Dear Olga, thank you for doing this interview with us today. Of course, the very first question is: How are you and how are your colleagues from the admin team of “Kidfriendly”. Are you safe?
I am safe. Currently I stay in a place near Stuttgart, but will settle in Freiburg soon. One colleague moved to Slovakia with her husband. We worry about the others: Some of them are still in Odesa. We had a meeting this morning and they told me they heard explosions during the night. So they are not really safe, the situation is very unstable.
10 years ago you created a Facebook group to connect parents in Odessa. The group has now 40,000 members. Could you tell us something about the original idea and your motivation to create the group?
Before I got pregnant I had a very active life and did not want to lose that. I had a personal Facebook account with a lot of friends and did not want to change topics there. At the same time, I was so excited about my motherhood and wanted to share my thoughts. Maybe I also wanted to change the style of parenting in Odesa, focusing on how to make both parents and children happier. So I created a new Facebook group and called it “Kidfriendly”. I added 30 of my friends and started to write about events and cafés with good service for children, about stylish baby carriers or about the latest approaches in psychology. For some time I was the only person who posted in the group. But more and more people joined and then interaction started.
When did you notice that “Kidfriendly” will be more than just a voluntary project? How did things develop from this point?
This was in 2017. The group had about 5,000 members who still formed some kind of close community. We more or less all knew each other. But then a Russian social media platform was closed in Ukraine and many people moved from there to Facebook. From one day to the other the group size increased up to 10,000 people. We felt that a lot of them did not know our values and our style of communication. Back then I worked as a freelance marketing manager and moderating “Kidfriendly” suddenly took all my free time. Briefly I thought about closing it. But then I decided to give myself 6 months to see whether I could make the project my main job, one that I could actually make a living of. I started to allow advertisements and really enjoyed the dynamics this created. Temporarily, a friend offered her help and started to set up rules for commercial cooperation. From then on more people joined our team. We got more moderators, a content manager, an accountant, and so on.
Could you tell us a bit more about the dynamics of the group?
“Kidfriendly” is a community that people love to be part of. Often things just happen without the admin team’s intervention. People discuss about any topic related to parenthood. Some members of the group, e.g. dentists or psychologists, use it to advertise their services. We also invite experts into the group and encourage them to interact with the group members. Sometimes this is quite risky for them, and for us as moderators. When it comes to delicate topics like health discussions can be become very controversial. This is why it is so important to have trained moderators.
Since the war against Ukraine started the group has grown even more. How did this effect communication in the group?
Yes, a lot of people from embattled areas who had fled to Odesa joined the group. With us they found some kind of safety, a feeling of not being alone. They also found reliable information on topics they really worried about: Where can I find a good school, where can I find a good doctor for my kids? At the same time those who had left Odesa or even the country continued to stay in the group as it gives them comfort and provides them with general information that goes beyond Odesa. Recently we noticed that there are rising conflicts between those who had left and those who had decided to stay in Ukraine. There was an opinion on why some mothers do not evacuate. They are hesitant because they are afraid to be called a bad Ukrainian. So they stayed, like the mother of a three-months-old baby. She and the baby died when a Russian rocket hit their house. One woman in our group got really emotional about these news and started to blame people who put this kind of pressure on others. Her posting got a lot of attention and after some time we needed to close the comments section. However it was important that we provided a safe space for these concerns. But we also need to be careful about spies inside the group.
What do you mean by that?
When the war started people flooded the group with postings about escape routes out of Ukraine. These postings also came from people who had only recently joined the group and seemed to have a fake profile. We became alerted and started to check all new profiles. Imagine someone sharing information about an escape route but actually setting a trap. We finally decided not to allow posts on things like escape routes, situations on roads and pictures of bridges.
Since the war started it became increasingly difficult for you to find sponsors which also meant that members of the admin team could not be paid anymore. forumZFD decided to step in. What does that support mean to you?
The financial support of forumZFD basically means that our admin team still has a job. Sadly this cannot be taken for granted any more. A lot of people in Ukraine have lost their jobs since the war started. So this is already a great relief. Also, workload has increased immensely. Although we really enjoyed our commercial partnerships we are glad that now, in this difficult situation, we are not dependent on finding sponsors to continue our work. We can now focus completely on what we love: Make life better for parents and children. Also, by funding us, forumZFD helped to organize informational and psychological support for the whole group as well as administration of financial assistance for 500 Ukrainian families in need.
You are of great help to people and can really make a difference. How do people react to that? And which of those reactions keep staying in your mind?
Actually “Kidfriendly” is a great platform for mutual help. I remember one woman asking for strollers to give them to refugee families. In the end she not only got strollers but also bicycles and toys and other things. She was so happy about that. Also before the war we organized an event called “Parents’ Stories”. One of our long-term partners, a retailer with a big network of shops for all kind of kids’ stuff sponsored lunch in a restaurant and people, especially mothers who did not have a paid job came with their kids, shared their stories and got the opportunity to talk to experts. I remember one woman who gave birth to quintuplets and suddenly found herself in a situation of being a single mother. She then started to get more active on Social Media and became a quite famous blogger. She is so brave and an inspiration to others. We actually wanted to organize another “Parents’ Stories” event on 24th February, the day the war started. I still remember the shock when I learned about the explosions and my first thought was that there is this event and I could not believe that we needed to cancel it.
So you are also really active in “real life”.
Yes. And people started to recognize me on the streets. We used to organize a Kids’ Market where kids can sell stuff they made by themselves. The first event at the end of last year was so successful. We were allowed to use the garden of the Odesa Arts Museum with 150 kids who were so creative and so motivated. When I was still in Odesa and the kids saw me on the streets they kept asking me when the next Kids’ Market will take place. It was so nice and I think it is really important that they now have something to look forward to.
So you already have plans for more peaceful times?
Well, making plans is obviously really difficult. At the moment we only make plans on a very small scale. We think about psychological support and small educational projects for teenagers in a dance studio, and maybe a summer camp. There are also plans for an online conference with experts. We also want to improve relations between people who left Odesa and those who stayed.
Is there something else you would like to tell our readers in Germany? About the situation in Ukraine, about your work, …? What is in your mind that you think we should know?
One question that keeps my mind really busy is what we shall do in case Odesa gets occupied. I pray that this will not happen, but I am so anxious. At the same time I have hope that with our team and our expertise we will survive. I am also grateful that people in Germany help us and do so from the bottom of their heart. You already have so many refugees living here and still keep your doors open. I would like to say thank you for that.
Thank you Olga for your time and for sharing your thoughts with us. This was so important and so valuable to hear. We wish you all the best for you, your work and the people in Odesa and Ukraine.