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Ukraine Connect: Bridging the Gap Between Foreigners and Ukraine's Resilience
An Exclusive Interview with Liza Kozlenko, Founder of Ukraine Connect.
In this exclusive interview with Liza Kozlenko, the visionary behind Ukraine Connect, we delve into her remarkable journey spanning clinical research and entrepreneurship during turbulent times. With a multifaceted background encompassing clinical research, journalism, volunteering, and chemistry, Liza now leads a startup committed to providing tailored assistance to foreigners residing in Ukraine. Engaging in an insightful conversation with journalist Vudi Xhymshiti, Liza openly shares her experiences and motivations.
© THE FRONTLINER Magazine — September 2023.
THE FRONTLINER: Thank you so much for agreeing to talk to me. Do you mind telling me and the readers who is Liza?
Liza Kozlenko: It's a good question. So many things. First of all, right now, I'm a Ukrainian entrepreneur. In my past, I'm also a clinical research associate. I do board journalism as a freelancer when I have time. I do volunteer a lot. And right now, I run my own startup, which is personalized assistance for life management in Ukraine and remotely. It's for foreigners, and we help them with daily chores, business, tourism, leisure, and much more. I'm also a chemist, I write poetry, and I do many other things.
THE FRONTLINER: Brilliant, thank you so much for the introduction. Where were you in 2014 when there was an uprising in Ukraine? What were you doing then?
Liza Kozlenko: I was in Barcelona, Spain because in 2013, I was admitted to a European program made by the European Commission called Erasmus Mundus. I won the scholarship, and I was the only Ukrainian who won that scholarship that year. It was called the European Master in Quality in Analytical Laboratory. So, I was studying in Barcelona, and when the Revolution of Dignity started, I was worried that I couldn't be there physically to support my people. Unfortunately, due to my scholarship program, I couldn't return to Ukraine to participate in the revolution.
THE FRONTLINER: What motivated you to come back home?
Liza Kozlenko: In 2016, I decided to come back home. Even though I had a comfortable life abroad, I realized there were more opportunities for me in Ukraine. I wanted to contribute to the country's growth and development. I also wanted to buy property, which was easier to do in Ukraine. So, my husband and I decided to move back, and I've never regretted that decision.
THE FRONTLINER: What were your observations about Ukrainian politics in relation to Russia and the West when you returned?
Liza Kozlenko: After the Revolution of Dignity, I expected positive changes and a move towards European values. However, we faced challenges in achieving this transformation. While our society became more conscious of our national identity, political changes lagged. Russian propaganda had influenced many Ukrainians, especially in the eastern regions. It's a struggle to change these narratives, but we're working on it.
THE FRONTLINER: Do you think Russian propaganda played a role in shaping negative perceptions of being Ukrainian among some Ukrainians?
Liza Kozlenko: Absolutely. Russian propaganda has perpetuated the idea that Ukrainians are inferior to Russians. This narrative was spread during the Soviet Union and earlier during the Russian Empire. It was communicated through various channels, including TV, politicians, and stage performances. Unfortunately, it affected many Ukrainians, particularly in regions with greater Russian influence.
THE FRONTLINER: During my visits to Ukraine, I encountered people in the eastern regions who seemed hesitant to embrace their Ukrainian identity. Do you think this was influenced by Russian propaganda?
Liza Kozlenko: Yes, especially in the eastern regions, where Russian influence was stronger. People in those areas were exposed to Russian TV channels, which reinforced the idea that Ukrainians were inferior. My own grandmother, who suffered from dementia, believed in Russian propaganda until the end. It's challenging to change these deep-seated beliefs, and it's one reason the world failed to prevent the conflict in Donbas and the annexation of Crimea.
THE FRONTLINER: It's fascinating how propaganda can have such a lasting impact. When the war started in 2022, where were you, and what did you decide to do?
Liza Kozlenko: I was in Kyiv when the war started in 2022. I woke up to the news that the airport had been bombed. It was a worrying moment, and I decided to volunteer to help in any way I could. I received training in medicine and how to behave in a hostile environment, and I started volunteering with the Red Cross. Later, I joined foreign journalists and began interpreting for them during trips to liberated towns and conflict zones.
Bridging Borders and Cultures: Liza Kozlenko's Journey with Ukraine Connect
THE FRONTLINER: How did your experiences during the war lead you to the idea of creating Ukraine Connect?
Liza Kozlenko: During my time as an interpreter for foreign journalists, I realized that many foreigners visiting Ukraine needed assistance with daily tasks and navigating the country. They often felt lost due to language barriers and unfamiliarity with local systems. This insight, combined with my previous experience working with foreigners, led me to create Ukraine Connect, a service that provides personalized assistance and support to foreigners in Ukraine and remotely - anything we can do when they are abroad.
THE FRONTLINER: How has Ukraine Connect been received by clients, and what services do you offer?
Liza Kozlenko: Since launching Ukraine Connect in July 2023, we've served over 20 clients, providing services ranging from cleaning and interpretation to guided tours and assistance with daily tasks. We've received positive feedback, and we offer the first two hours of our services for free. We aim to bridge the gap between foreigners and Ukraine, helping them navigate daily life, explore the culture, and access local services with ease.
THE FRONTLINER: It's evident that Ukraine Connect is making a positive impact. What motivates you to continue running the business, especially during challenging times?
Liza Kozlenko: Ukraine Connect allows me to combine my passion for helping people with my love for Ukraine. Despite the ongoing conflict, life goes on in Ukraine. We enjoy daily routines, go to work, and experience the beauty of our country. I want to inspire both Ukrainians and foreigners to see Ukraine for what it truly is, a resilient nation with much to offer. Through Ukraine Connect, I can share our culture, and history, and provide much-needed assistance to those living in or visiting our country.
THE FRONTLINER: Thank you, Liza, for sharing your inspiring story and the valuable work you're doing through Ukraine Connect. Your dedication to bridging the gap between foreigners and Ukraine is commendable, and we wish you continued success in your endeavours.
Liza Kozlenko's path from a clinical research associate to the founder of Ukraine Connect embodies the indomitable spirit of resilience and innovation that defines the Ukrainian people. In the face of adversity, she has forged connections between foreigners and Ukraine, revealing the country's beauty and opportunities. Her unwavering dedication to bridging this gap makes her a genuine ambassador for her homeland. We extend our best wishes for continued success in all her future endeavours.
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