International NGO Safety Organisation



Function: Safety Advisor
Location: Ukraine
Nationality: Ukrainian

Olena is an INSO Safety Advisor in Ukraine, covering the east. She shares her experience and tips for future colleagues.

What was your journey to becoming a Safety Advisor in Ukraine?

My path to this position ran via a scenic route, through a Masters from the oldest private military college in the US, Norwich University, and almost seven years of working for the OSCE in eastern Ukraine based out of Mariupol – at that time a lovely and lively city – on the coast of the shallowest sea in the world.

There were signs along the way toward this role. For example, one of my most profound memories is an internship I completed with a small local NGO in Kabul, Afghanistan. My friends were baffled as to why I would choose an internship in Kabul over another summer in Hawaii, minoring in Surfing (yes, this was a real minor!). But I knew that, as a Political Science major, I needed this practical experience to add substance to my academic training.

You knew about INSO from your time in Afghanistan. What have you learnt about INSO since applying?

Yes, I first heard about INSO back in Afghanistan. A former colleague, whose friend was already working with INSO in Ukraine at the time, told me about this Security Advisor role. Meanwhile, friends already working in the safety and security sector spoke very highly of INSO. So my interest was piqued: I knew I could wholeheartedly get behind the organization’s mission to provide much-needed assistance to humanitarians. And since day one with INSO, I have seen this mission come to life in more ways than I can count.

How do you see your role fitting into this mission?

Safety Advisors, alongside their teams, help to generate INSO’s reports and other products. In turn, these feed into INSO’s global products like the monthly NGO Incidents Overview. All these products help to provide humanitarian personnel with a better picture of the safety context in the countries INSO monitors. As a safety advisor, my job is to analyse complex humanitarian safety issues and give practical, timely advice to our NGO partners.

What does a day in the life of a Safety Advisor in Ukraine look like?

Eastern Ukraine has experienced the highest number of incidents of any region in the country. As Safety Advisor for this area, I constantly have to keep track of the rapidly changing context. My role entails producing time-sensitive reports and alerts, sometimes while explosions are sounding close to me. When I am not consulting with NGO partners over the phone or reading about security issues and NGO access challenges, I am discussing these during in-person meetings or during INSO roundtables. Building relationships is a big part of what I do, with our partners who are as numerous as they are different.

What three tips you would give to a new colleague or someone thinking about working for INSO?

Everything about this type of work becomes easier if you build a close-knit network of competent and hardworking colleagues, since we are literally all in it together. I doubt there’s a better way to ensure each other’s safety than through appropriate and timely information sharing. Here, more than in any other line of work, sharing is caring.

Also, watching out for early signs of burnout is vital to remaining effective, therefore, as is setting healthy boundaries and learning to switch off from work.

Last but not least, nurture your most important relationships and spend quality time with your loved ones – even if it means just a ten minute walk around the block holding hands.

If you are not working, what are you doing?

I used to be an avid runner, and then I had a baby. Now I run errands and save up energy for when my baby girl starts running herself (it’s any week now)! I am always buying books and making the time to read – huge fan of #ayearofreading over here.

How do you experience work as both a mum and an INSO Safety Advisor?

Being a working mother is quite an intense role, and being Safety Advisor for eastern Ukraine on top of that is a whole other level of intense. Of course, I hear my fair share of, ‘I don’t know how you do it’, but there were no shortcuts to the position I’m in. It’s not for everyone – children or no children. Thankfully, Ukrainian labor laws protect nursing women and the support I have from my incredible husband and INSO has meant that moving to Dnipro and taking on this new role has not been extremely difficult.