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Healed Ukraine, or how to find understanding between East and West?

Healed Ukraine

Healed Ukraine, or how to find understanding between East and West?

Sunday, 3. March 2013

Healed Ukraine, or how to find understanding between East and West?

UIA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) soldiers: heroes or enemies? 9 May – Victory Day or Mourning Day? Was the Great Patriotic War indeed ‘patriotic’ for all Ukrainian territories? These answers are hard to answer even for an experienced historian because the cornerstone of this history is composed of prejudice and insults, which we have inherited through generations. If now the screenplay of a fratricidal war seems impossible in Ukraine, two generations ago every family suffered losses from such a war. So does a state with such controversial history have any chance to become one whole, or…?

'Unhealed history has a tendency to repeat itself' – was the motto of Healing the Past seminar-dialogue, which brought together young socially active Ukrainians from all around the country in Zakarpattia to hear and understand each other.

'I am from Crimea, Oleksa is from Lviv, and in our friendly group there were people from different regions of Ukraine' – said Angela, an organizer of the event – 'But when we talked about certain historical issues we would come to the point of absurdity and simply started arguing, we weren’t able to find a common language. Then an idea was born that we should do a project, because if we can’t reach an understanding on an interpersonal level, it’s not likely there will be understanding in the whole Ukraine'.[said Angela]

Ukrainian Action: Healing the Past Project has been implemented for a third year in a row by an International NGO. Foundations for Freedom. The dialogue that took place in Zakarpattia from 21 February to 24 February was the fourth in Ukraine. Among the participants there were historian scholars, students, socially active people, journalists and even playwrights. The main idea of the seminar-dialogue was in creating a friendly atmosphere to reach understanding on an interpersonal level of human relations. Snowy slopes of the Carpathians, the mood of the participants and the format of the seminar turned out to be helpful.

History within the framework of the programme looked alive, because every day of the dialogue was composed of personal family stories, which were coloured with old photographs and personal memories. One of the key parts of the dialogue was creation of a historical timeline: a white roll of paper embodied historical past, present and future of the Ukrainian land, starting with 1920’s. The part below the timeline comprised of political events (wars, repressions, gaining independence) and the part above the timeline showed events from social life and memories (appearance of PEPSI, jeans, etc.). Personal photographs gave life to almost every historical period.

'After this exercise I realized that we are all the same people. Look how scary was the political heritage of both western and eastern Ukraine in the lower spectrum' – one of the participants shared her thoughts, while pointing at the timeline, - 'Famine, Chornobil, GULAG (Labour camps)… and how happy all of us look in the upper part of the timeline…'. Project participants defined the most painful in their opinion issues that needed to be healed the most. Among those issues there were 'OUN [Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists] – UIA', '9 May' 'GULAGs [Soviet Labor Camps]'. The presence of constructive dialogue showed understanding between the participants and respect towards everyone’s opinion, even opinions on these special topics.

'I have finally realised why people in the east celebrate 9 May so actively, I couldn’t comprehend how could one celebrate this day. The way I saw it was the Day of Mourning for the dead, I definitely didn’t see it as a holiday' – explained Taras (from Rivne). The point of view from a person from the south was no less interesting: 'I have never thought about what 9 May means. It was the Victory Day, fireworks and parades. Only after the discussion I looked at it from a different angle. Maybe we shall call it the Day of Reconciliation?' – said Gayane (from Sevastopol).

The positive experience of the participants have showed: If a group of 20 people aged from 20 to 60 was able to reach agreement and understand each other; if we put certain effort in then healing of the past can happen all around Ukraine. The main conclusion that all participants of the seminar-dialogue arrived at was borrowed form an Aesop parable: 'Everything has to be forgiven but nothing should be forgotten'.

Valeriya Shyrocova,,
participant of Healing the Past seminar-dialogue in Zakarpattia, 2013

Translation: Mykhailo Vakula Photo: Олекса Стасевич