Article by: Olena Makarenko
The driving force of Ukraine, its young people, are patriots, despite the hardships the country faces, a recent study carried out by GfK Ukraine on request of the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Ukraine reveals. The target group of the poll are young Ukrainians aged 14 to 35 years, permanently living on Ukrainian territory (excluding the temporarily occupied and uncontrolled territories). The sample of 2852 respondents is representative for the Ukrainian population, outside of Crimea and occupied Donbas.
According to the results, the overwhelming majority of the youth, 82%, would like to stay in Ukraine, rather than choose another country. 13% are looking for such an opportunity and only 4% are really planning to do it.
On the question “Are you proud to be a Ukrainian?” 81% answered “yes,” 8% said “no,” and 11% had different answers. The largest share of the most proud Ukrainians lives in the traditionally patriotic western Ukraine – Volynska, Rivnenska and Ivano-Frankivska oblast, in each of which 97% said that they are proud of being Ukrainian. Those least proud of being Ukrainian live in the Odesa, Luhansk, and Donetsk oblasts, but even here more than 50% of respondents said “yes.” How important is this difference between western and eastern regions?
Olha Bakuha is a teacher of history in the school #3 in the town of Mykolayivka, of the Donetsk Oblast. In the summer of 2014, the town experienced warfare. Many people in Mykolayivka were rather supportive to pro-Russian separatists.
Olha herself has never thought that life is better in Russia and has never been nostalgic for times of the USSR, but her way of thinking is rare in her town and she regularly hears the opposite opinion from her students.
Although the history of Ukraine is full of national-liberation movements, which are often a topic for debate in Ukrainian society, the most controversial topic for the pupils is Soviet Union, says Olha:
“At the moment, they are most interested in topics about the Soviet Union, the Russian world, and Ukraine possibly returning to them – probably because it is the most relevant problem for their parents. Therefore, even without studying their lessons on the Soviet Union, they always ask about it. Like, in the Soviet Union bread cost 16 kopiyka [1 kopiyka is a hundred part of ruble]. Once I had to devote a part of the lesson explaining why bread cost 16 kopiyka, why it could not cost 16 forever, and that the price of 16 kopiyka led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. That there were constant subsidies, stealings and so on. 16 kopiyka, no metter whether there was a good harvest or not.
Speaking of the era of the Soviet Union, I don’t tell only negative facts. There were positive moments such as the taste of ice cream and sausages. But again, why were they so delicious? Because the Soviet Union lagged behind in technology from the world’s leading countries.
For some children, the Soviet Union is an ideal state, which can be returned or rebuilt. They do not understand that this is impossible. My argument is that not having private property is not normal. I give an example: would you like to share your notebook with other students? Or your computer, or your phone? No. They do not understand that it was impossible to go caroling or schedrovat [to do traditional national Christmas activities]. How is it possible? Why not? Because there was no religion. What do you mean? Religion was in the underground? People where baptized secretly?
For them it is hard to understand, perhaps because on TV they see another picture [many people in eastern regions of Ukraine are still watching Russian channels]. The Soviet Union on TV is the ideal state, and they want to live in a perfect state.”
Olga sees three reasons of the events which have happened in Donbas and the supportive attitude for separatists from the local people:
“First, the low level of education of the population. Second, people believe media a lot. Third, it is the fault of all the governments we had. Donbas has always been hard-working, but somehow we always lived worse. The material level of living was worse, despite the fact that we have such giant plants. I realize that we simply were robbed very much here”.
However, bad governance is visible not only in Donetsk Oblast. The GfK research shows that many young people experience serious financial problems – 34% of the respondents mentioned that in the last 12 months they lacked money for medical treatment, 9% felt a lack of money even for necessary foodstuff. Separate housing is still a hard question for Ukrainian young people. Often a young family can live in a 2 or 3-room apartment with their parents. According to the study, 49% of people aged 30-34 do not have their own housing.
39% of all respondents do not believe that they will be able to reach a desired financial status in Ukraine.
Another important topic is traveling abroad. 37% of respondents said that they have visited other countries. On the top of the list of destinations is the Russian Federation – 19% have been there, 12% have been to Poland, 7% to Turkey, 6% to Egypt, the same amount to Belarus. The percentage of those who are familiar with educational programs abroad is also low.
“Many children say that Russia is cool and Europe is bad. Have you ever been either to Russia or Europe? No. Mom or Dad told them that Russia is cool. Yes, they were guest workers there. Well, but what is good in being a guest worker? People in western Ukraine see the European example, but we have men working in Russia. Sometimes thanks to work in Russia, we survived – especially in 1997-1999, when were not receiving our wages,”
She sees a lot of problems in Ukraine’s educational system, which is inherited from the Soviet Union. Students are exhausted because they are expected to learn a lot. However, they learn something only to pass the exams. As a result, not much stays in their heads. They feel no need to gain knowledge of a particular profession – they just go somewhere, most often Russia, to earn money in any possible way.
The GfK research reveals that only a half of working respondents have a job relevant to their specialty.
The difficult time which Ukraine is experiencing now is also a time of opportunities. However, young people still need support from the state. Otherwise the enthusiasm can be replaced by disappointment. Olha recollects the period of the time when the Soviet Union collapsed:
“I remember the period of 1991. I was in high school and we found out that in the referendum all people voted in favor of the separation and that we will be independent. There was a feeling of delight of freedom, and than it ended because nothing has changed and even became much worse. Starting from the economy, ending with moral values, because we could not have live in the old way and did not know how to live in a new way as nobody ever told or showed us. There was no example. I’m talking about Donbas. We, in Donbas, could not afford to travel abroad and now, it is also too expensive. The period of independence was good only for those who lived like me, who was happy and even not knowing what the future will be was glad that to be independent. However, in the end, as usual we were knocked on our hands and put in our place.”
Now, Olha looks forward with irony “My son is saying: mom, until your soviet cohort will not die off, nothing will change.”
Probably, more effective would be to listen to the priories of young people and amend the state youth policy accordingly. These priorities, according to GfK, are first of all to promote youth employment and self-employment (49%), to assist with youth housing (46%), to support the talented youth (46%), to promote a healthy and safe lifestyle among youth (44%), to support young people who are in difficult circumstances (39%), to develop sport activities for youth (33%), to develop a network of youth centers and youth clubs (26%), and to form a national-patriotic consciousness among the youth (21%).