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UkraineLab: “We are not going to leave” | Ukraine

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by Svitlana Oslavska, published in Ukrainian at zbruc.eu on 6th of April 2015. Translation into English yb Liubov Hryb and proof reading by Maciej Głomb.

“Leave this country while you are young. Nothing will be changed here” – the taxi driver was convincing me on the way to the forum “Ukraine Lab: Best practices and interdisciplinary approaches to civil society and culture in crisis and post-crisis times”. A bit hesitantly – it is pretty hard to argue with taxi drivers – I answered that I have stuff to do in Ukraine. And meeting around fifty more people at the UkraineLab that also know why they are here, I was picturing our response to the taxi driver that would be more convincing.

People were coming to the forum in order to discuss how independent cultural initiatives can endure and what is the meaning of NGOs’ work during the war. This forum is the first step of the project Dialogue for Change, organised by German association MitOst and the Ukrainian organisation Insha Osvita.

Why is this event different from lots of other meetings and seminars, and why should we talk about it? Forum mediator Ivanna Chupak partially answered the first question. “There are many forums for activists in Ukraine, but it’s rarely possible to find a format comfortable for everyone. Such a mixture of disciplines and topics is enriching”. Indeed, the forum brought together leaders from the public sector such as Crimea SOS, AHALAR Center, “Fond Klychka” (“Klitschko’s Fund”) –, independent media and cultural initiatives such as Art-Dvir (Art Yard) in Buchach, online magazines Ufra and Khmarochos (Skyscraper), Kyiv Theatre for Dialogue and others), as well as representatives of government agencies like the Department of Culture of the Lviv city council. I want to answer as a member of the forum as to what is its meaning.

“We have changed a lot”

The main thing that happened at the UkraineLab is the manifestation of the fact that almost fifty cultural and public figures remain here, willing to change the country without pathos, with small steps. It’s like we say to each other as well as to the taxi driver, “We do not agree with the fact that” everything is as before and nothing has changed because we have changed a lot. UkraineLab can be called a statement that denies the gloom. We look into each other’s eyes and honestly say, “We do not plan to leave, at least for now”. And we can even give the examples: here is the organiser of the festival “Respublika” in Kamianets-Podilsky Andrii Zakharko who came back to Ukraine after living ten years abroad.

Alona Karavai, programme coordinator of the project Dialogue for Change: “We developed this project in May 2014 as a platform which would bring leaders from different sectors together, those who want to share ideas how to work in Ukraine under these conditions and those who have open eyes and hearts to think about it together. We wanted to understand what to do after the crisis in Ukraine in 2016 or 2020, but one event is not enough to find the answer. First, we need to work long and hard, analysing what we have done during the last 16 months, and only then we can talk about the future. At the next forum, we are going to think more about the future vision, and we plan to invite organisations that finance projects for them to see what we need.
The interest in Ukraine has increased in Germany where I work. This leads to the fact that organisations that have never worked in Ukraine before have no Ukrainian partners; they come to Ukraine with external concepts and leave after three months. These are wasted resources. The main value for us is networking. If there are horizontal contacts, there will be a vision and joint projects.”

According to everything that was said at the UkraineLab, we see three most necessary needs for activists:

  • to reflect critically on the activities of NGOs;
  • to plan cultural initiatives map of Ukraine;
  • and what seems to be an obvious thing, to create a dialogue between the conventional: the centre and the periphery, junior and senior generations, east and west of Ukraine.

Errors and cynicism of ogranisations operating in conflict areas

What is the sense of countless trainings, seminars, workshops, meetings, forums and a dozen of other “creative” forms on the use of Western donors in post-socialist countries? The lecture of Polish-Georgian activist Marta Gawinek-Dagargulia pushed all to reflect on the efficiency of what is done in the public sector. Marta works in Zugdidi near the Abkhaz-Georgian border, where there are 36 NGOs, and only three or four of them are active according to her.

The example of Georgia clearly shows errors and cynicism of organisations operating in conflict areas. Once the problems are solved, journalists and NGOs leave the territory although the activities of NGOs make sense only if conflict is prolonged and regular. Another problem is the real participation of those whom the projects are created for to help. Most organisations work off the grant, and it does not matter how people are actually involved and who is involved exactly. The third problem is the equitable distribution of resources. Western donors are willing to give huge grants, and small organisations are not able to get them. “Who is getting all those big sums of money? Where are the results of the projects funded by Western donors in Luhansk and Donetsk regions?” asked Jaroslav Minkin, Chairman of Youth Association “STAN”.

Another problem of NGOs in post-conflict areas is the exploitation of the victims. We understand that grant money has flowed to Ukraine now for projects related to internally displaced people. Speaking without euphemisms, there is demand for immigrants. Organisations must understand the responsibility of their activities not to evoke the feeling like “they came to us, used and threw us away”, told the Moderator of Ukraine Lab from Tbilisi Teona Dalakishvili.

A cultural map of Ukraine

The other question that the most cultural leaders are interested in is the need to realise what is going on in the cultural sphere in different parts of Ukraine. In other words, it is a good idea to have something like a cultural map of Ukraine. Ukrainian Cultural Network (the project of the Centre for Cultural Management in Lviv) made an attempt to implement it, but languidly and without enthusiasm. Today it is clear that low-cost flights in the near future will connect the East and the West, the North and the South, so we want to see what is happening and where, at least online. Maybe we need a social network just for cultural activists? Today, thanks to personal relationships, we learn what is happening in other regions in Ukraine, but still it is impossible to see the whole picture. After all, Ukraine is not unique in this regard, but that was us who desperately felt the need to communicate, know and understand how other cities and parts of the country live.

Another aspect of this problem is those cultural sector workers or activists who due to various reasons are now living at Crimea and on the occupied territories in Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Now it just looks like we want to simply forget that they exist. However, the experience of the same Abkhazia shows, if we lose these contacts, a few years later no dialogue will be possible at all. At the same time, it is unclear how to speak to each other, how both parties should overcome emotions and despair.

“The goal of UkraineLab is to create common space for people who could share experiences and give people time to reflect on their location relative to others, feel that they are not alone”, says Anastasia Maksymova, the Moderator of UkraineLab.

Processes in Kiev are no less important than those occuring in the regions

UkraineLab introduced people from Chernihiv, Ostroh, Kremenchuh, Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kyiv, and gave them time and space to talk. Kharkiv Theatre “Na Zhukah”, Kiev Theatre for Dialogue and Playback Theatre “Plemia” from Chernivtsi got to know what everyone else was doing. Ostroh media laboratory J-Lab acquainted with Ivano-Frankivsk independent magazine Ufra. There was a dialogue not only between people from different  regions. People from Kiev saw that we also have good initiatives in distant areas – where you cannot go to by fast trains – which develop the smaller cities in the regions and which did not tend to leave to the centre, to Kiev. It gives a chance to understand that processes in the capital are no less important than those occurring in the region of Rivne like the Buchach Art-Yard or Pluhaky craft farm.

“My German colleague from MitOst, who occasionally comes to Ukraine, said that earlier at the forums for organisations he saw that people were not willing to cooperate by analysing their body language. Now he has noticed that people are completely open and realise that we have to help each other. I would like it to turn into a culture of consolidation”, says Alona Karavai.

The fact that large organisations are willing to share experience and self-organised initiatives are developing once again proves that there are new meanings and actions emerging in Ukraine. At the same time, I felt the absence of the representatives of the platform developing the culture strategy “Culture-2025” and Culture Activists Congress, whose meeting was held at the same time as the UkraineLab. Despite all the talks of unity, it is clear that we continue to exist in isolation – although no longer alone, but separately in little groups.

UkraineLab is an interdisciplinary platform for a smart networking and cross-sectorial cooperation of change makers as well as a think tank where visions and innovations for civil society and culture in Ukraine can be born. In the pilot year of 2015 the programme started with two big cross-sectorial forums:
“UkraineLab: Best practices and interdisciplinary approaches in the civil society and culture for the (after)-crisis period” im March 2015 in Kiev and “UkraineLab: Visions for peace-building and the new role of civil society and culture” in September 2015 in Iwano-Frankiwsk. Besides of this two big cross-sectorial forums an event was organised in May 2015 in Cherksay dedicated especially for facilitators and educators: “Non-formal education. Methods. Reality. Future”.

Read more about the development of UkraineLab in 2016: coordinators Olga Diatel and Alona Karavei share specifics and characteristics of UkrianeLab, this year’s topics and expectations in Each town or villag can be the center of the world | Ukraine.

 

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