Elizabeth Harjunpää set up a Help Center for Ukrainians in Helsinki

30.6.2022 | Career stories

One of Us: Elizabeth Harjunpää

Originally hailing from Ukraine, Elizabeth Harjunpää has lived in Finland for 10 years. When Russia invaded Ukraine, Elizabeth knew she just had to take action. She set up a help center for Ukrainians in Helsinki.

Elizabeth was returning to Finland from a holiday in Spain when Russia invaded Ukraine. “I had a strong feeling that something had to be done. I wanted to be involved in building a platform that anyone could join. From the original idea, it took us two weeks to open the doors in Vallila, Helsinki, on March 16th,” Elizabeth tells.

How is the volunteer-based Help Center doing now?

In Finland, there are now more than 20 000 registered Ukrainians who have fled the war. About 4 000 of them have visited the Help Center for Ukrainians. According to our statistics, 56 percent of visitors have visited the Help Center more than once. A wide range of help is needed, starting with food and hygiene products, because so many have escaped with only their passport, basically.

Almost all Ukrainians who have come to Finland are women or children, because men cannot leave the country. Mothers ask us how they can put their children to school here and where to find jobs for themselves. Integration into Finnish society matters to them.

You still have family in Kiev – how do you keep yourself together through emotional turmoil?

It is never possible to truly understand what it’s like when you have to leave your own home, your own country – not before that actually happens. I’m doing fine here in Finland, but my concern for my own country is so great that sometimes it feels overwhelming.

How did you end up in Finland yourself - and what is your message to the Finns?

Love brought me to Finland, as I happened to meet a Finnish guy. I had previously received a Bachelor’s Degree in Ukraine and in Finland I got my Master’s Degree from the University of Tampere. My actual main job at the moment is working as a senior analyst at Nepa, where I have been for over three years. Finland has done a great job in supporting Ukrainians. However, it should not be forgotten that the war continues, so donations are still needed. Companies can help by hiring Ukrainians.

The interview was first published in Tradenomi magazine 2/2022.

By: Sami Anteroinen
Photographed by: Juho Kuva 

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