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Ukraine today: the root of the problem is in the unhealed past

Wednesday, 16. July 2014


Ukraine today: the root of the problem is in the unhealed past

Liubou Pranevich

Lena Kashkariova believes the unrest in the east of Ukraine has been provoked by the lack of unity and is convinced that far more dialogue is needed. Lena is the facilitator of the Foundations for Freedom programme ‘Ukrainian action: healing the past’. Seminar-dialogues on reconciliation and healing historical traumas are organised in different regions of the country by the programme. In the autumn of 2013, when the socio-political situation in Ukraine became worse, Lena initiated dialogues on searching for mutual understanding among Ukrainians under the general name ‘Current situation in Ukraine: ways to find mutual understanding’.

Lena believes that ‘thousands more dialogues’ are needed and adds that the roots of the conflict ‘lie in the various interpretations of the past. The “only” difference is that the early latent conflict moved into the stage of armed confrontation.’

She adds that the root of the conflict is in the rapidly deepening division into 'ours' and 'foreign'. ‘There comes a time when the contradictions related to the certain topics of the past reach the extent when we start distinguish people according to the criteria like 'who is your hero' or 'what language you speak'. These criteria become for us very important.

‘When “Maydan” started (the name of the main square in Kiev), we started conducting dialogues on searching for mutual understanding. The protest movement stirred the society to some extent, dividing it into those who are “for” it and those, who are “against” it. The first dialogue took place on 20 December in Kiev. Then it was held in Kharkiv, Lviv, Simferopol (Crimea) and Donetsk.’

Dialogue in Kiev, Ukraine, December 2013

Lena learnt how to deal with painful historical situations whilst attending different programmes and workshops all over the world and also in the USA. Last autumn she was an intern with a programme Hope in the Cities of Initiatives of Change-USA. The aim of the programme was to learn about the 20 years of experience in conducting dialogues in Richmond, Virginia as well as to share knowledge and information on the work of reconciliation in Ukraine. The method of a dialogue, as it turns out, can be applied universally.

‘The method of dialogue fits everywhere, both in Ukrainian and American societies. Because it allows you to hear and understand another point of view. But not all of their methods are suitable to us. For example, the method  “walk through history”, which is used by Hope in the Cities. Participants literally physically walk the path that were walked by the enslaved people who arrived from Africa and followed the slave market. Then the participants of the “walk” share their feelings, thoughts and associations caused by this experience. This can be carried out in a spirit of openness and mutual understanding, because there is a public consensus  related  to this fact in the past, they have a kind of joint "starting point." Of course, the consequences of the slavery society still affect the present – this is poverty and the division of society, and much more. But the important thing here that allows to them to use such a method is a united attitude, specifically to the slave trade history.

'There is no such "starting point" for using this method in Ukraine. We are still thinking, whether the actions of certain groups during World War II / Great Patriotic War, were justified or not justified. These are the topics for the dialogue', says Lena.

The recent dialogue on healing the past was on the topic of historic monuments: "Our heritage and its present meaning: monuments, names of the streets". The participants also visited the monuments of historic leaders, memorials during the seminar-dialogue on World War II / Great Patriotic War.

Photo: Diana Topan

Lena an example from the past: ‘At one of the oldest cemeteries in Ukraine, Lychakivsky tsvyntar (Lychakiv Cemetary) in Lviv, the place where Poles were buried, borders the graves of the buried Ukrainians. On the gravestones of both groups was written that they were defending their homeland. At the same time they were killing each other. This and much more was discussed in the dialogue format.'

From the beginning of December 2013 to the present day the problems of unhealed past in Ukraine became the present. Lena believes that the need for dialogue in society is crucial now.

'Ukraine needs dialogue very much, if we want to remain a united country.A state programme for healing the past should be implemented. Common attitudes, the same values ​​cannot be imposed. They can only be developed together, including the method of dialogue as an asset. Another form of work, which can help to achieve this, is to collect and spread stories of individuals about their past. The project ‘Ukrainian action: healing the past’ has already published a book with stories of people about their past. Now it is time to collect stories about the present – about the events in Ukraine in the years of 2013-2014. Sharing people's experiences helps to understand all the ambiguity of the situation and helps to find in oneself more tolerance and understanding of the "other"'.

(Photo: Diana Topan)Ukrainian action: healing the past Programme started in 2010 and was initiated by Olha Hudz-Sakuma. During a few summer months a group of young people from different parts of Ukraine collected and recorded life stories of various people in Ukraine who witnessed different historical facts in their lives. As a result of the project the book of life stories (‘Vidpushchennia’) ‘Letting Go’ was published and a series of videos of the life stories was produced.

The next steps are to conduct training for trainers of the dialogues, those who have already had experience of facilitating a group. 

More about the project see at:

‘Dialogue on searching for mutual understanding in Ukrainian society’

The Ukrainian action: healing the past Programme


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