Article by: Kateryna Zagorodnya
Before the Euromaidan revolution of 2013-2014, people in Ukraine had a very vague idea of what volunteering is. In the capital – Kyiv it was more or less clear, because local inhabitants used the opportunity of volunteering in order to “get closer to the stage for free” during the numerous public events, and of course because some charity initiatives took place also. Also, people that live in the capital tend to travel and study abroad more often, so some of them brought the spirit of volunteering to Ukraine, which is very popular in developed countries.
In Ukraine’s regions the situation was different. For instance, Khmelnitsky was never influenced by mass events the or cultural influence of neighborhood countries. It is just a typical Ukrainian city with the local street market being the main influencer of its value system. Khmelnitskyi is a more or less rural area in Ukraine, with an average size and average population, not a remote area, but still rural. Compering to the big cities, Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkiv, nothing special happens in smaller cities such as Khmelnitskyi. Luckily, the local youth understood this, even before the Euromaidan, and started to take all responsibilities to change their city into their hands.
Before the Revolution of Dignity, a volunteer in Khmelnitskyi was mostly perceived as a somewhat strange and unsuccessful person, and probably used as free labor by some “big mamas or papas.” The revolution in Ukraine was very helpful for non-profit activists – Ukrainians started to understand the meaning of volunteering.
The Khmelnitskyi youth development club (KYDC) is non-profit organization founded in 2013 just before the Euromaidan Revolution, under inspiration of Khmelnitskyi’s own small revolution. In 2012 local officials and businesspersons decided to build some block of flats in the only beach-green area close to the river Pivdennyi Buh in the city center. This action was a “wake up call” for the local youth to rise up and protect this area. In order to draw media and community attention to this problem young people created an eco-festival at that place. Nowadays the “Green fest” one of the biggest eco-events in the region, which every year gathers people from different parts of the region at the same place in Khmelnitskyi, which is still green and protected by citizens.
“Sometimes society needs a “kick” from the government or whoever, as a reminder that we should be aware about things which are going on in order to make some positive changes or prevent bad decisions. The possible occupation of the city’s beach and green area by a business was a “magical slap” of the community’s face,” commented activist Arthur Kokarevich.
To establish the organization, its founders traversed many circles of bureaucracy and were surprised that city officials didn’t take them, well-known activists, seriously, and postponed their requests a few times. The KYDC probably the only NGO in Ukraine which won the “paper battle” with the City Council in order to get an office from the state. Now, this place is repaired thanks to donations Khmelnitskyi citizens and acts as a unique open-space for civil initiatives in the western Ukraine.
One of the greatest “kicks” for the civil society of Khmelnitskyi was the Euromaidan. Activists from the KYDC were the first to come to the city central square that night when students in Kyiv got attacked by the police. During the Euromaidan revolution, the main role of KYDC was to build a constructive dialogue and to prevent using the stage of Euromaidan in Khmelnitsky for poitical party agenda. They were standing up for the idea against flags of parties and “no-labels” policy.
For the small cities, such big events as Euromaidan are very useful for civil society, because people get out from their flats and start to talk to each other. This proved to be true for Khmelnitskyi. After the Euromaidan, a lot of young people had a desire to do something for the country, but had no idea how to implement this desire to be helpful, so some of them joined the KYDC and started working together. They were not ashamed to volunteer anymore! That was a real revolution in the minds of some people with stereotypical thinking!
“Yes, definitely the Euromaidan was a kind of “wake up call” for the civil society of our city, but just for some particular people. Our team was “awake” a long time before the revolution, it’s just that the community didn’t pay attention to us. The events of the last 2 years in Ukraine are boiling down to create a new philosophy in the minds of Ukrainians – a philosophy of caring after each other, helping for free, and taking responsibility for your city. I am sure that it’s not the end, for us it is just a permanent process of development, in which we were engaged before the revolution. It is about it that we were talking from the Euromaidan stage and which we are doing now,” commented the President of Khmelnitsky youth club of development Stepan Kushnir.
The office of KYDC is a permanent meeting point for volunteers, activists, artists, and also an open space for different events: lectures, meeting, happenings, training, seminars, and so on. The NGO is based in Khmelnitskyi, but actively promotes the historical heritage of the whole region by organizing self-development events for the youth in castles and national parks. The main policy of the movement is to concentrate on local problems and promote individual engagement of each person in the organization. Every year brings a new step and achievement, which proves that civil society in regions is developing: during the last year the NGO started cooperating with several Ukrainian Youth Centers and started working on four international projects with Armenia, Germany, Slovenia, and Italy.