Prior to the occupation, the industrial city of Sloviansk, marked by pro-Soviet sentiments among the older population and cultural indifference among the youth, was politically dominated by fugitive president Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. For these politicians, a prosperous Ukraine was never a priority. The party plundered Donbas while manipulating its people with the myth that they were providing for the whole of Ukraine. And when the Russians came, these politicians did little to stop them.
“It was very sad when freedom was taken from us. It was this feeling that you are completely alone. That among all the people you are the only one who is not like the others. You were pro-Ukrainian, and you did not know with whom [to side]. When all of your friends and acquaintances are on the opposite side of the barricades, it is very sad,” Anna Avdiyants, the founder of the Teplitsia Initiatives Platform describes the days of the occupation.
There is still hardly a political force in Donbas to rival the pro-Russian politicians from the remains of the Party of Regions, most of whom now represent the Opposition Platform – For Life. So, in the 2019 Parliamentary elections, the overwhelming majority of Ukraine’s 24 oblasts gave their vote to President’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s party Servant of the People. Only in three oblasts were other parties victorious – the majority of Lviv Oblast supported the Voice, while in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts it was the Opposition Platform – for Life that got the upper hand.
Still, compared to life before 2014, Donbas has seen some dramatic changes, and Sloviansk is no exception. The emergence of local civil society is one of these changes.
“When the chance of regaining freedom appeared, we grabbed this opportunity and a very small community managed to defend this freedom and to work towards improving our city and towards a pro-Ukrainian Donbas,” Avdiyants says.
In 2015, she founded Teplitsia (translated as “Greenhouse”). Initially operating under the auspices of the Lviv Educational Foundation, in 2017 Teplitsia was registered as a separate NGO.
Its current activities cover four directions – culture, non-formal education, community development, and social work.
Over the five years since its launch, the platform has organized over 3,200 events, involving a total of about 24,000 participants. These events have included lectures, workshops, concerts, meetings, and more.
“Teplitsia is like a second home. This is a youth space, a free space, an ideas space, a space for Ukrainian community, and culture. It is a place where you will be supported,” says Daria Nikolaenko, deputy head of Teplitsia.
Daria is 24. She has two jobs: until noon she works at a kindergarten, and after comes to Teplitisia. Here, she is also involved in social work. Her greatest passion is helping children and adults with disabilities. Her favorite events at Teplitsia were the Give a Child a Gift initiative and a trip to Kyiv for youths with disabilities. She recalls their first visit to a café and their first time using an escalator with such enthusiasm as if the experience was new to her as well.
“When you invest in people who have something more in life, then you do not notice these little things. But when you do something really new for people, and this applies both to socialization and adaptation, it is a very tangible gift for them.”
Another one of Teplitsia’s initiatives is organizing Ukrainian language courses for the public.
Since its registration in 2017, Teplitsia has attracted just under UAH 5 million (about $180,000) in funding, and has paid about UAH 120,000 (about $4,500) taxes to the local budget. Anna dreams for a day when such youth centers in Donbas will receive funding from local budgets, while at the same time maintaining their independence from politicians.
Anna considers the platform’s most important achievement to be the accomplishments of local youths:
“When they go to universities in other cities, when they go on to study in Kyiv, Lviv, Ivano -Frankivsk, when they realize that they want to receive a quality education not just for the sake of the education itself but to see Ukraine flourish.”
Daria is rather reluctant to talk about current results, saying they are more focused on future achievements. She sees the main goal of Teplitsia as keeping the youth in the city.
Indeed, it is the youth, not the politicians, which remain the central driving force for Donbas’ continued development.
Journalist: Olena Makarenko
Camera, video editing: Oleksandr Portian
Subtitles editor: Alya Shandra
Additional video used in the material: slavgorod.com.ua, the archive of the Teplitsia Initiatives Platform
The video material was supported by the Open Media Hub and produced with the funding provided by the European Union.