Look for the Helpers

When Naomi spoke with Ilya Furman, a Melbourne based Ukrainian born lawyer about his passion project following the Russian invasion, his message came with a new sense of hope. 

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February of 2022, I vividly recall the media imagery that included footage of a loan civilian standing hands outstretched, in front of a rolling military tank. Photos would subsequently emerge of Russians protesting the invasion and war, knowing full well they’d likely be imminently arrested. Helplessness would have been understandable, but I had only recently been reflecting ton something that my (late) Nana who was a nurse from Beechworth had taught me. She said that in times of tragedy, war or other shocking adversity it’s easy to be overwhelmed, discouraged and feel hopeless as a result of the devastation, so instead you should focus on the helpers.

She told me to always keep my eyes open to scan for those heroes trying to make a difference to do something about the inconceivable tragedy surrounding them. I thought of that message when I came across Ukrainian- born lawyer, Ilya Furman’s up and coming Australian based charitable organisation Help Ukraine LTD. I had to know Ilya Furman’s story. The organisation he has founded is bringing people together to alleviate the suffering of Ukrainian people, to try to preserve and celebrate their unique culture which is rich in music, dance, theatre and the arts. Ilya spoke with determination of his mission of making a collective difference to innocent refugees and victims of this war.

It is a cause particularly close to Ilya as his family only immigrated to Australia in 1991, just before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ilya still has many friends and family there, some of whom are now elderly and ‘as creatures of habit’ have been reluctant to relocate. Ilya had viewed some of the same footage I had of the rolling tanks and missile attacks and knew he had to go do something. His initial thought was a charity concert. “I started reaching out to some of Australia’s most well-known performers and, to my absolute bliss, many immediately said yes; that they would perform and that they would donate their talent for Ukraine,” he stated. He then discovered that he’d need to register as a charity, which he did. His goal quickly became to put on the biggest Australian charity concert for Ukraine.

With some charities already in place organising humanitarian aid, lobbying governments to provide military assistance and others providing material aid to refugees, Ilya decided that his organisation would focus on culture. He explained, “it is often overlooked as something secondary, yet we know that Russia aims to wipe out Ukrainian identity. This is a rich thousand-year history completely unique in character. We want to fight this by showing off the best of Ukrainian music and art to Australian audiences and to help struggling Ukrainian artists and musicians by way of scholarships and other assistance to make sure that they are not left behind. We want to see a new generation of Ukrainian talent taking the unique Ukrainian character to the world.”

As a writer and passionate lover of the arts, Ilya’s matter of fact explanation about the importance of culture was music to my ears. Clearly though, I’m not the only one that feels that way, with a star-studded line up guaranteeing their talent gratis to support the upcoming charity concert. Help Ukraine LTD later plans to run a series of visual art exhibitions and auctions. The aim is to invite donations of high value art in the first instance to run a charity auction to raise funds for their projects. Ilya cheekily takes the opportunity to plug that “We are looking for an operator to establish a permanent art gallery in our Brighton office to run as a business which donates art, resources, time, space and money to the charity. If you are out there, let’s have a coffee.” And I am only too happy to amplify this message by holding up the megaphone for Ilya and his mission.

With the media backdrop of rolling tanks and missile attacks I had been starting to feel overwhelm. But then along came Ilya ‘the helper’ Furman offering a message of hope and a beautiful mission – that has the capacity to transform lives, preserve culture, oppose war, showcase talent and fight hate all at once. After meeting with Ilya I turned to his website, knowing full well I had now become one of his rallied troops and valued supporters.

In the newly built charity store ‘Help Ukraine LTD’ sell branded stubby holders (it’s an Australian based charity after all) and I noticed the photographed one featured a Beechworth brewed beer. Upon seeing that I immediately thought of my dear late Nana and how wise she was to teach me to look for the helpers. We must celebrate, elevate, champion and support these good men of today – particularly the ones with an even greater mission.

You can find out more about Help Ukraine LTD by visiting them at https://www.helpukraine.org.au/

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