UNICEF and EU empower youth in conflict-affected Ukraine
Strengthening resilience and civic engagement of adolescents and youth is key for peaceful futures
An armed conflict in eastern Ukraine continues to have a severe impact on civilians. Young people and adolescents often suffer the most. Not only their physical safety is threatened, hostilities also jeopardize futures and cause psychosocial distress. Almost 24 percent of young people experience high levels of post-traumatic stress disorder. The longer the conflict lasts, the deeper are psychological scars.
In the areas close to a “contact line” —where hostilities permeate everyday realm— young people are often exposed to shelling and landmine contamination. These deadly risks lead to long-term mental health problems. The volatile situation is even more complicated by shrinking employment, decreasing educational opportunities, loss of income and overall uncertainties of the future. The cumulative effects of violence and insecurities limit the prospects for young people. Moreover, instability tends to trigger negative coping mechanisms, risky behaviors and radical views among boys and girls in the conflict zone.
A hidden threat of the conflict is the weakening of so-called “safety nets,” or support systems that help young people develop their resilience. The protection on the family level loosens: the conflict often separates families or makes parents and caretakers unavailable, as they cope with their traumas. Civic engagement is another mechanism of support. It helps young people to counter horrors of conflict by empowering them to shape their future. However, intense socio-economic disruptions limit capacities of communities and civic society sector to prioritize young people’s needs for involvement.
The aim of the programme supported by the European Union was to mitigate the impact of the conflict on young people and adolescents. The intervention covered a variety of projects with a common goal to increase youth resilience, support young people’s civic engagement and empower them to be change-makers in their communities.
The programme addressed the challenges faced by young people in conflict-torn eastern Ukraine by supporting interventions in the following areas:
Strengthening community capacities and referral systems to support youth resilience. The programme supported young people and their caregivers by strengthening community support systems and referral mechanisms.
- Over 700 community members and educational professionals equipped with knowledge on psycho-social assistance. Most of the receive ongoing supervision;
- Almost 1,000 parents and caregivers, including 118 fathers, provided with knowledge on positive parenting to support young people and manage their stress;
- 69 safe spaces established in schools near the ‘contact line’ to facilitate building community links among young people while learning from each other.
Building capacity of teachers, parents and caregivers contributed to early identification and timely responses to cases of severe distress among young people. These comprehensive mechanisms restored support for youth and adolescents on a systematic level.
Empowering to solve conflicts in school settings. The programme provided support to educational institutions in preventing, identifying and responding to violence. In addition to introducing peer-to-peer mediation services, the school teams received assistance in developing school protocols and organizing activities to raise awareness on bullying and conflict resolution.
- As part of the school mediation programme, 56 Centers for Common Ground were established in secondary and vocational schools in conflict-affected areas. They became hubs for peer-to-peer support and mediation. 12 educators and 60 students received trainings as mediators;
- Over 2,100 young people participated in Centers’ mediation sessions to reduce post-traumatic stress levels;
- Over 34,000 young people participated in School Centres for Common Ground activities and services overall.
These activities helped to enhance a safe and enabling learning environment in conflict-affected areas, where various forms of assistance are available to young people.
Building sustainable civic engagement of youth and adolescents. The programme facilitated the civic engagement of young people within their communities. To strengthen youth participation in local decision-making processes, UNICEF scaled up its U-Report programme in eastern Ukraine to get evidence about young people’s aspirations and strengthen advocacy for positive social change in their communities.
- 8,700 young people from Donetsk and Luhansk regions are engaged in U-Report opinion polls on topics such as online safety and violence prevention, climate change, conflict resolution, skills and civic engagement, healthcare, education and other issues.
- Two youth councils were established to work closely with local authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk regions;
- 350 young people, including 40 from Donetsk and Luhansk regions contributed their inputs to the development of National Youth Strategy of Ukraine 2020-2030.
- Over 1,500 young people engaged into implementation of advocacy campaigns;
- 90 young leaders received training on strategic communication for civic activism through UNICEF Youth4Change Forum.
- 150 young men and women participated in study tours and/or internships.
Supported by the programme, these activities provided formal mechanisms for the productive collaboration between young people and local authorities.
Empowerment of young leaders. The programme supported young people as the agents of changes, Trainings in project management with a strong focus on social impact equipped young people with knowledge and skills to implement ideas that can transform the lives of their communities. In the process, participants acquired life skills that they can utilize in the professional life. These informal educational components facilitated the challenging transition from school to the labour market.
- 1,000 children participated in implementing civic engagement projects;
- UPSHIFT—UNICEF’s global initiative—was launched in Ukraine to empower young people to positively transform lives in their communities; 110 teams comprised of 440 young people developed entrepreneurial skills to implement their innovative social projects for positive changes in local communities.
- Over 185 youth projects were supported through small grants .
All program activities were inclusive and engaged young people with different backgrounds. They provided a comprehensive solution to reduce the risks of young people’s marginalization and supported them in bringing positive transformations into their communities and across Ukraine.