United for building civil society: Public activists from Eastern Ukraine visiting Lviv

Civic activists from Eastern Ukraine paid a three-day-long visit to Lviv on June 4-6. The visit took place within the framework of the "CitizenLab: Responsible Citizenship Laboratory" project of the UCU Institute of Leadership and Management. Thirty active people from different cities and towns of Donetsk region got acquainted with the initiatives and organizations of the city in order to adopt best practices for more effective influence through the activities aimed at the development of their region.

"The participants got acquainted with over 15 initiatives and organizations. In particular, we talked about the experience of our Institute and the Ukrainian Catholic University, about zero waste practices, public, and youth spaces, youth and city development, ways of implementing social initiatives. We have learned how a public initiative has grown into the NGO "Better Sykhiv", which is influencing the development of the entire district of the city; how young entrepreneurs are revitalizing a former plant and creating a common space; we have analyzed how, due to open internships at Lviv City Council, its staff was joined by strong young professionals who are making a difference. An important part of this visit was a lecture by Oksana Dashchakivska on human rights, based on the important idea - the rights of one person end where the rights of another person begin," said the coordinator of the CitizenLab project Solomiia Maksymovych.

In February and March, more than 100 public activists took part in a three-day-long training program "Workshop of Active People", which was held in 5 cities of Donetsk region: Druzhkivka, Kramatorsk, Pokrovsk, Kostiantynivka, and Novohrodivka. Following the training, the participants started implementing their projects, of which 30 most active ones came to Lviv.

The "Workshop of Active People" in Kramatorsk became an impetus for the implementation of an architectural festival project for architecture students Olesia Skalianska and Vitaliy Aranio. They plan to hold the event in early July and coincide it with the 150th anniversary of the city of Kramatorsk, as well as the Day of Architecture of Ukraine.

"We decided to organize an architectural festival "From Architecture to Construction" in order to show the inhabitants of the city that there is architecture in Kramatorsk and it needs to be appreciated. Because people do not understand that one cannot insulate buildings' facades and construct balconies wherever one pleases. This is my first experience in organizing such events. The program in Lviv is very diverse. I especially liked the Urban Library, as well as the city walk with the lecture "Creating Public Spaces", said Olesia.

According to Vitaliy Aranio, communication with activists from Western Ukraine was very encouraging. "I saw people who glow with enthusiasm about what they do. For example, the story of the NGO "Better Sykhiv". You look at people and see their eyes shining. They do what they do despite any difficulties. Public activists rebelled against the illegal building, won the process and turned the space into a Square of Dignity. When you hear stories like this, you start believing that everything is possible. You can read facts on the Internet, but direct communication is like nothing else," said the activist. Vitaliy was also impressed with the UCU students camp on Kozelnytska street: "We do not have new buildings like this. The project is very high-quality: large terraces, library, lawns. We touched the glass from which the walls were made because we were curious about the construction technology. Things like this change the way you think. At thermophysics lessons at the university, when we drew floor to ceiling windows, we were told, “Do not do this, this is impossible”. But here we are – a modern building with floor to ceiling panoramic windows in Ukraine. This is possible! And the glass roof in the Sheptytskyi Centre is great as well".

In addition to the educational purpose of the visit, communication was another important component.

"Living in our cities, we do not get a lot of opportunities to communicate much with each other. Joint regional meetings or seminars last for several hours, and then everybody leaves. Whereas here, while spending three days in such an atmosphere – when we live together, walk together, eat together – it is possible to better understand who does what, what purpose and what problems everyone has. This communication takes place in a changed context, not in Eastern Ukraine, where everything is so usual and we just repeat some behaviour patterns. A new cultural context was an impetus for welcoming new opportunities, which we would not pay attention to if the same event took place in the East of Ukraine. As a person from the sphere of communication, I understood activists from the East and West more profoundly, I understood the peculiarities of their thinking and the specifics of their activities," said Andriy Kozlov, a public activist from Kramatorsk, UCU graduate.

The educational program in Lviv paved the way for mutual understanding and unification of civic activists from Eastern and Western Ukraine. And this is something Ukraine lacked for a long time. The organizers and participants of the trip confirm this by their feedback. The project participants are going to visit a final conference in Kramatorsk to exchange experience and build plans for the future.

The "CitizenLab: Responsible Citizenship Laboratory" project from the UCU Institute of Leadership and Management is implemented within the framework of "Program for fostering social activity "Doluchaisia!" (Join up!), funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Pact in Ukraine. The project content is solely a responsibility of Pact and its partners and does not reflect the views of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) or the US Government.

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