Alumna in Ukraine volunteers to support country's civilian reservists

A Grand Valley alumna who lives and works in Ukraine said life in that country has shifted to one of determination and perseverance since the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion passed.

Iryna Bilan, who earned a master of public administration degree in 2018, has returned to live and work in Kyiv after fleeing the capital city shortly after the bombings began in February 2022 for her parents' home in Lviv.

portrait of Iryna Bilan in an art gallery, two works of colorful art behind her
Iryna Bilan returned to her work as the grants and donor relations manager of the country's flagship art and cultural center.
Image credit - courtesy photo

It's the work that sustains her, she said. Bilan is the grants and donor relations manager for Mystetskyi Arsenal, Ukraine's flagship art and cultural center. The center has resumed hosting exhibitions, including an international exhibition in Estonia that began in early April. 

"Our first exhibition was a smaller one last June, with items from our own collection," Bilan said. "It was really well-attended. People needed something to do aside from going to work and going home and living under constant stress."

Bilan's time continues to be spent volunteering to support the Territorial Defense Forces, Ukraine's civilian reservists. She said their work, too, has shifted. Last spring was spent gathering donations to purchase uniforms and other equipment. Now, volunteers are asked to support troops who conduct special missions.

Drones that seek out the locations of Russian equipment and artillery are crucial, Bilan said. Her volunteer organization was tasked with testing and researching drones.

"It's now a war of artillery and drones," she said. "For example, our air defense needs the best to intercept Russian kamikaze drones."

three people wearing black sweatshirts with Technological Dominance printed on front
Iryna Bilan, center, has volunteered for Ukraine's Territorial Defense Forces since the start of the Russian invasion.
Image credit - courtesy photo

Following a three-day conference for volunteer organizations in December, Bilan and others agreed to research and write requests to foundations to fund vehicles for medical evacuations. These vehicles would be transported to units throughout Ukraine. 

"We did this work only to find that the foundation received too many requests," she said.

Now that winter is over, Bilan said electricity in Kyiv has become more consistent. Last winter, it would run on and off for four to six hours; Bilan recalled one 56-hour period without electricity.

She said last March she did not expect the war to last one month. 

"Then it was April and I thought, soon they wouldn't need those cold-weather uniforms again. And then the uniforms were worn again in the winter," Bilan said.


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