The head of the charity organization “I am Mariupol” has told the Kyiv Post how his team helped refugees from the war-torn city of Mariupol after they managed to flee their homes to the relative safety of Kyiv.

Since the organization was founded, around 4,500 residents of Mariupol have sought help from “I am Mariupol”, whose center can be found on 39 Antonovych Street in the Ukrainian capital.

“We decided to escape when the frontline came within 100-150 meters of our home, said former Mariupol resident Serhiy Pluzhnikov. “We had no choice. I saw explosions, missiles and shells. We saw all these with our own eyes.

“We evacuated on March 15. The house that we left is now completely destroyed.”

In the “I am Mariupol” volunteer center, refugees from Mariupol can get humanitarian, legal and psychological aid. Within the organization’s team there is a lawyer, intern and psychologist. Refugees can get humanitarian aid and food every two weeks.

Two members of staff in the children’s room at the “I am Mariupol” center of refugee support in Kyiv. (Photo Credit: Iryna Pavlenko)

Accommodation and jobs are two of the biggest issues facing refugees from Mariupol.

The center can’t help refugees from Mariupol with housing, but has a vision of how the volunteers can help ex-residents of Mariupol, with their motto being “Residents of Mariupol help residents of Mariupol”. State-run Employment Centers and the Kyiv City State Administration are also offering refugees help in finding work.

The organization has four centers in Ukraine helping refugees from Mariupol – Dnipro, Zaporizhzhya, Vinnytsya, and Kyiv – with plans to open new volunteer centers in Kropyvnytsky, Khmelnytsky, Lviv, Odesa, and Ivano-Frankivsk.

“We don’t have doubts about our fighters, so we hope that we will soon come back to Mariupol when it’ll be liberated from occupiers and we can rebuild a new city – a contemporary, stylish, new, and liberated Mariupol,” Yaroslav Kildishov, the organization’s head told the Kyiv Post.


The center is mainly financed by Mariupol City Council and by Kyiv City Administration that helped the organization obtain its current building in Kyiv. The center also works with partners such as “World Center Kitchen”, who help provide residents of Mariupol with additional humanitarian aid.

“There are small partners and big ones,” Kildishov said. “For instance, today a bakery came to us and said: ‘Let’s deliver bread!’”

Due to high demand for mental health services, many ex-residents of Mariupol have appealed to the organization for psychological aid, with a staff psychologist and psychologists from other volunteer organizations providing much needed support.

“Everybody has their own pain,” said Kildishov, who is trying to employ optimism in the face of tragedy.

Head of the “I am Mariupol” center, Yaroslav Kildishov, and founder and chief feeding officer of “World Central Kitchen” Chef Jose Andres (Photo Credit: Yaroslav Kildishov)

“We are seeing a humanitarian catastrophe. A lot of bodies are still under rubble in Mariupol. There are a lot of people buried in yards. That is why there are many cholera outbreaks.”

Talking of everyday issues facing those who remain in Mariupol, he says: “People are cooking using basic fire. There is no gas. Local specialists connected water to the gas pipe. It’s like a medieval civilization.”


“It’s very important to give people not only hope, but also to design a purpose – this is mainly to join us, to socialize, and to be useful for your country and its future. The Armed Forces of Ukraine will help us to win, but for our part, we will do everything available to help them.”

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