Natalia Lipska heads the prominent charitable foundation “Wings of Hope,” which has been actively aiding seriously ill children for more than 16 years, primarily. However, since February 24, 2022, when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Natalia Lipska has been involved in assisting war victims and supporting Ukrainian military medics. Residing in Lviv, for her, the war is too personal to think about it less than 24/7.

In a conversation with Natalia Lipska, several phrases stood out, particularly those suggesting that Western Europe will be next, that Russia has no plans to stop in Ukraine. “Sometime before, maybe around 2014-2015, you could (comfort yourself) that this is Ukraine fighting its enemy, and that’s it. But now we are fighting for them(Europeans) as well. We are their hands; we are their army now. Because if we don’t stand, there won’t be Poland, Estonia, Latvia. Many countries won’t exist because they are also will be occupied, maybe not immediately, but definitely occupied. Russia does not hide these intentions. They believe that the division of Europe should happen as the occupied zone was arranged after the end of World War II. And the Russians believe that the countries that were in the Soviet sphere of influence should belong to Russia,” says Lipska.

When Ukrainians declare such things from high podiums or in friendly conversations, people outside Ukraine are simply not ready to even think about it, let alone perceive it as a new reality of the 21st century, so ancient and even two-century-old are these Russian ideas. But, in fact, that’s how it is.

Natalia says she came to this understanding quite quickly, realistically within hours after the full-scale invasion. Because the preceding years were filled with events and personal experiences that prepared her for such an understanding.

Natalia Lipska has been at the helm of the well-known and respected charitable foundation “Wings of Hope” since its founding in 2007. The foundation has been taking care of seriously ill children, including those with cancer, assisting those in need of transplants, and providing palliative care. This is quite a challenging job in the conditions of Ukraine, so Natalia has been actively engaged not only in advocacy for bills regulating such activities and aid to sick children but also participated in advocacy for bills related to the activities of the civil sector.

“This Has Been Our Cause Since 2014, but Now Everything is Significantly Larger”

Aiding the seriously ill is a systematic, challenging, and emotionally demanding task. Natalia Lipska, along with the ‘Wings of Hope’ foundation, has been moving step by step along the chosen path, but with the onset of Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014, much has changed. “Since the beginning of the war in the East in 2014, we took care of combat medics, tactical medicine. Additionally, we provided significant support to military hospitals, including the Lviv Military Hospital,” says Natalia Lipska.

Life for Ukrainians changed abruptly from February 24, the ‘Wings of Hope’ foundation’s activities took on fundamentally new dimensions. The work scaled up significantly. In the first months after the full-scale invasion, support was added for internally displaced persons, for people in affected and de-occupied territories, and the evacuation of families with sick children who planned to move to western regions or abroad.

“This has been our cause since 2014, but now everything is significantly larger,” recalls Natalia. “From the morning of February 24, we immediately coordinated in our work chat, understanding that we systematically continue to do what we have always done: aid for seriously ill children, medicine, and assistance to the wounded.”

At that moment, various state and local institutions began reaching out to the foundation. For instance, the Ministry of Health requested expanding its activities beyond children’s institutions and supporting medical facilities across Ukraine. “We worked extensively in this direction. Some donors also approached us, saying, ‘We worked with you on medical projects, but we want to provide additional assistance, such as humanitarian non-medical cargo for further distribution to those in need,'” Natalia Lipska explains.

By February 28, the foundation already had a warehouse of 1000 square meters, and the first trucks with humanitarian cargo arrived. The foundation’s team significantly increased and restructured. They had to deal with medical evacuation of the seriously ill. At some point, there was even a shelter for such families because they were coming in masses. However, Natalia notes that from around mid-2022, the foundation’s activities began to narrow down. Her team is once again addressing the issues of seriously ill children, providing humanitarian aid to partner NGOs, and simultaneously maintaining the direction of tactical medicine. The foundation still has a humanitarian hub to support essential assistance projects. This is understandable, as the shock of the first months has passed, and many new foundations, volunteer initiatives, and society, in general, have adapted to the conditions of war.

Apart from fieldwork, Natalia Lipska and her team still have to dedicate a considerable amount of time, as before, to advocating for the interests of the civil sector and the volunteer movement, ensuring that unnecessary state regulations and interventions do not hinder their activities.

“We’re Trying to Maximise Funds and Resources into Ukraine”

Natalia explains that approximately 90% of the funds and other resources distributed by the foundation she leads have foreign origins. “Literally on February 24, 2022, we made a decision not to primarily collect funds on the domestic market. We chose not to create competition for small funds and individual volunteers. We didn’t want to take away the limited resources that Ukrainians already suffer from due to the large-scale war,” explains Natalia.

Indeed, the ‘Wings of Hope’ foundation has years of experience working with international donors. Its team understood that they could find resources both for their activities and existence beyond Ukraine. However, this is not available for numerous small volunteer initiatives that Ukrainians joined to support friends, family, acquaintances, and colleagues defending Ukraine with arms.

As Natalia mentions, there is one area for which the foundation engages in fundraising in Ukraine. It involves the purchase of turnstiles and other tactical medical equipment. Although sometimes foreign donors provide funds for these needs, tactical medicine, which saves the lives of Ukrainian defenders, is challenging to finance from international donors. The reason for this problem lies in many countries viewing such funding as supporting another country’s army. Therefore, such financing is either legislatively prohibited in many countries, or it requires compliance with specific rules and procedures, which are quite complex.

In reality, tactical medicine is not about war; it’s about saving lives and protection, as Natalia emphasizes. And she has a very personal connection to this.

It’s Truly Personal

“When we talk, for example, with private donors, we explain that tactical medicine is not about war at all. We are a medical foundation, and from the first day of our foundation, we save children’s lives. We have cases where children we once treated are now in the military. Or we have siblings or parents of those children we treated, and they are now defending us. So, in our opinion, this is not military aid; it’s protective gear,” insists Natalia.

For Natalia Lipska, as she says, this war is very personal. She recalls her friend, the Ukrainian writer Victoria Amelina, who was killed by the Russian missile in the summer of 2023 in Kramatorsk. Colleagues, friends, doctors from children’s hospitals supported by the foundation—many of them are now in the military defending Ukraine. “The personal impact of this war is most harshly realized at the cemetery when you stand near the grave of a close person,” says Natalia. It’s not just a phrase. Her brother died in this war.

The strongest desire expressed during the conversation with Natalia Lipska was her attempt to reach out to Europeans with a straightforward idea that helping Ukraine now might be even more critical for Europeans than for Ukrainians themselves. Her frustration stems from the misunderstanding: “Among my foreign acquaintances, many clearly say ‘no’ when it comes to assistance for the military. For children, for animals, for civilian medics, for the disabled—please. But everything else—no. I don’t know what needs to be said to make them understand that a different reality is unfolding right here in Europe, at their doorstep.”

“They need to realize that we are not purely a Ukrainian army. We are their army, protecting them. They provide us with weapons, and we provide them with people who stand. If we run out, they will have to go into the trenches. And for us not to run out, they must help us. And, in fact, they should help in this military aspect as well.”

“What has been happening in the last 22 months only confirms that Russia is a terrorist country that sees no boundaries,” Natalia is convinced. Why does she think so? Because, as Natalia Lipska says, after the first massive shelling of large Ukrainian cities, it became clear that if Russia crossed this line, it was evident that this is the third world war. And it won’t stop at the war in Ukraine.

Source: The Gaze