By Rie Hededal Nielsen

Valentina moves around like a whirlwind. One moment she’s making coffee in the kitchen, the next moment she’s on the phone giving directions. People are always asking her questions. Her hair is short and white, her nails are long and pink. Watching her work in the makeshift volunteer headquarters in Bakhmutka, it’s easy to see why Valentina has become the unofficial leader of her village. She has obvious leadership qualities.

“When the war broke out, we didn’t have water, electricity, or even bread,” Valentina says. “So I decided I had to do something.”

She got some friends together, and they started contacting humanitarian organizations to bring some much needed help to the village. This is how Valentina and two of her close friends became fulltime volunteers. They work from morning to evening, every day, except Sunday. They don’t get paid.

“If we didn’t do this, our village wouldn’t receive anything,” Valentina says. “No water, no coal, no medicine, no food.”


Bakhmutka is located only a couple hundred meters from the front line in eastern Ukraine, and it has suffered severe consequences of the war. Houses and infrastructure has been destroyed by shelling, there’s no running water, and people struggle to get medicine and basic household goods. Furthermore, the line of contact separates the village from the biggest nearby city, Horlivka, where people used to go to work, and where children used to go to school. Not surprisingly, most people have moved away.

“The people still living in Bakhmutka,” Valentina says, “are the people who have no other place to go.”

This is true for Valentina as well. She and her husband only have their state pensions to survive on, and her husbond is sick and bedridden. They have no choice but to stay in the house they built here, and Valentina feels like she has no choice but to try and help the people who are left here with them. Being a volunteer is hard work, but she enjoys getting out of the house and working with the other women.

“This war has taught me that I’m crazy,” she jokes. “People say: ‘don’t you have anything better to do? You could just stay home all day.’”

But Valentina doesn’t stay home. Every morning, she goes to the volunteer house to meet the others, and she gets to work. Armed with phones and paperwork, and always perfectly manicured nails.

“Despite the war, some things remain the same,” she smiles.