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  • Writer's pictureKyle Kvamme

ORAM’s Project Assistant in Berlin helps expand events for LGBTIQ Ukrainians

Pictured: Ollie (right), ORAM's Project Assistant in Berlin, with cooking borsch with members of the queer Ukrainian community during the Colors of Resilience event.

Since April 2023, ORAM has hosted events to connect with and address the needs of LGBTIQ Ukrainians and third country nationals in Berlin. Ollie Dougherty, ORAM's Project Assistant in Berlin, has been crucial to growing ORAM's events for queer people from Ukraine. Ollie officially joined ORAM in May, but his connection and work with LGBTIQ people from Ukraine extends well beyond that.

“I visited Ukraine in 2021 to help develop a new LGBTIQ community center in Kyiv,” Ollie shared. Unfortunately, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 halted plans for the community center. However, it catalyzed Ollie to support queer people arriving in Berlin from Ukraine.

Ollie started gathering members of the queer Ukrainian community by running a series of cultural events at SP*TI, a community meeting space in Berlin. At the end of 2022, Ollie received funding from Goethe-Institut and Artists at Risk to host a residency for queer Ukrainian artists at SP*TI. Through the project, Ollie was able to help several artists leave Ukraine who were unable to previously because they were designated “male” on their passports.

He learned about ORAM early in 2023 while looking for resources available for queer people forced to flee Ukraine. When he saw ORAM advertise for a Project Assistant to help with its Ukraine Humanitarian Response Program, he thought this could be an excellent opportunity to hone in on new skills.

Ollie officially joined ORAM in May 2023 and supports ORAM’s short-term housing project in partnership with and our longer-term housing program. Shortly after Ollie joined the organization, ORAM hosted a focus group discussion for members of the queer community from Ukraine to gather and discuss their most significant needs in Berlin.

“The point of the events is to have some in-person contact with the queer Ukrainian community,” Ollie said. As Ollie and Camille Ogoti, ORAM’s Ukraine Program Manager, began planning for upcoming events, they wanted an event to get to know the community more personally.

During ORAM’s next event in Berlin, “Colors of Resilience,” members of the queer Ukrainian community joined Camille and Ollie to cook borsch, a beloved traditional Ukrainian dish. “I hadn’t eaten as much borsch in my entire life until last year,” Ollie joked. After the host and attendees enjoyed the borsch they made, they got comfortable to enjoy a film by queer Ukrainian filmmaker Angelik Ustymenko. “This [event] was a great way to connect with the community,” Ollie shared.

Pictured: Photos from the "Colors of Resilience" event in Berlin.

The idea for the next event came from the focus group discussion held in early 2023. During that event, Ukrainian and third country nationals shared that one of their greatest needs was employment support and information on job resources in Germany. To address this, ORAM’s last event was an employment workshop facilitated by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) Germany. During the workshop, participants learned how to access the German Jobcenter and welfare system.

“[The event] seemed useful to the community,” Ollie said. He also added that in addition to many attendees, members of the queer Ukrainian community who could not join were interested in the topic. Ollie shared the PowerPoint slides used during the workshop with many of those interested but unable to attend.

Pictured: Camille Ogoti, ORAM's Ukraine Program Manager, speaking to LGBTIQ Ukrainians and third country nationals during the employment workshop with IRC Germany.

Ollie’s favorite part of ORAM’s events he’s helped organize is “hearing community members share their stories... there is something so touching about hearing people's personal experiences.” Hearing the stories of the LGBTIQ refugees from Ukraine has changed Ollie’s perspective on life. “The queer Ukrainian community is different than other members of the queer community...there is so much bravery. It has taught me about who I am.”

As Ollie plans ORAM’s next event in Berlin, he’s grateful for the LGBTIQ Ukrainians who have stepped up to support the organization. “Many of [ORAM’s clients] are willing to volunteer and support us. The community is willing to give back to us. It’s inspiring,” he shared.

Thank you, Ollie, for your work supporting ORAM’s Ukraine Humanitarian Response Program and your passion for positively impacting the community.

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