Svitlana Rudokvas

When was the last time you corrected your worldview? 

Svitlana Rudokvas, content manager of the Ukrainian-language B50 Facebook group and editor of the website, has the courage to admit her mistakes and the strength to correct them now.

“Before” the 24th, she was an editor of economic texts and did not believe in war. And now she mostly writes about social issues – the victories of B50 volunteers. She combines clearing rubble and helping with organizational activities with raising twins and weaving camouflage nets. 

Read the #B50heroes interview with Svitlana Rudokvas:

  • why volunteering at B50 is primarily about helping yourself;
  • why she experiments with her appearance;
  • why she thinks about changing her field of activity;
  • what she told young children about the war.
NameRudokvas Svitlana Mikhailivna 
Age35 years old, birthday – August 26
Profession, occupationcopy editor, content manager of the Ukrainian-language B50 Facebook group and editor of the website
Hobbiesgoing to the theater, concerts, watching movies and TV shows (mostly in English)
Sea or mountains?all, mountains -sea-city
Childhood sportvolleyball, has been playing since the 6th grade, has an instructor’s degree
Favorite foodany meat, red fish, chocolate

— Svitlana, where were you on February 24? How did you know that russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine had begun?

I woke up at 5 a.m. and heard my husband walking around the apartment saying: “There are some explosions,” and I told him, “It only seems to you, it’s the door in the entrance.” Either I was so convincing or he wanted to believe me so much that we went back to bed. Then my friend called: “It started!”. 

Our alarm clock was supposed to go off at 7, but the siren went off… We turned on the news, washed ourselves, had breakfast. It’s easier, you think more clearly. We packed our suitcase, but we weren’t going anywhere yet.

We had tickets for March 3 to Prague, we couldn’t believe that in the twenty-first century in the center of Europe there could be such cruelty. I didn’t believe until the last moment that you could be so out of touch with your head. A healthy person cannot understand a sick person.

The war in Donbas was far from me. I am one of those who did not suffer. I knew about Ilovaisk, Donetsk airport, and the Azov regiment. But otherwise, I didn’t really go into it. Now I realize that it was all wrong! I used to live in my own world, I could close my eyes, but now I can’t.

Volunteering in Moshchun

Now everything is like a fog to me. I remember March-April – the fog… My children and I went to my relatives for shelter, they have an apartment in a semi-basement. This is what saved us in the early days. And it’s what saves us now, when it’s scary. We lived with them for the first week. And then my son got scared of some ordinary “home” sound, thought it was a rocket. And I realized that we would not stay here. Our aunt lives in Mukachevo, and she invited us all February, so we went.

How did you manage to get there? How do you remember Mukachevo?

We bought tickets for a compartment. And on the day we were supposed to leave, all the trains became evacuation trains. We got on, and there were 10 people in our seat. What are you going to do, grieve? We just found two other shelves in the same carriage and traveled on them with the five of us: me, my husband, two children and my grandmother. And I don’t even feel sorry for that money… I think Ukrzaliznytsia (Ukrainian Railways – ed.) did its job, it saved so many people.

When we got there, the twins were seated by the fireplace, the TV was turned on, and I exhaled. They are safe… I felt a little better, because I was a little scared: both in Kyiv and on the road. I was afraid for my children, for myself, what would happen. Our aunt lives on the outskirts of Mukachevo, near the forest. The air is incredible, it’s quiet, you can see the mountains from the balcony. I will be grateful to that place and my aunt for the rest of my life! They saved me, at least mentally.

Volunteering in Moshchun

There were a lot of IDPs in Mukachevo. I was, of course, angry about the large percentage of the russian-speaking population. The local population, not the immigrants. I was surprised that the locals spoke russian with a Mukachevo accent. You can’t understand it with your ears or your head)

The first month I still had a job, my husband also worked. We were with our children, went for walks, donated to the army. I was looking for a volunteer organization, but they didn’t need just “people with hands”.

We stayed there for 2 months, stayed too long, returned home for a couple of days, and then went to my dad’s house in Cherkasy. And that’s where I came to life. I found volunteers, went to the gym, spent time with my dad, saw my school friend, went for a lot of walks. The children saw the city I grew up in.

Volunteering in Moshchun. Photo by Ruslan Habdulov

What is it like to be a mom during the war? How did you explain to your children what was really happening?

— We have twins, and if it wasn’t for my husband’s help, it would have been very hard. We have an equal share, and we also have a grandmother. On the 24th, I didn’t know what to say, so I just explained that we were going to visit grandfather Sasha. And then somehow I had to… 

Now they know that the “russians” are our neighbors and, unfortunately, we share a common border with them. That they want to take us away or kill us, that they are our number one enemy. I told them about the military, whom we should be grateful to.

I think they don’t fully understand. When it hits, they are afraid, but a second later they are playing. They are easily distracted by a toy, a book, stickers, something tasty. I keep hoping that they will not carry the pain that we carry. They should understand, but not feel this evil. 

We don’t have a single russian book at home, nothing russian is on. And in the kindergarten, unfortunately, only 6 out of 24 children were Ukrainian-speaking! And this is the center of Kyiv – Pechersk, not some eastern region!!! Sometimes my daughter would bring me “russian words,” but after 24.02 it was like a cutoff! 

I grew up in a Ukrainian-speaking family, and in Cherkasy they speak mostly surzhyk (Ukrainian-russian mixed language – ed.). But no one told me at the time that I shouldn’t switch to russian at school or on the street. It would have been nice if my parents had taught me the same way I teach my children.

Volunteering in Irpin. Photo by Nataliia Hryniuk

How did you find out about B50 and when did you first start volunteering with us, do you remember?

— It just happened. My husband and I were thinking of volunteering. Artem was subscribed to Ruslan Horovyi, and I was subscribed as a husband. We saw his post about B50. My husband said: “Do we want to clear the rubble?” – “Yes, we do.” Let’s go, let’s go! Something brought me here…

On the first day I came with Artem, it was unreal hot! I remember Elia and Sveta well then. We were working for people, tearing down the remains of the garage, taking everything to a big pile. It was very hard, hot, and thirsty. But in general, we liked the atmosphere. 

It’s one thing to watch on TV and another to see it live. It’s different in scale. When you walk around and don’t see a single surviving house, trees mowed down, fences shot up… It’s more impressive. But I did not sunbathe, physical fatigue took everything away.

Before that, I was packing protein for the military in Cherkasy. And when we came home after the first trip, I said: “It was much easier to pack protein!”. It was very hard in the evening, it was muscle soreness, there was a lot of dust everywhere… But it didn’t discourage us, and we came back again and again.

Volunteering in Moshchun. Photo by Lara Bortovyk

— I remember you from the first trips. You stood out from the others: bright hair color, numerous tattoos. Do you like to experiment with your appearance?

— It all started with piercings. I came to Kyiv and pierced my eyebrow, tongue, and ears. Now some of them have grown back. 

Then came the tattoos. I got a tattoo too – it just happened. I found a picture on the Internet and that was it! Someone told me: “If you think for more than 20 seconds, it’s not about you.”

I am a fan of the idea that if something makes you happier at that moment, why not? Even if it’s a tattoo, a piercing, a trip, an expensive concert ticket… I’m all for doing it!

My worst experiment with my appearance was the tattoos I really wanted, but didn’t have the money for. They were not very good, the design was not very good. What could I do at the age of 20-22? Later I went to a normal artist, had them covered, and now I have all of them colored. 

Many people say: “A tattoo in your old age will be ugly”. I answer: “Will you all be beautiful in your old age?”))) If it gives me a resource at some point, then great! It’s not immoral or criminal.

I also used to wear dreadlocks, I just like it, they make me look slimmer))) With dreadlocks, in a regular dress, with 2 children. I just felt like it. I wanted pink hair color. This is not a philosophy, but a touch to my appearance. I just liked it that way. You don’t have to look for something that doesn’t exist.

Volunteering in Bucha. Photo by Polina Koruts

You are one of the most active B50 volunteers in terms of the number of trips. What do you find valuable in such help? How do you manage to be in Moshchun so often?

— Volunteering is also therapy for me. Because when I’m busy doing something, I don’t have time to read the news from cover to cover. I don’t fall behind. Although I think I should have first said that it’s about helping people, right? But I’ll be honest – it’s primarily about helping me: to physically work out, to work out my head. I thought that in winter it would somehow fade away, people would stop going, but no – there is enough “stupid” strength! I’m not the only one, there are a lot of us “interesting” people.

I still try to help weave camouflage nets 2-3 times a week. I’m there for half a day so that I have time to do something at home. In B50, everyone is young, cheerful, creative, sometimes unrestrained. And there are such Pechersk ladies, it’s calm, cozy, sincere, and homely. 

I am encouraged to be in a circle of like-minded people, to do a useful job. And I do believe that we are helping people. After all, where would they get enough money to rebuild all this? We take on some of the problems.

I remember how we worked for a man in a three-story house at the end of July. How we dragged a wheelbarrow up a ladder to the third floor. And how we talked a lot that day. And for the first time we sat down to eat together. Absolutely different people, with different backgrounds, interests, ages, everything… But it worked so well then: we worked physically, and it was as if we had a mental  rest, caught each other’s vibes.

Volunteering in Moshchun. Photo by Ruslan Habdulov

— In addition to clearing debris and weaving nets, you also help the B50 community in the organizational team: you manage our Facebook group, fill the website with news, edit texts… Where do you get so much inspiration and time?

— I just need a little bit to sleep)

The first task was the website: proofreading, filling, and uploading articles to the site. There was a program I used to work with. It was no problem. And then I started writing news and somehow got involved… I used to only proofread, but now I’m writing!

When Ruslan offered me to be an SMM person, to fill B50’s Facebook group, I hesitated whether to agree or not. Then the horoscope said that you would be offered a change of career, so, agree. And I thought: “This is a sign! I have to take it!” It was funny, but now I’m hooked 🙂.

Volunteering in Moshchun. Photo by Oleksandra Poliakova

Sometimes there are few trips and content, sometimes there are more. Several days a week I sit down for 2-3 hours and look through the photos to see what I can come up with. I think about what to write about on Facebook, sketch it out in my head and format it. It’s relatively quick.

I like that I’m learning something else here. That, while volunteering, I get new knowledge and tips. This will not hurt! Because I need to change my field of activity. 

All my life I worked as an editor in procurement, I had a more economic background. I started with an enterprise that later became Prozorro (the platform where all public tenders take place). And then I worked in a magazine, also about public procurement. Now I sometimes work part-time: I proofread the magazine once a month so that I don’t forget or lose my skills.

Now I’m looking at the salaries of an editor/proofreader – it’s not what I want. It was so-so before, and after the victory it will be even harder.

Volunteering in Irpin. Photo by Nataliia Hryniuk

— How do you manage to cope with twins? How do you prioritize?

— My husband’s family had twins, and now we have twins. There is some logistical advantage in this) I go through parent-teacher conferences at a time, all the Viber chats at once, take them to the same place, they have their own games, they can play together.

Children come first, it is important that they are fed first and that we spend time together. If I see that I have somewhere to take them, then… I plan for a week what day I’m going, when I’m with the kids, when I can even meet a friend. 

Children teach you patience, multitasking, how to do everything, how to accumulate strength, how to plan your time. They teach you to appreciate simple joys. I have often said over the past 12 months: “It’s so good to be a child.” They went to the zoo and were happy, they jumped on a trampoline and were happy, they got ice cream when they didn’t expect it, and they were happy. 

Our mom is a “nervous” police officer. Artem is calmer, and I am a fury. Whenever I get sick of them, I try to clean up, put things away, and I like to throw away old clothes and toys.

I’m not saying that everyone has to give birth. At that moment, at the age of 29, I just felt like it. Parenthood is hard, but it’s worth it. I love them, they love me))

Volunteering in Moshchun. Photo by Oleksandra Poliakova

What do you think the near future holds for Ukrainians?

— I want to be optimistic, but I’m afraid to believe in a bright future and get disappointed.. I’m sure it will be hard, but it will be worth it. No matter how heavy the losses are, the battle is over!

It seems to me that we are moving in the right direction, towards Europe, towards Ukrainianization. At the same time, I see what is happening: these procurement scandals, corruption, MPs and officials, it’s not going away.

I am sure that we still have a long struggle ahead of us. To rebuild, to clean up, to mourn. We will be clearing the rubble (literally and figuratively), and we will be fighting inside the country for the rest of my life. And my children will probably live in a better country.

Interviews were conducted by:

  • Coordinator— Anna Norynska
  • Interviewer — Nataliia Hryniuk
  • Editor — Kateryna Lehka, Svitlana Rudokvas
  • Translator —  Anastasiia Lypchak