When Russia invaded Ukraine, Iana Gupalova had to mute a lot of her acquaintances on Instagram. While she was glad her non-Ukrainian friends were enjoying their lives, she wanted to focus all her energy on helping her fellow Ukrainians who were suffering.
"I had to take distance from my normal, everyday life," she told NL Times on Sunday while returning to the Netherlands from the border of Poland and Ukraine, where she was delivering supplies to Ukraine's border.
The Amsterdammer, originally from Kharkiv, soon found a way to use her passion for event planning to help people from her home country. “I realized that people will donate, but you can only do it once, twice max, and then people lose interest,” she said. “So I also have to get creative. And, thank God, I am creative.”
It was this need for an innovative way to raise money that led Gupalova to start hosting themed events in Amsterdam. Her first event, a pétanque tournament in late March at the bar Chez Miné, raised 1,400 euros that went toward a foundation for helping Ukrainians. Everything, from the pizza people ate, drinks they ordered and even songs they requested from the DJ, became a way for partygoers to donate.
“We hung QR codes all around, and there was a DJ so you can scan a code, pay a few euros, and then you order a song,” Gupalova said. “It was just a fun gathering for friends, a positive one, with Ukrainian decorations around.”
In the upcoming weeks, she is planning more fundraising events in the Dutch capital: a breathwork workshop, boat party and an evening with live music. Besides going toward a cause she believes in, Gupalova said creating such events is a dream she’s had for a while, and the war is now pushing her to put her skills into practice.
“The joke is that I had it inside of me, but I was always postponing. I wanted to be an event organizer for a while,” she said. “I love gifting experiences to people.”
She added that her circle is full of creative people, including DJs, dancers, business owners and wedding planners, who gladly support her. Money from the events goes straight to a foundation Gupalova started with several friends about a month ago. HUP, or Help Ukraine Personally, connects Ukrainian families to housing, education, medical resources and other things they might need to build a life in the Netherlands.
Gupalova’s own connection to the Netherlands stretches back 10 years. At age 20, she fell in love with the open-minded culture and started to feel more at home in the Netherlands than in her home country, she said. Eventually, through a job at Nestle, she was able to relocate to Amsterdam.
Now, though, she says Ukraine is always on her mind. Although she finds Dutch people to be supportive –– ”you can’t walk around in Amsterdam without seeing a Ukrainian flag now” –– she also knows that life continues as normal and people want to have a good time, she said.
“Because people get bored of sadness and pain, especially if they are not connected to the country directly,” Gupalova explained. “But still, they want to help. I like to draw attention and to engage them in a creative way, in a more fun way.”HUP's next fundraising events will be posted soon on the foundation's Facebook page, Gupalova said. She also said people can contact her via Instagram if they can offer assistance.