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Civil society – Ukraine’s great hope

Friday, 23. September 2016

Civil society – Ukraine’s great hope

Ukraine is struggling to create the conditions in which democracy can thrive. The struggle is far from won. Yet as The Economist magazine noted recently, ‘the energy of the 2014 Revolution of Dignity has not dissipated. Instead it has carried over into civil society.’

Victoria VdovychenkoThis year’s Caux conference on Just Governance for Human Security heard from Ukrainians active in this struggle. Victoria Vdovychenko (pictured left) has started a School for Good Governance in Kyiv. Viktoriia Kuts-Mryshuk and Marina Dadinova are leaders of Switch On, a national initiative which is empowering citizens to tackle civic problems. Mykola Khavroniuk, a Director of the Centre for Political and Legal Reform, is training government officials in methods of overcoming corruption.

Some told of their work to bridge the divide between Western Ukraine, where people speak Ukrainian, and Eastern Ukraine where many speak Russian. Russia is waging war against Ukraine, and its media exacerbates this divide.

Oleh OvcharenkoIn response, a network of Ukrainians have trained in dialogue facilitation and mediation and are now in Eastern Ukraine. In the last six months, Oleh Ovcharenko (pictured right) said, a team of 16 have held 53 dialogues, each lasting up to four days. The UN Development Programme has supported this work financially.

In many cases the dialogues have brought together Ukrainian soldiers – who come mainly from Western Ukraine – with the local people.  Sometimes a change in attitude has been immediately apparent. In one town, when the local people criticised the conduct of the soldiers, their commander gave them his mobile phone number so that they could reach him as soon as there is a problem. Shortly afterwards, the town council invited the soldiers to join them at a celebration in the town.

This network originated from the Foundations for Freedom programme which began when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and Initiatives of Change was able to work in Eastern Europe. Since then over 3,000 East Europeans have taken part in courses aimed at enabling everyone to discover their part in building a democratic society. Many of them have worked together ever since.

Some have developed a project, ‘History begins in the family’, together with the Bergen-Belsen Memorial Foundation in Germany and the International Youth Meeting Centre in Auschwitz. This is bringing together young people from Germany, Poland and Ukraine ‘to connect the unhealed past to the present and future.’

Others are collecting the stories of miners in East and West Ukraine, and sharing them through documentary films and meetings. ‘Through this they discover that they have much in common,’ said Oleh. ‘That has brought a sense of solidarity to mining families across the country.’ They now plan an online gallery of miners’ stories.

Also speaking in the workshop was Nataliia Holosova, a teacher working with children who have fled from the conflict regions. She works to integrate the children, who find themselves in new schools, often in a new language, sometimes having lost family members.

In doing this work, Nataliia said, ‘We are learning the value of “live histories”. History is not always what is in the textbook; it is what people have experienced. Telling their life stories builds understanding, just as it does with the miners.’ Recently Foundations for Freedom organised a workshop in Lviv, she said, ‘which gave us the chance to show teachers how they could encourage this integration.’

The workshop concluded with a question on how those from outside the region could help. ‘The core of this work is the approach of Initiatives of Change,’ Oleh said. ‘We value help in heightening our understanding of this approach, and our skills in applying it.’