“Prosto Neba” (“Beneath the Sky”) magazine can be purchased only in the streets of Lviv, where homeless people sell it. This social initiative allows them to earn living and aims to change public opinion about the homeless. At the same time this is a high-quality cultural magazine, with loyal readers and which the most famous Ukrainian writers write for.
“Prosto Neba” team told how they came up with the idea and whether their attitude toward homeless people changed during the work on the magazine.
Mariana Sokha, the main editor of the magazine, studied social work at university back in her day. She was most interested in the homelessness topic, and that was her course and degree theme. When “Oselya” (“Dwelling”), the first in the city organization working with homeless was launched in Lviv, Mariana at first was helping as a volunteer, and in 2007 got a job there.
Then the young organisation faced the fact that Lviv citizens treated homeless people in an extremely unfriendly and biased way. It was necessary to create a media instrument to spread organisation’s ideas and try to change public opinion about the homeless.
In 2006 the law ‘On the Fundamentals of Social Protection of Homeless Citizens and Gutter Children’ was passed. And talks about night shelter for the homeless started in Lviv. There were winters when many such people died in the streets. At first it was difficult to find some suitable area for the shelter. Every time local residents protested, and the city council delegates themselves scarcely ever had a wish to support this idea.
People had fears that the homeless would spread disease and steal. We tried to explain that the night shelter in Lviv, where the person receives medical care, will most surely improve the situation but not worsen. After all, homeless people live in the city and use public transport anyway.
This situation made it clear: we must do something to persuade the community. If this goes on like this, no social work will be ever possible; it can always be regarded as unnecessary.”
At the time, when the struggle for the overnight home continued, Mariana happened to take part in the street press conference in Poland. Such magazines have been published in different countries since the late 80s, and their task is to change public opinion and at the same time to provide jobs to homeless people. Mariana realized that street publications are just what Lviv needed. The work in “Oselya” and on the magazine changed and formed her opinion about the homeless, according to the founder of “Prosto Neba”:
I was most surprised and am still surprised that homeless people are positively disposed to others. Seemingly homeless people can think only about their terrible situation and they are not interested in what is going on in the country or in the city. But in fact they are interested. They live the way other members of society do, sharing the same interests and experiences. People with no homes have a much more positive attitude toward people with homes, than the latter to the homeless.
The magazine owes Hryhory Semenchuk for art contents. The first “Prosto Neba” issue was created by social workers, whiles the second one – mostly by creative people. Grigory has been working in the field of cultural events in Lviv for many years, and he was just unaware of such format as “street-paper” until he met Mariana. Since 2008 he has been co-editor of the magazine, looking for contributors and writing the “After Dark” author column. Hryhory says he always tells the homeless on the streets about “Oselya” and about the opportunity to start a new life.
Once during the literary readings Mariana came up to me, told me about the magazine and asked if I would like to write for it. I liked the idea and the topic very much. I have always been interested of stories about people who came to be on the sidelines of life.
The first text I wrote for the magazine was the story of one homeless person, who was in very poor condition. Unfortunately I have no idea how he ended up, I suspect it was most likely a tragic finale.
I have always had tolerant attitude toward the homeless. Once I remember walking down the street with my grandfather, a police colonel, and I saw him greet the homeless. I asked: “Grandpa, why do you greet him?” He replied it was his classmate. That’s how I realized that all of us can become homeless. And the current situation in Ukraine is proving it.
During the time I have been a member of “Oselya”, I have seen a lot of happy stories about people who once were in completely desperate straits, and now they have families and housing. Everything depended only on their desire to make everything different. I can tell you about a young boy’s positive example, who escaped a dysfunctional family and was homeless for some time. But he used to live in “Oselya” and managed to change his life. Now he studies at a good university and has a good job. Generally speaking, if someone met him in the city, one would never think he was homeless.
I believe this magazine to be a particular agitational work, spreading the idea that any person has a chance to change his or her life and resume a normal existence. In addition, we were able to create a very good cultural journal that has its own success and carries out a good society consensus mission. If it were some advertising magazine or political publication, I would hardly work on it.”
A photo project “BOMJ (Russian abbreviation, meaning ‘of no fixed abode’ taken into Ukrainian language with no change and being interpreted by Hryhory Semenchuk here as follows): with no signs of artistic life” became the hallmark of the magazine. The idea of the project is that Ukrainian writers Taras Prokhasko, Yuri and Sophia Andruhovych, Tanya Malyarchuk, Yuri Izdryk, Adriy Bondar with his daughter and several others are photographed in an appearance of the homeless. Mariana Soha is convinced in the following: “If we had asked officials or pop stars to be photographed in the appearance of the homeless, they would not have agreed. So the magazine found support among people who would perceive and share society problems in the most sensitive way. They were not afraid to cross social barriers.
Ivano-Frankivsk photographer Rostyslav Shpuk implemented the project. He also writes for the magazine. It all started with the photo for the cover image – Taras Prokhasko, a Ukrainian writer, in the appearance of the homeless. There are eight photo shoots currently.
The actors in these photo stories show that ‘social elevator’ can move both horizontally and vertically. Anyone can move in one or the other direction. All the characters are very sincere. They do not care about their appearance and are fully confident. This is a show of solidarity, because any supremacy is rejected. In fact, there is no one among the people, taking part in the project, who would treat the homeless with any kind of disgust.
It is very difficult to pretend, posing for the photo. Like sculpture, being the art of cutting off excessive stone, photography is to cut off time behind and ahead. You can tell at once who just plays the part mockingly from those who really feel the problem.
Rostislav Shpuk is convinced that homeless people can only be socialized by taking care of them, showing solidarity and assistance. He tells about his idea to start an annual cash bonus for the homeless, who prove themselves in the most interesting way in Ivano-Frankivsk. As Rostyslav sees it, some care and attention help to get out of such status.
It is worth noting that the magazine could and still can really play an important part and has helped many homeless people. One of the best examples is Volodymyr Hilenko. Since he started taking part in the project, he has completely changed, and now he is so concerned about his work, that one can hardly say he once was homeless and had no job. Volodymyr Hilenko has been selling the magazine in Ploshcha Rynok (Market Square) in Lviv for seven years and many Lviv citizens link him firmly to the magazine.
Mr. Hilenko who has been selling the magazine in Ploshcha Rynok since 2009 is the most successful magazine seller. He found his niche in it. He likes to work with people; he is very friendly and sociable. This kind of job is ideal for him. For other vendors selling the magazine was a temporary way to survive the crisis. And it became a way of life and hobby for Mr. Volodymyr Hilenko.
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