14 May 2024

Foundation Damen Support

In focus: ✔ Foundation Damen Support ✔ Incredible generosity ✔ Breaking barriers

Supporting Damen’s Ukrainian employees and their families

The 24th of February 2022 is a date that has gone down in history. That morning, as missiles and airstrikes shattered the dawn, Russian tanks rolled across the Ukrainian border, sparking the most significant conflict in Europe since the end of the Second World War 77 years previously.

The humanitarian consequences were both immediate and considerable in scale. Amongst them was the displacement of as much as a third of the Ukrainian population, forced to flee their homes for safety abroad or in a quieter part of the land.

Setting out for a future of uncertainty

The evacuees included employees of Marine Design Engineering Mykolayiv (MDEM), a part of the Damen Shipyards Group since 2006, along with their families. Colleagues tell stories of having to flee in the dead of night, with just minutes to pack a suitcase, leaving homes and loved ones behind and setting out for a future of uncertainty.

The employees sought sanctuary in Romania and Poland. Amongst them was Mykolay Latushkin – known to all as Nick – and his family, who arrived in Romania, Galati during the first days of the war.

“We arrived at 4 o’clock and by 8 o’clock I was in the office. There I saw Michel (de Reus, Manager QC Damen Shipyards Galati (DSGa)) and a team of senior managers and employees working away with red eyes. We basically joined in and started helping.”

Staying to help

"The way that the MDEM colleagues, under the leadership of Olena Zhukova, Executive Director of MDEM, organised themselves and took care of one another during the evacuation was admirable,” states Nick.

However, it soon became clear, as the days passed and people continued to arrive, many of them traumatised by their experiences, that something more long-term needed to be done. Dana Cristea, the Finance Director of DSGa, suggested that there would need to be further support for establishing life and integration in Romania for the evacuees. Eduard Radu, who was an HR director of DSGa at that time, and his team were constantly in contact with community members, learning and supporting the needs on a daily basis.

“I discussed it with my wife. We could have gone somewhere else, but if our colleagues are here in Romania working hard, I wouldn’t feel right to leave them behind,” says Nick. We needed to stay here and help. We had to do something for our people.”

By this stage, Annelies Damen had arrived in Galati to try to build a picture of what she – and Damen – could do to provide support.

“I’ve been to Mykolayiv many times. Some of these colleagues are people I’ve known for many years. As soon as I saw how serious the war was, I thought we have to do something.”

Annelies spent some time, with the aid of a translator, speaking to the newly arrived families, establishing what they needed in order to rebuild their lives as well as possible in the circumstances. With this, she quickly hit upon the idea of starting a foundation through which Damen could reach out to its community.

“I saw the many initiatives that were taking place in the Netherlands and the success they were having. This made me think if we set up a foundation, we could reach out to the many people who have a warm heart for our company and who work on the vessels engineered by our Ukrainian colleagues and ask them to provide help.”

Retreat for MDEM colleagues in Galati

Spreading the word

Foundation Damen Support was born. Since then, Annelies has not missed an opportunity to spread the word, whether via social media or by directly approaching suppliers and other stakeholders.

“I make sure that, whatever we do in the Netherlands, whether it’s the Maritime Festival in Gorinchem, or an event we sponsor, I use it as a platform to tell the story of our employees and their families.”

Outstanding generosity

Damen colleagues all over the world have also proven very willing to support the Foundation’s work. A call for donations last Christmas saw employees donating money and requesting donations to be made in lieu of their traditional Christmas gift from the company. This initiative alone raised 60,000 euros for the Foundation. Thanks to the incredible generosity of the people in its network, Foundation Damen Support has raised in the region of 280,000 euros at the time of writing. The money has been put to good use in a number of initiatives.

Creating a sense of community

Amongst the first things that the foundation did was to set up a community centre in Galati for the families of employees working at the shipyard.

“We wanted to give people a space where they could self-organise and feel normal again,” Nick says. “It’s typical in Ukrainian culture to say, ‘I’m OK’, but in many cases people were not OK. Everyone had people and homes back in Ukraine. People were worried. When they first came, I saw children who were nervous, who couldn’t smile. Some of them were stuttering. Some were sad, some were aggressive. Now I see kids smiling again, it’s an amazing result.”

The centre additionally provides part-time work for around 30 people, who undertake different tasks on behalf of the community. They, for example, deliver masterclasses for children in arts and crafts, practice yoga and physical exercise to help people feel good again.

“They are typically family members of MDEM employees,” Nick explains. “Instead of sitting at home, alone with sad news, they get a sense of home here and are helping the community. There is a further benefit, too. Having been sparked by the Damen initiative, other partners have since joined in and are helping to provide support to a wider circle of Ukrainians.”

Summer school 2023

Breaking down barriers

Having helped people find new homes and a sense of community, the Foundation has now moved on to a project phase. With this, it is helping the families to integrate with the wider community in their locality. One example of this is the sports programme that has been set up, with the support of HIAS. With currently more than 300 children, both Ukrainians and Romanians, participating in a range of sporting activities, the project provides an excellent means for breaking down barriers and allowing the Ukrainians to form new bonds of friendship.

The Foundation also set up a Summer School, giving the children the opportunity to spend a week in the Netherlands. Here, they took part in a packed programme that combined education with enjoyment. The children toured Damen’s shipyards in Gorinchem and Vlissingen, and even had the opportunity to go aboard the largest yard ever built by Damen Yachting. They also visited museums, beaches and ate buffets at local restaurants.

“Nick, Michel and I went to visit the children,” Annelies relates. “We could see they were feeling down. They were missing their friends – most of them were only doing schooling online, so they were missing contact with people their own age. I thought we had to do something about that, so we brought them to Holland to give them some connection. When they left, they were all telling me what a great time they had had, that it was the best trip of their lives. To be able to make that kind of a difference to people is really a wonderful thing.”

The work goes on…

The work of the Foundation, however, is not done. The war goes on and the future continues to be uncertain for many. As winter approaches, with potential energy shortages in Ukraine, there is every possibility that more people will need support. To make this happen, we need you. If you would like to help Damen Foundation Support, and the families far from home, please donate today.

We’ve been able to put the smiles back on many faces. With your support, we can keep them there.

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