Spark of the Year 2023: Kirill Badikin

During this year’s Integration Awards ceremony, the Spark of the Year 2023 award was given to Kirill Badikin, leader of the Facebook group ‘Ukraina sõbrad Eestis’ (‘Friends of Ukraine in Estonia’), which has become the largest community of Ukrainian refugees in Estonia. Kirill created the group in the fateful days in March 2022, when the first people of Ukraine seeking refuge from the war started to arrive in Estonia. Above all, the group became an environment where local volunteers could hand out vital supplies necessary for daily life. As time went by, Kirill started to consistently share information from state authorities and other organisations in support of the acclimatisation of the new compatriots in Estonia.

Read more about Kirill and his activities in the interview below.

Aasta säde 2023: Kirill Badikin



Why have you decided to contribute in this field and why do you find work like this important?

Since the start of the full-scale war in Ukraine, I have considered it my mission to dedicate nearly all of my free time to supporting Ukrainian refugees who have arrived in Estonia. Having volunteered in different organisations and listened to the emotional stories of people, it became quite clear to me that people who have been forced out of their homes and who have had to leave behind their belongings as well as their loved ones should be actively supported in any way possible. As I am a Russian language speaker and had a good overview of the accommodation opportunities in Estonia when welcoming people in the Tallinn Refugee Centre at the beginning of the war, I decided to raise awareness to reach more people and therefore help refugees to adapt in their new environment as quickly as possible. I consider it important to ensure that our country is a safe living space that ensures the welfare of people so that they can manage life independently – I rely on the same principles in my work as well as in my volunteering actions. This is why I contribute to the integration of refugees – so that they would be able to start rebuilding their personal lives from scratch in a foreign country.

How have you personally contributed to this area and where have you felt that you have truly succeeded?

I have contributed to integration in different ways. At first, I was organising adaptation-themed group counselling sessions across Estonia through the Estonian Refugee Council, meeting refugees and supporting their integration into our society. At the same time, I was the administrator of the Facebook group ‘Ukraina sõbrad Eestis’ (‘Friends of Ukraine in Estonia’), where I started organising live information sessions supporting adaptation with guest speakers from state authorities and aid organisations. During the information sessions, refugees can ask questions, which helps state authorities understand the concerns better and, where necessary, adapt local assistance accordingly. Additionally, refugees contact me directly with their private concerns every other day and I try to advise them or refer them to a competent authority.

Ukrainians are very open in their communication, so it is possible to receive quick and immediate feedback. Many refugees have become good acquaintances of mine and it is a pleasure to see them doing well. They take active part in local events, learn Estonian, have their say in significant matters, and thus also contribute to our society.

What do you see as the major challenges in the field of integration?

Naturally, mass immigration is a serious challenge for our country. Successful integration is inhibited by the fact that many refugees consider Estonia their temporary place of residence and hope to return to their homeland soon. As it has become clear by now that we are dealing with a war of attrition that may last for years, it is important to acknowledge the gravity of the situation quickly, because this enables people to integrate into their new environment faster. It is therefore important to find the right approach to make people understand the benefits of learning the local language and taking active part in local life. It has to be mentioned that alongside all this, it is important to support the mental health and welfare of refugees, as it is the foundation of everything.

What is the significance of this year’s award for you? What kind of strength will it give you for the future?

Receiving an integration award was unexpected and it was nice to know that my contribution has been noticed. This confirms that my sincere wish to support those in need by dedicating nearly all of my free time at the expense of my family and other activities has been necessary and useful. It inspires me to carry on and I hope it inspires many people to notice those in need and to initiate important community-based projects that support the independent coping and welfare of people.

Who are the people who have helped and inspired you in your work this year and in general?

I have been personally inspired first and foremost by the Ukrainian people, but also helped and supported by my great colleagues of the Social Insurance Board and of course by the administrators of the Facebook group ‘Ukraina sõbrad Eestis’. I am sincerely grateful that the state authorities and aid organisations dared to trust me enough to jointly share important refugee information on a social media platform of such capacity.

How do you evaluate your work today and how do you intend to proceed in the future?

I have received a lot of positive feedback on how the information sessions and the Facebook group that has become an important information channel have helped people gain clarity, better contacts, and acquaintances among locals, giving them strength to manage their daily lives. By now, I have completed 40 information sessions with a total of 150,000 views and the interest in the sessions and the knowledge I share is still high. I plan to continue with my actions for as long as the refugees need me to – it has to be taken into account that the war is still ongoing and refugees continue to arrive in Estonia. I plan to use the information sessions to further empower people to integrate into our society.

Things do not always go according to plan. What kind of recommendations would you give to other people for such moments? How to stay inspired in the face of difficulties?

My friends and family have supported me through difficult moments. I have kept my focus on the purpose of my activity and considered how difficult it has been for the people who have been forced out of their country, having had to leave behind their belongings as well as their loved ones. It is definitely important to acknowledge one’s limits and take care of one’s mental health. When it comes sustainable action, self-care must become a daily routine comparable to something like cleaning your teeth. I guess it is a matter of attitude – if you do things consciously, the passion keeps burning and setbacks become opportunities for development.

Next year will be dedicated to cultural diversity. What does cultural diversity mean to you personally and where is it expressed in Estonia?

For me, cultural diversity is made up by the uniqueness of different nations in their language, cuisine, architecture, as well as traditions. I think that our small Estonia is very diverse in terms of culture and that we have a lot to share, from folk dancing and singing to the heritage of Võromaa and Setomaa. We have bogs, lakes, forests, four seasons, and clean air – this is something of an increasing value in the increasingly urban world. We are very open as a nation that communicates and relates to the rest of the world, and I believe that diversity will enrich us even further.