Global Newsroom

A lesson for the world from Ukraine’s history

Thursday, 18. February 2010

A lesson for the world from Ukraine’s history

Olka Hudz

As a young student activist six years ago, Olka Hudz was among the hundreds of thousands thronging Kyiv as part of the Orange Revolution. It was at that time she joined Foundations of Freedom, the IofC programme operating in several Central European countries. Currently she works as its ‘followup coordinator’ based in Kyiv.

We, the present generation in Ukraine, along with much that is good and noble in our history, have inherited bitterness as our legacy.

Only that censorship has been removed, most of us are realizing the real facts about our past. Almost every family has to deal with some heavy burden of being abused in one way or another. Some were secretly arrested, tortured and killed; some were labeled ‘enemies of the nation’. Many families from other USSR republics were forced to move to Ukraine and vice versa, from Ukraine to Siberia, Ural, Kazakhstan. Others could not publicly speak or write in their native language. Masses of people conformed under pressure, became indifferent and lost their identity and self-respect. Almost everyone has been deceived.

We live in fear and hatred of those who we are told have wronged our ancestors in the past, and within our hearts harbour painful memories of families fighting on opposing sides of bitter conflicts. Take my own family as an example. Like some other Ukrainian families during World War II, one of my mother’s uncles disappeared fighting in the Red Army, while another was killed fighting with the fascists supporting for Nazi Germany, and the father’s uncle died for the pro-Ukrainian opposition army.

Our divided history is painfully evident on national holidays, when some of us have every reason to celebrate and others to mourn.

Similar divisions among us continue to mar our fledgling democracy, with opponents in elections constantly accusing each other of fraud and unscrupulous behaviour.

A budding friendship inspires a new vision

I am however, hopeful that all this can change and that out of the pain of the past, new relations and understanding can be established between individuals and communities.

This hope was born of my experience with Lena Kashkarova, a fellow-Ukrainian of Russian descent with whom I participated in the IofC Action for Life programme in India in 2005-2006. We were the only two Ukrainians in the 50-member international team. But as is so typical of us Ukrainians, we were from different backgrounds, both ethnically and politically. I am from the Ukrainian nationalistic side and Lena Kashkarova is from Crimea in southern Ukraine, and of Russian ethnicity.

We found that we got along well while working on our common causes, such as working with poor children in India or addressing the issue of business ethics there. But conversation came to an abrupt halt if we attempted to discuss our Ukrainian past.

But one day this changed when over lunch, Lena opened up and confessed to me that she was sorry for what the Russian side did to the Ukrainians. She said that living in India in a multicultural community and participating in this programme, with its opportunities for action as well as silent reflection, had given her the space to realize this and to share this with me.

It was a relief for me to hear these words of apology. I, too, admitted that my own attitude to Russians was not the purest, and I apologized for my bitterness and hostility towards them.

I must admit that this was only a beginning. Our new relationship is still a work in progress. But now you can see both of us in the same coordinating team of Foundations for Freedom in Eastern Europe, working all day together and sharing the same apartment in Kiev.

A summer programme we hope to launch

This year , we have come up with an idea to launch a summer programme –‘Ukrainian Action 2010: Healing the past’ – a one and a half month project with the goal of bringing healing and reconciliation to the various factions in Ukraine, serving as personal examples and instruments of change.

Our vision is to bring together 15 representatives of different political, ethnic, religious and language communities in Ukraine to participate in an intensive programme of living and travelling together, sharing personal life stories, receiving training in conflict resolution and healing the wounds of history to effect personal change and inspire initiatives for changing others. We also hope to produce a documentary out of our experiences and present our stories of positive change at one of the Initiatives of Change Caux conferences.

We have no funding for this programme yet, except a few personal donations, but I have faith that with blessings from above, this will come.

Our history will always be open to interpretation. And there is no point theorizing about reconciliation. Open and honest sharing of real people’s stories and experience is the one thing that cannot be rejected, which can definitely open people’s eyes and touch their hearts. The power of apology is possible to understand only after you yourself have said ‘sorry’.

Someone once said: ‘Those who have suffered the most have the most to give.’ So let us see not only the dark moments in our personal and national lives (though we need to be aware of them), but also look for how we can contribute something from our own experiences and history for the good of the entire world.

NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.

Olka Hudz