Andrei Strizhak, an activist of the REP Trade Union and the coordinator of the volunteer project #ByCovid19 told “Salidarnasts” how they managed to realize the largest crowdfunding campaign in the recent Belarus’ history, and how he endured coronavirus and did not notice it.
As of June 1, the campaign managed to raise USD 302,000, of which USD 60,000 were donated by Belarusians living abroad.
“For me, it’s especially important that in this project we managed to achieve interaction of three spheres: authorities, businesses and civil society,” Andrei has reported. “This rarely happens at such a scale; and I’m grateful to everyone who took part in our work, in particular, the Ministries of Public Health and of Foreign Affairs, who rendered essential help in ensuring that everything worked well. I was glad to find officials in these ministries who think the same way as our volunteers and try to do everything to deliver help as promptly as possible. I’m happy that the business community and the civil society have changed the perception of each other. We understood what their needs were and what concerns they had. Businesses, in turn, have better understood what the civil society is and what motives drive it when it begins to engage in such campaigns.
I saw how businessmen arrived in their Jaguar cars and helped delivering aid to hospitals within the bycovid19 campaign. During two months we donated 1400 units of equipment and more than 354,000 protective means to our medical institutions.”
“After a search and initiation of a criminal case, the ‘Belgazprombank’ blocked the ‘MolaMola’ platform, which was used to raise money for important projects, including helping to medics launched by the bycovid19. How has this affected your work?”
“There are other ways to transfer funds to charity accounts, PayPal, BLIK, which allow raising funds abroad. For this money, the Diaspora buys equipment and supplies it to Belarus. As for Belarus, our website has a payment system that is not connected with the ‘MolaMola’ platform; and anyone can donate funds through the bycovid19.com website.”
“How did it happen that you yourself had survived coronavirus and didn’t notice it?”
“For two and a half months, my schedule was so dense that I couldn’t notice these symptoms, even if I had had them. Victor Prokopenya provided tests for our team members who are visiting hospitals. I passed a test and found out that I already have antibodies, which means that I had been ill with coronavirus and recovered.
I made an additional computer tomogram (CT) and a PCR test. The CT showed residual pneumonia, while the PCR test suggested that I had no virus RNA. This means that I am not an infection spreader.
Since all tests – both laboratory and express – have a certain degree of error, and one hundred percent to be sure that I do not have coronavirus, I decided to self-isolate and treat pneumonia down.
After this period ends, I plan to go to the blood transfusion station, undergo another test, which will confirm or deny the outcome of the rapid test for the presence of antibodies by a laboratory method. I would like to become a donor and donate blood plasma – it is used for severe cases in treating coronavirus. In my opinion, the situation is still difficult. We see that people have become less and less likely to wear masks, neglect their safety, and this is reflected in what is happening in hospitals.
If initially all the first-level contacts were hospitalized, now people with a mild course of coronavirus infection are sent home for treatment. This suggests that approaches have changed, but it can also be stated that the number of coronavirus patients is now so high that there is no way to hospitalize everyone. In early April, there were serious problems with the supply of protective means to Belarus. In this situation, our help was important. It gave thousands of doctors a chance not to get sick or get sick later. Over 160 medical institutions have received our help.”
“What was emotionally most difficult for your volunteers?”
“The death in a road accident of two documentary filmmakers (on May 15, Vladimir Mikhailovsky, 33, and Maxim Gavrilenko, 26, the authors of the documentary project ‘Unknown Belarus’, perished in a road accident near Belarusian town of Pukhovichi, – note of the REP News) was a serious trial for our team. The guys made a film about volunteers and were going to join our campaign after they finished working on the film. I was the last who saw them alive …”
“I know that many volunteers who worked with hospital viral wards couldn’t see their relatives and friends.”
“Yes, because if you work with coronavirus patients, you are a potential source of infection. Therefore, all this time I live alone, and communicate little with people. For two and a half months, I only saw my one-year-old son several times. We mostly communicate remotely – via the Internet. This is the biggest price I paid for participating in the campaign.”
“What will happen to the bycovid19 project next?”
“Now we help the regions, where coronavirus outbreaks occurred: Belynichi, Brest and Mogilev. Until the end of June we’ll definitely go on working. Then, the initiative will change its status. People are exhausted; we can’t work all the time in the emergency mode. A volunteer campaign is what arises as a quick response to some acute condition. Now, the condition is serious, but it is already clear what will happen next, how the state can behave in this system. We see our role in a different format. I think that this will be a group of experts who will be involved in the development of the volunteer movement in Belarus.”