently, its employees are preparing a grant project for establishing the Moral Rehabilitation Center Survival School. Its purpose is to provide social and psychological support and help to people during the war. The library is sure that such a project is necessary and, as a result, will help restore the internal resources of people who need help.

Even more helpful solutions!

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Volunteering is not paid for with money. It is an opportunity to feel helpful, needed, and capable of great things, and, of course, the chance to help. It is mutual aid that helps us get through difficult times now.

Volunteering is mutual support. Communication is a distraction from complex thoughts, new acquaintances, and the opportunity to learn new skills. This also has a considerable therapeutic effect.

"For me," says Natalia Chut, "creating fitness courses gave me an impetus to gain new knowledge. I enrolled in online pilates instructor courses and have already started taking them—very inspired and lively, pleasant communication, which is lacking today. By the way, my students are incredible! And helping others is priceless!"

When locals received Natalia's offer positively, the first question people asked her was: how much would the class cost? "To which I replied that it would be free. Someone is going to donate, and someone does good deeds for people in the community and thus brings our Victory closer," the fitness trainer says.

This article was created thanks to the NGO Internews-Ukraine within the Ukrainian Rapid Response Fund program, implemented by IREX with the support of the US State Department. The content is the sole responsibility of Rubryka and doesn't necessarily represent the views of the US Department of State or IREX.

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