#FirstPersonStories from the European Endowment for Democracy: Inna Belous

#FirstPersonStories from the European Endowment for Democracy: Inna Belous

Inna Bilous is a woman on a mission to improve the lives of Odessans. A founder of the Ukrainian NGO Manifest Mira, set up after the 2014 Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine, she has long been a leading activist and campaigner.

Inna spearheaded a five-year campaign to renovate Odesa’s once dilapidated Fine Art Museum. She worked tirelessly to ensure that the Odessa authorities launched the reform process to replace large residential homes, ensuring better care for vulnerable children. During the COVID crisis, she helped lead a civil society-business anti-crisis platform, that stepped up to fill the gap when the authorities failed to react.

Inna is also a mother of three young children, and with the Russian military invasion of Ukraine, she had to make the difficult decision to leave Ukraine in the early days of the war.

“We left Odesa on the first day of the explosions. Our plan was to travel to Slovakia, but when we arrived in Constanta, we knew that we had to stay here. Constanta is the nearest port to Odesa. It is a highly strategic location,” says Inna Bilous of her arrival at the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta.

Noting that there were no humanitarian hubs operating in Romania when she arrived, she and some friends immediately began to collect humanitarian items and sent them by land back to Odesa. It was haphazard work at first, until the group decided to collaborate and work from one warehouse. They now run a fully operational humanitarian hub in Constanta, and they liaise with the Odesa humanitarian volunteer centre, which collaborates with local NGOs, businesses and the Odesa City Council in the provision of aid.

During her previous advocacy work, Inna has frequently clashed with the city authorities. Today, as Ukraine is at war, the Odesa City Council is collaborating closely with Manifest Mira, the Odesa Humanitarian Volunteer Centre, and a network of other partners to ensure a constant flow of aid into the city. Inna insists that her group maintain their independence.

“They know we understand logistics and we can get things done. They have given us access to the Odesa City Council’s CRM system to manage requirements and deliveries. The authorities sign export documents and we ensure everything is above board. Our team receive goods and sorts them. We store them here and we organise transport to Odesa together with a network of partners. The fact that we are accredited in Ukraine is a huge plus, as most of our partners here have no accreditation,” she says. EED support is ensuring the ongoing operations of this hub, by supporting the team and the overall coordination work.

The full article you can read on official EED website.

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