Young people together with UPSHIFT programme have introduced the first playground for dogs Mariupol.
The wasteland, which adults and children had been bypassing six months ago, became one of the most popular places in the Vostok district in the city of Mariupol (eastern Ukraine) this summer.
Every evening at sunset, the green area near the apartment buildings is filled with children's laughter, barking dogs and lively conversations of their owners. Instead of rubbish and swamp, apple trees have been planted, bins and some fitness equipment have been installed – a slide, barriers, swings and a bridge. Shepherds, bulldogs, pugs, beagles and outbred four-legged residents of the neighbourhood train on them.
"According to the local authorities, each fifths resident of our city has a dog. And if you go outside in the evening it seems that each third has one," says 15-year-old Katia Pushniakova. She is the owner of the german shepherd and a participant in a playground for dogs in Mariupol project.
The first and only
Love for dogs, ecology and their city united Katia and four of her peers into a team. Five teenagers came up with a dog playground project, applied to the UPSHIFT Youth Innovations Programme and received funding from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the European Union.
After several months of preparation, training and construction, the team of young people presented the city with a new social facility. During this time, Katia and her friends involved parents, friends, dog owners, cynologists, architects and Mariupol authorities in the project.
"This site is the first and only one in the city. And one of the few in the country. We are very proud that both the dogs and the residents liked it. Our city needed a place like this," Katia smiles, standing by a large shield with playground safety guidelines.
Katia, her friends and team members, 16-year-old Mykyta Ponomarenko, 20-year-old Olena Sydorenko, 15-year-old Oleksandr Khadzhynov and 22-year-old Anton Smolianinov, now come to the playground several times a week with their pets. Boys and girls are happy that since the opening they have rarely been cleaning the area, as dog owners maintain cleanliness.
Watching the energetic beagle Hunter overcoming obstacles on the site, friends recall the difficulties they had been facing with the project.
"We spent most of the time on getting permission and obtaining land. We held several meetings with representatives of the City Council. Then we asked the residents of the houses if they were against the building site. And then we started working on drawings, layout and construction," Mykyta recalls.
The training that the team received during the UPSHIFT programme provided them with basic knowledge in solving complex problems and finding consensus.
"We have won because we had very clearly divided responsibilities: who was responsible for advertising, who had to order building materials, and who was in charge of documentation. We figured out how to fit in the right amount of funding. And we were not afraid to communicate with officials and solve bureaucratic problems," says Olena, who plans to be a financier.
Due to the persistence of students, the local authorities came to believe in their idea and designated a quiet area for a project, away from highways and schools. A place was perfect from a logistical point of view; however, it was in a state of disrepair. It took a few more weeks to mow the grass, level the ground, design, order and install sports equipment.
"We even created a model of the playground out of plasticine at first," Mykyta smiles.
People who care
After several months of hard working, the team was expecting success during the site opening. At the beginning of the summer, more than 60 spectators came to see the new place, which is unique for Mariupol, and, of course, almost all of them brought their pets. From this day, the site never remains empty. And the project itself began to live its own life, motivating city dog owners for self-organization and exciting initiatives.
"Cynologists started conducting their classes here. People from neighbouring houses began to improve the slides and swings by themselves. We see that the project is alive," says Olena proudly.
The girl and her friends hope that the playground will become the first step towards the establishment of a dog culture in Mariupol. Now the team is ready to volunteer and implement similar projects together to develop their city.
"We like that the city is changing, renewing, new cool objects and opportunities appear. I no longer want to leave the city. And young people stop following the principle: non of my business. There are more people who care," says Olena, who considers the experience of participating in UPSHIFT unique.
The team has already started receiving proposals to build another similar playground in Mariupol. They dream of having public gardens in the city to walk pets there. "Bureaucratic problems caused some metamorphoses during the project implementation. The vision of the site had been changing. And we also changed during this time, learned to plan, delegate authority, work in a team," adds Olena. "It's an invaluable experience."
The UPSHIFT Ukraine programme has been implemented in Mariupol in the 2019-2020 academic year. During this time, five groups of young people were selected to join the programme, attended by over 200 participants. A total of 25 youth projects received funding from the EU and UNICEF in the amount of almost UAH 1.3 million.