Name: Anna Bondarenko
Age: 23
Education: Bachelor of Laws from Odesa Academy of Law, Master of Non-Profit Management from Ukrainian Catholic University
Profession: CEO and founder of Ukrainian Volunteer Service
Did you know? At the age of 10, Bondarenko created an online forum role-playing game “Kingdom of Elves” which became very popular.

Anna Bondarenko’s passion for volunteering and social entrepreneurship dates back to when she was 15 years old and went to a school in the United States for an academic year as a FLEX program participant.

Her American host “mother” had a passion for volunteering, which she would gradually instill in her Ukrainian guest. Bondarenko’s first volunteering experience was cleaning litter from Yosemite National Park in California — a job she enjoyed thanks to the fact that English was not really required for it. At that time her English skills were not great, but she improved quickly.


She then attended a criminal law course taught at her American school by an ex-cop of the California police. It impressed her so much she decided to study law in Ukraine upon her return.

But studying was not enough for Bondarenko, and she started to look around for volunteering opportunities. She joined the team of the Vyshyvanka Festival in Odesa, an annual parade of people wearing national embroidered shirts that has been held since 2009 in Odesa, Ukraine’s third largest city, with 1 million people located 440 kilometers south of Kyiv on the Black Sea coast.

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The most difficult year for the festival was 2014, when the pro-Russian protesters threatened to take control of Odesa following the EuroMaidan Revolution, which saw Ukraine’s Kremlin-backed President Viktor Yanukovych abandon office and flee the country. Bondarenko and her colleagues felt there was a danger of Odesa splitting away from Ukraine, and feared that the pro-Ukrainian participants of the Vyshyvanka Parade could be attacked.

“But not holding the festival would be like acknowledging that Odesa is a Russian city,” Bondarenko recalls.


On the day of the event it rained heavily, and the organizers were afraid that no one would turn up. But minutes before the parade was scheduled to begin, vyshyvanka-clad people started to pour out of cafes, small lanes, homes and marshrutka taxi-buses.

“It was a perfect festival,” Bondarenko says.

About 3,500 people attended it, all wearing national clothes. They held hands to form a chain and symbolically “unify” both Ukraine and Odesa.

Today, Bondarenko is the CEO of the Ukrainian Volunteer Service, organizing volunteer management seminars for like-minded people from every region of the country. Her goal is to make volunteering a popular, universally accepted thing in Ukraine — like what she saw in America in her school years.

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