Youngsters lead the way in Ukraine with help of UNICEF workshop

"The young people like the ones you meet here will be the core of the future change in our country. They just need time and a little push from us."

Katerina Baklitskaya
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UNICEF/2019/Zhmerynka/Taras Bezpalyi

05 November 2019

The room bursts into applause as Yaroslav Minkin tells a jubilant group of youngsters that they will play a game called ‘Snake Charmer’.

"The rules are simple," Yaroslav reminds them. "You have to find yourself a pair where one of you is from Vinnitsya region and the other is from Lugansk region".

Although it is the end of a busy day filled with lectures, meetings and teamwork, participants of the Youth Democracy Workshop are keen to build bridges. They quickly set about making friends and lighting up a gloomy evening with their smiles.

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Photos: UNICEF/2019/Zhmerynka/Taras Bezpalyi
Yaroslav Minkin, head of STAN youth organization

Yaroslav heads the STAN youth organization, which is helping to run today’s five-day Youth Democracy Workshop in Zhmerynka, Ukraine. This is the third workshop held by STAN and supported by UNICEF and the European Union (EU). It is bringing 25 young people from the Lugansk region together with 25 of their peers from the Vinnitsya region.

"There is a lot of talk in Ukraine that the youth should participate in politics, in business and in the civil movement,” says Yaroslav. "But most often young people have very limited access to decision-making processes because they are not told about ways to make an impact at schools, at home and or even among friends. That's why we teach them leadership, critical thinking and activism. We also encourage them to take part in different youth initiatives to become the agents of change at their community level, as well as at the country level."

Today’s workshop has inspired 16-year-old Liza Efremova to do just that. She moved from her home town of Lugansk to Rubizhne five months ago. Now a student of medicine, Liza hopes to use the skills she has learned to empower her local youth community.

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UNICEF/2019/Zhmerynka/Taras Bezpalyi
Liza Efremova, 16 (L)

"I want to help other young people become more active. I hope that I can lead young people and show them that we can take part in things that matter.”

Liza Efremova

In high school, Liza was bullied by her classmates, but found the strength to stand up for herself. Since then, she has been sharing her experiences with other young people.

"I want to create my own сivil organization and I want to do workshops in my town. I hope that my Lugansk region will move forward together with the rest of Ukraine.”

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UNICEF/2019/Zhmerynka/Taras Bezpalyi
Bogdan Kolesnikov, 17

Bogdan Kolesnikov, 17, from the village of Butovo in the Lugansk region, is hoping to bring his local community together.

 “This summer we organized an event for the youth in Butovo. We created an outdoor cinema, got the electricity from a local businessman, persuaded the local authorities to give us a projector, showed the movies and drank tea. Everyone loved it."

"We decided to create an ongoing outdoor cinema, but we don’t have project management experience. So I came here to develop my project management skills. I also want to become a public speaker and give lectures to the youth to encourage them to be more active."

Bogdan believes that the Youth Democracy Workshop will help him to become a better leader. "I would teach young people not to be afraid and just try different things," he says.

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UNICEF/2019/Zhmerynka/Taras Bezpalyi

Thanks to support from UNICEF and the EU, STAN youth organization has brought together 75 young people from the Lugansk region who are over the age of 14. This is crucial at a time when eastern Ukraine and many of the families who live there are torn apart by conflict.

One of the inspiring young speakers at today’s Youth Democracy Workshop is Alina Palamarchuk, a 16-year-old civil activist from Zhmerynka. She spoke about her role as head of the Association of the Young Zhmerynka Citizens civil organization.

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UNICEF/2019/Zhmerynka/Taras Bezpalyi
Alina Palamarchuk, 16

"It's our job to build our own future," says Alina. "I believe that if young people will be involved in different aspects of society-building since their early age, if they know how to make a difference in their communities, it will be easier for us to change our country in the future."

Alina's main goal as a leader is to find more ways for young people to participate in decision-making. “The governments will change, the people who are in power will leave eventually and we will come to replace them."

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UNICEF/2019/Zhmerynka/Taras Bezpalyi

Yaroslav knows just how crucial Youth Democracy Workshops are to the future of Ukraine.

"You see little bridges being built between people,” says Yaroslav. "The young people from Lugansk and Vinnitsya have added each other on social networks and are making plans together. They are already thinking about the changes they can they make together. If it were not for such projects and the support of UNICEF and the EU, these young people might not have met. It's very important that the projects like this are supported in the future."

"The young people like the ones you meet here will be the core of the future change in our country. They just need time and a little push from us."