15 Dec

In Loving Memory of Elena Tsukerman

The Red Umbrella Fund shares its heartfelt condolences for the loss of Elena Tsukerman, or Lena as we have come to know her, with her family, friends, colleagues and peer activists. We are shocked to learn of her sudden passing, and deeply saddened by the loss of this strong and highly committed activist who did not easily take no for an answer.

Elena with red umbrella

Lena joined the International Steering Committee (ISC), the key decision making body of the global Red Umbrella Fund, in 2012. Throughout the past three and a half years, she has shown incredible dedication to supporting sex worker organising and representing the interests of sex workers. She made use of every opportunity she could to increase the visibility of sex workers’ needs in her country and, more widely, her region, but she was also keen to learn and connect with activists and allies across the world.

We feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with her so closely, bridging many country, culture and language divides.

Elena, we will always remember you in our hearts and in our continued activism.

Messages from Red Umbrella Fund ISC members and staff:

“Saddened by the death of my good friend and International Steering Committee member at the Red Umbrella Fund. We will miss all questions you used to ask. it is a big loss to the Legallife organisation and also to sex workers across the whole world. Your legacy will remain in our heart.”
– John Mathenge, ISC member Red Umbrella Fund, HOYMAS

“Elena was a positive person and a devoted ISC member. She was a real fighter for sex workers’ rights. One of the things she would always say to me is: ‘I will learn to speak English. There is so much I want to say but my words are failing me right now.”
– Miriam Edwards, ISC member Red Umbrella Fund, Guyana Sex Work Coalition & Caribbean Sex Worker Coalition

“Elena was a very energetic woman. She never let anything that she was unsure of how it would impact for sex workers pass easily. The ISC was happy to have Elena representing Eastern Europe. She was always much engaged and took real responsibility for raising awareness and attention for her region. Elena you worked so hard…it is time to have a good rest .. sleep long … sleep well …we badly miss you…!”
– Noi Apisuk, ISC member Red Umbrella Fund, EMPOWER Foundation

“Life is so short, and even more so when a person in her prime says good-bye to us.  It’s almost unbelievable, I struggle to believe it, but it was our companion Elena. Your departure from this world leaves deep footprints because you were a strong fighter. From across the world we will pick up the seeds that you left. We love you and will always remember you, Elena Tsukerman.”
– Ana Luz Mamani, ISC member Red Umbrella Fund, Mujeres del Sur

“It is a shock and deeply saddening to have lost a comrade. Her efforts to keep a focus on what happens to women and sex workers in particular during times of war and conflict is something I have been thinking of recently. Her principled advocacy that was both passionate and collegial was an important contribution at the ISC to keep us focused on the important mission and real lives our decisions would link with. I am stunned.”
– Javid Syed, ISC member Red Umbrella Fund, American Jewish World Service (AJWS)

“Lena brought her full self to her activism. She was never afraid to speak truth to power or to challenge the status quo, and she possessed a strong sense of justice. But she was also incredibly warm, kind, and funny, and she used her sense of humor and empathy to build bridges across language and cultural divides. She was deeply dedicated to advancing the human rights of sex workers in Ukraine and in her region, and used her platform to elevate their voices whenever possible. She frequently served as the International Steering Committee’s peacemaker, pragmatist, and moral compass. Lena, you will be deeply missed.”
– Heather Benjamin, ISC member Red Umbrella Fund, Open Society Foundations

“Lena was a dedicated ISC member who took responsibility and did not shy away from difficult discussions. Just this year, she took leadership in developing the Red Umbrella Fund’s first Code of Ethics as a way to further strengthen our infrastructure and ensure that we remain transparent and accountable. Her communication could be direct and sometimes tough, but she also shared much warmth, laughter and love during our meetings and one-on-one conversations. Lena will be missed as sex worker rights activist and leader in the ISC and in the wider sex workers’ rights movement.”
– Nadia van der Linde, Coordinator, Red Umbrella Fund

“Seeing how quickly, and unceremoniously, life comes to an end, I want to thank Olena for everything she has taught me about the sex worker movement and the world. I was fortunate enough to work with her multiple times, also in Ukraine. I learned with her that language is not a barrier when there is a common goal. I could feel her and was quite often surprised with how much we could communicate live and through Google translation. Although we had our share of differences, I always knew Olena was fighting for something right. She was an honest and admirable activist. Her strong voice will be missed and her struggle will always touch our hearts.”
– Dennis van Wanrooij, Programme Associate, Red Umbrella Fund

ISC meeting 2015

Elena (far left) at the ISC meeting in Amsterdam, April 2015


Elena with Red Umbrella Fund