An “ildsjael” or an ordinary Dane with an extraordinary heart

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Written by: Alyona Shevchuk

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Today we celebrate our dear friend, Jakob Knudsen. Many Danes and Ukrainians know him as an ildsjael (Danish, an ardent soul). Which stands for an enthusiastic often unpaid worker, who burns for a certain case.

Jakob has been a part of a numerous volunteer projects in Eastern Europe during his career. But since 2015 Ukrainians in need have taken the most of his recreational time. To be precise, currently Jakob spends up to 30 hours weekly after his paid job on his third “child”, “Help Ukraine” – a Danish humanitarian organization from 2016 that gathers equipment, things and money to help refugees, orphanage and to fallen soldiers’ families in Ukraine. Partially aid also reaches hospitals, medical clinics and schools, where, for example, children from an early age get classes in programming (Sumy, Ukraine).

It is still a big mystery for us how this Dane balances his free time between being a president of a volunteer organization that produces a great value, dear family, and other leisure activities. By now Jakob has managed to create a solid web of Danish and Ukrainian partners. In addition to collecting aid directly from bigger donors, there has been established 11 fixed delivery points in Denmark for gathering humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Which he frequently visits with his private car and a trailer. Most of the time Jakob takes these trips alone, bringing the things and equipment to the storage, sort it out. When it gets filled, he arranges a truck, volunteer help to load it and sends it to Ukraine. I actually met him on a cold winter evening at the storage during a similar event back in 2015. He smiled, introduced himself and gave some clear instructions on what and how to do to be the most effective.

In a mixed crowd of Danes and Ukrainians the youngest volunteers were his own kids, Laura and Christoffer of about 13 and 11 years. Despite their young age, kids were moving around heavy sacks with clothes, boots and toys as much as present adults. The oldest – his lovely father Erik (75), who was also keeping himself busy with akin tasks. I still remember what huge impression it made on me. It was hard to believe that people without any blood connection to a country could have had so much empathy, dedication and will to help.

When one asks Jakob about why Danes help Ukraine? – He returns with a smile, asking “Why not”? And adds: “It lays right on top of the surface: its a country in a war, that has being attacked. It could have been us. This is what we feel with. It has always been our weak point – people in need. And there are many orphanage kids that could get happy because of it. So why not help? The question is not why we do it, but more why others don’t?”

And still four years after nothing has changed, but the amount of done by Jakob projects. The wheel keeps on turning. He is also still one of few who’d unconditionally help with any charity projects of partner organizations, showing up on time, with a load of enthusiasm and brilliant ideas. Jakob is a unique example of how to take an active social position and not run away from taking an initiative and responsibility.

Thank you, Jakob, for your big heart!

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