Interview with Tetiana Mykytenko from UNHCR: Anyone who wants to give of their free time, energy, or skills to a good cause can volunteer.

Publikováno 19. 6. 2024 | Andrea Skopkova

The year 2001 marked the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly. To commemorate this anniversary, 20 June was declared World Refugee Day. 

Interview with Tetiana Mykytenko from UNHCR: Anyone who wants to give of their free time, energy, or skills to a good cause can volunteer.

The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees is a key document in the field of international refugee protection. It defines who a refugee is and what specific rights they are entitled to. At the same time, it is a fundamental document that determines the work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

This office is also represented in the Czech Republic. We therefore approached this organisation and asked how volunteering in the field of refugee assistance works. Our questions were answered by Tetiana Mykytenko, Community-Based Protection Assistant from the UNHCR Prague office. The Czech version of this interview is available here.

What does volunteering mean to you?

Tetiana: Volunteering means giving back to the community and supporting those in need. It's about making a positive impact and offering my time and skills to help others who are in difficult situations.

What led you to volunteering?

Tetiana: I arrived in the Czech Republic with two small children a month after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. My own experience as a refugee motivated me to volunteer. I wanted to help others who are facing similar challenges and provide support, just as I received support when I needed it most.

Do you think it happens often that a person who has been a refugee himself or herself and has been helped decides to volunteer afterwards?

Yes, it happens often. Many refugees feel a strong desire to give back and help others once they have stabilized their own lives. They understand the struggles and can provide empathy and practical assistance.


Would you like to share some strong memory that you have gained through volunteering?

After half a year of my arrival in Prague, I helped to organize a workshop where refugees could ask questions concerning their employment rights, housing (renting accommodation), registering their own businesses, and other issues to help them better understand the social system in Czechia.  Many refugees could attend in person and online and receive answers to their questions by expert legal practitioners. I was very happy to help with the organization of this session as I saw it was useful; more people attended than expected!

Have you had any not-so-good experiences with volunteering?

There have been challenging moments, such as overcoming bureaucratic obstacles or witnessing the psychological trauma and suffering of others. However, these experiences also emphasize the importance of our work and the need for ongoing support.

What led you to UNHCR?

I was drawn to UNHCR because of its mandate to protect refugees. As the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR provides vital support and advocates for refugees’ rights all over the world.  As a refugee myself, I wanted to contribute to its work.

What has working with UNHCR given you? What do your work activities look like?

Working for UNHCR has given me a sense of purpose and fulfilment. My work involves organizing regular participatory needs assessments with different refugee groups (women, elderly people, persons with disabilities, young people) to hear about their challenges and perspectives. Based on these consultations with refugees, UNHCR makes tailored recommendations to different actors to better respond to their needs and provide a more efficient response. Each day is different, but the focus is always on helping refugees settle into their new lives.


Czechs are known for their, shall we say, scepticism towards the activities and importance of international organizations. What do you think is the case with UNHCR? Do you perceive the interest of Czech citizens in this Agency?

I have seen many Czech citizens express interest in and support for UNHCR’s activities. The Agency's work is crucial, and as people become more aware of the positive impact, their interest and involvement tends to increase.

Is there any way for those interested in volunteering to get involved in UNHCR's activities?

Yes, there are many ways to get involved in UNHCR’s activities. Interested individuals can visit the UN Volunteers website to learn about volunteering opportunities with UNHCR around the world. There are also possibilities to volunteer online. Those who want to make a contribution can participate in activities organized by UNHCR’s NGO partners, or join as a volunteer. For example, the Czech NGO OPU (Organisation for Aid to Refugees), a partner of UNHCR, has a volunteering programme allowing interested individuals to provide help in a variety of ways. There are about 300 volunteers who help refugees from Ukraine in their free time and take part in multiple activities, such as excursions and hikes outdoors, and  meetings with Czech citizens in friendly atmospheres to facilitate communication etc. The support of volunteers is crucial and helps in reaching out to a greater number of refugees in need.

Should a person who wants to volunteer and help refugees have any specific educational background or knowledge or any sort of experience?

Anyone who wants to give their free time, energy, or skills to a good cause can volunteer. There are different ways to help refugees, and for many roles there is no need for a specific education or experience.

Could you describe how a refugee feels in a new country? What is the main thing they need help with? Is there any way to describe this to a person who has no such experience?

A refugee often feels overwhelmed, insecure, and anxious in a new country. The main things refugees need help with are legal documents, finding a place to live, finding a job, and help with getting their children into schools and kindergartens. Emotional support is very important. People can imagine what it would be like if they have to leave their home suddenly and start from scratch living in an unfamiliar place, without knowing the language or customs, or without knowing when they will be able to return home.

At the beginning of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, a strong wave of solidarity arose in many countries, including Czechia, and many people decided to get involved and help, for example, by volunteering. Do you see the same interest now, or has the situation changed in any way?

The initial wave of solidarity was indeed very strong. Nonetheless, there is still significant interest and willingness to support refugees from the general public. People continue to help. Maintaining awareness and engagement remains crucial to ensuring ongoing support for refugees.

Thank you for your questions.

Thank you for your answers.