Elena Romanenko:
Hello.
Artem Berman:: Hello, Lena.
Elena Romanenko: Hello.
Artem Berman:: Actually, I have three types of questionnaires – ‘I am currently employed,’ ‘I have never worked,’ ‘I worked before, but I do not work now.’
Elena Romanenko: The first option.
Artem Berman:: I am currently employed. Well, let me open it.
Elena Romanenko: Did you think of all these questions on your own?
Artem Berman:: Yes, of course, this is my Ph.D. All questions are mine. Can we start?
Elena Romanenko: Yes, I’ll be delighted.
Artem Berman:: Great. Do you allow me to use your interview in my thesis as well as publish it on the site iemployed.org?
Elena Romanenko: Yes, I allow.
Artem Berman:: Perfect. Do you want to use your real name or pseudonym?
Elena Romanenko: My real name.
Artem Berman:: What is your name?
Elena Romanenko: Lena Romanenko.
Artem Berman:: Your e-mail, phone number… Actually, I have them. The next question is your age.
Elena Romanenko: I am 33.
Artem Berman:: Okay. The next one is your gender. Well, it’s clear.
Elena Romanenko: Yes, I am a girl .
Artem Berman:: Okay. Do you live alone or with your parents, husband or children?
Elena Romanenko: I live with my husband, my child, and grandmother.
Artem Berman:: What kind of disability do you have, well, or, injury, or disease…?
Elena Romanenko: The first group. I have the diver's injury.
Artem Berman:: I see. So, we are talking about spinal trauma now. We are talking about the cervical level - C5-C6 - and the compression fracture of the spine and traumatic disease of the spinal cord. What happened exactly?
Elena Romanenko: I dived unsuccessfully when I was just 16 years old, I didn’t know where the bottom was. That’s why it happened.
Artem Berman:: Identical. Because I also dived at the age of 16. You have already answered what the age was. How this unfortunate event affected your life in all the dimensions – personal life, professional life and so on?
Elena Romanenko: When I had trauma at 16 years old, I have been attending the art lyceum. I was fond of oeuvre, art, and I entered this Lyceum without any necessity to pass the entrance exams – just my works were evaluated. I dived and broke my neck, but I could understand and realize how serious it was at first. Many people claim they know what the spinal trauma means and that all our physical activity depends on the spinal cord. I didn’t understand that, so I asked to dispatch me home from the hospital, because it was time for me to study. It was in August, and it was time for me to study in September. I told the doctors that I already stayed there too much time. They answered me that, probably, I would not make it to go to a school that year. In general, when everything became clear, the dreams about that artistic profession disappeared because you needed to do very delicate work with your hands. If it is necessary to draw thirty identical butterflies on the lessons, so now it is far from perfect with such fingers, but I strive for excellence. That’s t. I started to think what else I could do. I was always fascinated by literature, grammar, writing texts. I decided to get myself into Russian language and literature. However, I was put on heels by the women I have been in the hospital with when they told me to keep life real. Actually, is the Russian language related profession would be competitive in the Russian-speaking country? I live in Kharkov, and you cannot hear the Ukrainian language here at all even now. They asked me, ‘what are you going to do in this life?’ You won’t teach at the school; it’s unreal to support yourself with a profession of the Russian language teacher in our country. Think about studying the English language… By that time I was already 17 years old, but I still did not know the English alphabet. However, I followed their recommendations. I had a tutor. Well, I learned English language in two years and entered Foreign Languages School. I graduated from it, and I taught people at home. It was a successful self-realization in a financial sense. I had about nine pupils per day. I fully realized that I was high-demand almost at once. My district is quite popular, there are lots of children there, and everyone knows me. I liked to talk to children, but I did not consider this job as a profession of all my life. I was much more interested in other professions.
Artem Berman:: Let’s do two steps back. How did your social rehabilitation start? What was the process of returning or coming back to society? What helped you? What were the obstacles?
Elena Romanenko: It’s not easy for the independent person to become dependent at once, and considering that I could move only using a mechanical wheelchair, constantly being with a someone, well, it was irritating.
Artem Berman:: I see.
Elena Romanenko: And then I did not have an electric wheelchair back in 2000, and I was not able to carry it with me, so it turned out that I was constantly dependent on some person. My friends told me, ‘Come on, let's go out,’ but it was difficult for me to believe that I would drive in a wheelchair in the area where every person knew me, where I walked in the high-heeled shoes and the mini-skirt before. Anyhow my friend told me to stop sitting at home; it was time to go for a walk. She made me go out. We went for a long distance at once. It was almost the city center. Of course, everyone was staring at me in the old 2001. She turned out to be a bit rude; she been yelling at them , ‘Keep away from her.’ People seemed to be smiling, but indeed, I was out of shape. I'm looking at my pictures of that time now – of course, I was far from being perfect.
Artem Berman:: Got it.
Elena Romanenko: Nevertheless, it was a support I needed until I went to a sanatorium and saw that I was not the only one.
Artem Berman:: This is what helped you. My understanding is that during that trip to the sanatorium you saw that there were lots of people like you, you communicated with them, you understood that you could move on. Great. What were the obstacles?
Elena Romanenko: Actually, I believe that out of every bad situation comes something good. There are many good things even in my situation. For example, we have a large courtyard, but there are no stairs to the elevator only in my entrance hall, there are no stairs at all. I could, and I can always go out. Well, I have never had any problems. As for general accessibility of the city – yes, it is a challenge. But I'm working now to change it. В: The next question is your education. Basically, did you have any education before the trauma, before the accident?
Elena Romanenko: I finished nine years at school, and then I entered the 10th. And I suddenly realized that I should not study in the 10th, officially, I attended it, but in fact, I was at the Lyceum of Arts.
Artem Berman:: So, the next question, ‘Have you got any education after trauma?’
Elena Romanenko: Well, yes. I graduated from university. Then I always graduated something - different courses simultaneously. I have a diploma of a personal stylist. I got it several years ago. I’ve recently graduated from the marketing course. This is my work now. Well, I really like now. I have also founded a public organization that helps me to make the city more comfortable for people in wheelchairs. I have three cool projects in which people take part enthusiastically. I'm really amazed why everything is being done too long all the time. If you give people the correct information, then they are ready to join. People are ready to get involved and to be the active participants.
Artem Berman:: Well, the university - what was the faculty, what was the specialization?
Elena Romanenko: That was Pedagogical University, the faculty of English Philology. The profession of the tutor can be a lucrative career.
Artem Berman:: Okay. The next question is what influenced the choice of this university? Well, it can be everything – accessibility, nearness – any factor.
Elena Romanenko: There is no factor at all. It was far away. The university was very uncomfortable. I was always carried in someone’s arms well, not on their hands, but a wheelchair. I do not know why I chose that university. Thinking about it… I'm just surprised. You know, I see that we have a good university that is located much closer. Why did I enter that one?
Artem Berman:: In any case, we have results What kind of a degree do you have? Bachelor? Master?
Elena Romanenko: I have a bachelor’s degree. Bachelor’s degree was quite enough. That was the extramural mode of study. I didn’t attend the university every day. So, that was enough. It’s because I didn’t plan to get my life into education.
Artem Berman:: Okay, I hear you on that. The next question, ‘Do you have any help related to your state, your trauma and its consequences from the organization in which you are currently working? Well, and what kind of help do you have?
Elena Romanenko: I officially work in the company, this is the representative office of the English company in our city. They develop software, and I am the remote translator there. They allow me to translate all sorts of job descriptions, different security papers. They have my employment record. There is practically not much to do there. I have a couple, maybe, five documents per month. They need me by law, and it's good for me to be with them too.
Elena Romanenko: But other than that?
Elena Romanenko: But other than that, of course, I am a freelancer. I do everything – I am also a stylist. People come to me. I create a style, looks, and take images. I am taking four different projects now. Well, in addition to this, I work for a non-profit organization I founded.
Artem Berman:: Well, nevertheless, did this organization or any others do something sometimes? I mean I did the employer ease working conditions for you? Well, I mean, from the ramps to the flexible schedule, to the remote work, anything.
Elena Romanenko: Well, they immediately suggested me to work remotely. I think this is very comfortable. Maybe, if I wanted to come, then this company initially has a ramp. This new building is a business center there; everything is comfortable there.
Artem Berman:: I see.
Elena Romanenko: There was no need to create…
Artem Berman:: I hear you on that. Well, it is quite good in the realities of Ukraine.
Elena Romanenko: Exactly.
Artem Berman:: The next question, ‘Have you ever been promoted in the organization where you work now or where you have ever worked? Do you see a career path for yourself? Do you consider yourself a worthy person for promotion? If so, why? If not, why?’
Elena Romanenko: Of course, I think that I am a worthy person. We should estimate the person on the inside. Therefore, I do not believe that people in wheelchairs can be less successful than ordinary upright people.
Artem Berman:: It is not even about a wheelchair. Maybe, a woman wants to be a mother and a wife. Maybe, a man wants to lie on the sofa and drink beer. There should be an expanded interpretation of this question.
Elena Romanenko: So, if we talk about my promotion, if we compare what I could afford two years ago and now, then my income has grown many times. Therefore, I believe that my carrier path is becoming more successful as well as I am becoming more successful.
Artem Berman:: Okay. Got it. What are the main difficulties or challenges you have in your work – from public charitable activity to freelance and including official employment? What kind of difficulties were related to your disability, to the wheelchair, to your health problems?
Elena Romanenko: Well, I believe that the 21st century gives us a free hand in all things. In addition to this, any intellectual work can be dealt with remotely. This has enabled millions of people, including people with disabilities, realize themselves almost without leaving the bed. Accordingly, if you do not work at the barre or you do not have to be necessarily in the office, then, finally, you can easily realize your potential by completing courses. You only need access to the Internet and the phone. Therefore, since I'm a freelancer, I work remotely, and I have no problems. However, as far as public organization is concerned, I must often visit it. Well, in general, it is the context of the project ‘Business with soul,’ that I have where I propose business people to adapt the entrance to their own buildings. Then we mark them on Google maps, on guides for accessibility, and they are replicated and advertised in every possible way. Of course, to get to a certain place, I need to walk half of the city; it's good that I have an electric wheelchair, because I have not implemented a taxi yet, it's still only in plans for me, and adapted public transportation doesn’t exist in Kharkov, and my husband works.
Artem Berman:: Good. The next question is what were the main reasons for you to start working and continue to work?
Elena Romanenko: When I was studying, I lived with my mother and my grandmother; my mother was with me during the leave-of-absence period. She had to leave her job, as it was the only way… The money I earned, I brought to the family. It was helpful for all of us during the period when I was in the hospital for several months, and all the money had been spent. That’s it. Well, in general, I am one of those people who does not like to live on someone’s salary but to be able to afford anything to buy, to go, to travel. Well, after some period, after founding a family, when you start moving out of Ukraine and see a different reality, how people live, then, of course, you want to work to be able to show the child this world in the order that he/she could study in the other country for instance. All the hobby groups, everything has its price. No, I'm not saying that my husband does not make money, but I like to be the part of everything. Therefore, I would never be able to live on a pension.
Artem Berman:: Okay. Got it. You have already answered the next question telling me the last phrase, but anyway I will ask it, ‘Can you imagine yourself not working, and what would be the consequences of such your decision?’
Elena Romanenko: There you have it. For example, only if my brain turns off, if I cannot even get out of bed, then I will know how to generate ideas and how to organize people who would bring money.
Artem Berman:: I see, great. If we omit the financial matter, well, I mean a certain level of income, could you not work, or would you be bored anyway?
Elena Romanenko: No, I would still do something. Well, even if you lie on the beach, it is possible to create something interesting in parallel.
Artem Berman:: Okay. The following question, ‘Do you perceive a job as an important mean of rehabilitation and integration into society?’
Elena Romanenko: Yes, exactly. I say, everyone who writes me, for example, people in wheelchairs, ‘And what? What should I do? We don’t know what to do.’ Actually, yes, probably we have a lack of information, but it’s also possible that people look for it in the wrong place. There are lots of possibilities, and people who work feel themselves the other way, they understand their importance, significance – that the wheelchair is not the end of the life and you can realize yourself the same way as you did it before. On the contrary, you have the fresh impetus, new potential, you notice that things that you didn’t notice before. Therefore, for such people, it’s obligatory to work, don’t shut out, try their best to get out of this inner world.
Artem Berman:: The place where you work now is not your first job is it? What were the reasons for changing jobs?
Elena Romanenko: This is the next place of my work, because, as I think I haven’t probably found the thing that I want to devote my life yet. Therefore, I am going to go to the Youth Business Department in autumn, and I want to finalize because I like to be in public life, but since this is a ‘non-bootlegging organization’ you need to draw resources from somewhere, then, accordingly you, probably, need to spread out. I changed places, because ... It was, probably, because I understood that I couldn’t do this anymore, the interest was faded away. This is probably like this.
Artem Berman:: Got it, ‘What does your family think about your work?’ I mean, whether they support you or not.
Elena Romanenko: Of course, all of them are very proud of me. Grandmother, mom, on my mother's line relatives, think that I take a lot on myself, I sit too much, there is too little massage in my life and general everything is too much.
Artem Berman:: I understand, well, it's like on the contrary! In the sense that in their opinion, you are hyperactive.
Elena Romanenko: Yes.
Artem Berman:: Okay. Well, they support you, right?
Elena Romanenko: Well, yes, they support me. They always say in a conversation with someone, ‘What are you talking about?! You complain. You know what Lenka can!’
Artem Berman:: Is your work connected with your education? Have the fact that you have had university higher education influenced the possibility, on a wider range of works that you can do? How do you maintain your level in the profession?
Elena Romanenko: Well, let's just say, now, I think my level is far from that one I had at the time I was studying. At the level of communication with people in English, then yes, I can communicate, explain something, but I would not be able to teach them after some period. But then again if you ask whether higher education has influenced and whether higher education is needed, then, looking around, seeing how dynamic the world is, that in the conditions of the 21st century it is five years to engage in training - well, we cannot afford that much time for studying. Now it's enough to get resources and improve them for six months and have such high specialists; now we are looking at people who write computer programs that are generally self-taught. The coolest games win world awards. These are people who did not go to college at all, but they, in general, are successful businessmen, gamers, well, in general. Of course, these are creative professions. Maybe, if you are an assembler of some rocket boards, then you need to study. However, in principle, I notice, and I will not tell my child that higher education guarantees you some better job as parents told us.
Artem Berman:: Well, yes or no. Everything pretty much depends.
Elena Romanenko: Yes.
Artem Berman:: Well we are changing the aspect a bit. Do you have any financial support from the state?
Elena Romanenko: Yes.
Artem Berman:: Well, yes, it's classic. Let’s move on — no need to tell me the exact figures. I will formulate it like this – is this pension an considerable of your total income or, it is not considerable. For example, you can only pay for a mobile phone.
Elena Romanenko: It’s not considerable.
Artem Berman:: Yeah. Well, are you satisfied with the level of income that you have for today? I mean everything – a pension, freelance and other things.
Elena Romanenko: Of course, I want more. It is more than it was, which means that we are improving ourselves, but my plan is grandiose. Therefore, I want more.
Artem Berman:: In general, we have moved on to the last question. It is philosophical and open. There will be a story like this: you need to describe yourself in your own words. To do this, I will ask you to finish some phrases. Well, for example, there will be only six of them. The first phrase is ‘I …’. Well, that is everything that runs through your head. Finish ‘I ...’
Elena Romanenko: Yes, got it. I am a good friend, mother, wife and successful woman.
Artem Berman:: Okay. The next one, ‘Before the trauma I ...’
Elena Romanenko: I could do a lot of smart things. No, I could do fewer stupid things.
Artem Berman:: Okay. ‘I can’ or ‘I am capable of ...’
Elena Romanenko: I can do almost everything, and I can make many people happy.
Artem Berman:: I see. ‘In future I ...’, well, or ‘In the future, I would like to …’, or ‘In future I see myself ...’
Elena Romanenko: In the future, I would like to be able to work remotely in any country in the world, to have a job that is non-location dependent. In general, I would like to have a possibility to work during traveling.
Artem Berman:: The last two questions. ‘I'm afraid…’
Elena Romanenko: As Zemfira sang, ‘I'm afraid of not having time to have time to do at least something.’
Artem Berman:: And the last one, ‘I want ...’
Elena Romanenko: I want to leave some meaningful trace behind me. I want to do, at least while I live in this city and this country, so I want to try to make a much more comfortable life for the residents of this city, for people like me. I want to have balance and love in the family, to see my loved ones healthy, I want things to be good.
Artem Berman:: Well, in fact, we have reached the end of the interview. Thank you.
Elena Romanenko: Thank you.