by Sergey Panashchuk in Odesa
Andreas had a brilliant career, dedicating 30 years of his life to journalism. His words have been published in the biggest German and media worldwide outlets. He even has been awarded by the German President Frank-Walther Steinmeier with the merit of honor for his achievements.
Everybody has the right to stay safe
I met Andreas for the first time after a massive nighttime drone attack on Odesa last week. He did not sleep that night. Very few people in Odesa did.
We were talking about “giant chainsaws” flying over his and my houses and about air defense rockets hunting for them. (Iranian drones Shakhed-136 that were used for the attack make an ear-crushing sound that is very similar to an industrial chainsaw.)
That is the reality that Andreas has been sharing with Ukrainians for a year.
“If I wanted to flee, all I had to do was jump into a car. A lot of Ukrainians can’t, that’s why I am here. I value people’s right to be safe. Everybody has the right to stay safe.
“My mother survived the Holocaust. My heritage is Jewish, and most of my relatives were killed during the Nazis. Everybody should have the right to escape to safety,” says Andreas.
After the beginning of the full-scale invasion, people started fleeing Ukraine. There were two basic ways for the evacuation – through the Polish border or through Moldavia.
Cars and buses heading to the borders stretched themselves in few-kilometer-long lines. Many local and international NGOs, charities, and volunteers were helping Ukrainians flee by providing transport for them.
After a month, most of them switched to other activities, mostly transportation of humanitarian aid, food, and medicines.
That’s when Andreas’s “Be an Angel Foundation” stepped in.
“That was the moment when I crossed the border and came to Odesa.
“It was the first Ukrainian city I visited. I was coming here with the bus picking up people, and I was really scared. I had this Hollywood-like idea about the war. I imagined artillery shooting, tanks, and dying mothers reaching out to the soldiers to hand them their babies. All these pictures.
I know Ukraine better now than Germany
“I traveled a couple of hundred thousand kilometers within the Ukraine. I know Ukraine better now than Germany. We've been in the zones close to the frontlines, picking up people. I have never gone to the red zone so far.
“So far, we have helped 18,000 people to leave Ukraine. We always adjust to people’s needs. The war is always coming in waves, meaning that people need evacuation from different cities.
“For instance, from the beginning, it was very dangerous in Mykolayiv, and we evacuated people from there. At one point, the Zaporizhzha region was turned into a hotspot, and we were helping locals there.
“Being a mid-size organization, we are flexible and can adjust to people’s needs. We always do what people need,” says Andreas.
Be an Angel works in close contact with local authorities and volunteers in different Ukrainian cities. Together with them, they gather contacts of people who need evacuation. After that, the NGO will provide a bus to transport them to Moldova.
“We are registered in Ukraine, Moldova, Germany, and the USA as Friends of Be an Angel.
“Thanks to fantastic director Anya Verkhovskaya we brought about 50 tons of goods, which is the value of something like sixty million dollars.
“The goods are brought to the warehouse in Lviv and distributed throughout Ukraine. We work with the organization Women for the Future as well. They distribute medical support, medical supplies, medicine, food, and baby food to all areas, even to the front lines.”
A culture of mutual understanding, and solidarity
Andreas doesn't have any regrets about not being an active journalist anymore.
“I was really happy working as a journalist, so I had a really good life. At some point, I thought that there was a lot I'm taking from this planet and very little I give back, in my subjective understanding. I started doing charity work in 2015 when refugees were coming to Germany and they had to camp outside of offices on the streets because the office was not able to handle that in Berlin, and now I am here. I am very happy with what I do now.
“Let's be frank, Slavic men adopted a super macho image. The guys are walking down the streets as if they are ready to crush the wall.
“On the other hand, what is really impressive is the tremendous power of the Ukrainians. There is a culture of mutual understanding, and solidarity that I saw rising during this year I’m here.
“In my understanding, in the beginning of full-scale aggression, the prevailing way of thinking was: “I don’t care about anyone else, I have to fight for my own life.” That has changed, and I see and feel these changes. This way of thinking comes from a historical background, but now it is a different story.
There is no other country with such potential as Ukraine
“More and more people in the big cities, like here in Odesa understand what it is like to live in the countryside. What the life of an average family working as farmers is. The wells they have in their backyard are not decorations. This is where the people get their water from.
“If you turn off the Kyiv-Odesa motorway, you will encounter the roads in Ukraine where you can basically get stuck with a regular car.
“It takes time for Ukrainians to be open to changing their mindset. And still, there are individual people of their own in their country. I have never experienced a country with such potential as Ukraine. Not only economic potential but the power of the people’s spirit—that is really amazing.
“Ukrainians rebuilt schools, supermarkets, and houses that were totally destroyed. I witnessed schools that have been rebuilt, and they’re better than before.
“This is really amazing. Plus, it gives the potential for starting projects, and I like starting projects. I really love it. As the Be an Angel team, we're now working on an empowerment program for women. We work on the reconstruction of villages. These are the big projects.”
“That will take time, and that’s also why I’m here.”