Ukraine’s youth have shown incredible bravery and resilience amid Russia’s brutal and unjustified war. Across the country and abroad, young people came together to support each other and their fellow citizens. One example is the Ukrainian members of the European Democracy Youth Network (EDYN), a platform supported by USAID, the International Republican Institute (IRI), and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). EDYN brings together young leaders in Europe and Eurasia who are committed to advancing democracy and civic engagement in their countries, including Ukraine. Through its programming, NDI in collaboration with IRI, has provided capacity building and organizational development training to strengthen the Ukraine chapter of EDYN and grow its membership. Currently, NDI and IRI also support EDYN in implementing activities aimed at responding to the needs of youth that have emerged since the start of the full-scale war.
Leaving Kyiv amid heavy shelling in the first days of the war, six EDYN members found themselves in Mukachevo, a small city situated at the border of Ukraine, Slovakia and Hungary. Relying on their large network of contacts in Europe, they set to work organizing the delivery of humanitarian aid to Ukraine. “We all made dozens of calls to organize the delivery of goods and medicine to those in urgent need. All of this under numerous air raid sirens and [while receiving] devastating news [about the war],” recalls Yulian Krytsak, EDYN member. “At that time [a colleague’s] home was used as a warehouse for humanitarian aid,” he adds. With the number of requests growing all the time, the group faced an urgent need to both streamline their processes and find a more suitable location to store supplies.
As the EDYN team remained in Mukachevo, they met dozens of young internally displaced activists representing civil society organizations, many of whom were united by common obstacles and shared them with EDYN members. “[S]ome didn’t have a computer to work…parents working remotely were seeking activities to educate their children,” recalls EDYN member Karolina Svyryda. Fleeing the frontlines, these young activists were disconnected from their networks and searching for both community and purpose. With the number of youth growing and these requests becoming more frequent, EDYN members decided to launch an “Aware Zone” Youth Hub in response. The space aimed to bring together displaced youth in Zakarpatska oblast and provide them with an equipped space to work, collaborate and receive aid.
The “Aware Zone'' Youth Hub opened its doors in June 2022 and serves as a space for young people to network, give and receive mentorship and receive skills training. NDI guided EDYN in developing partnerships at the local level so the needs of youth during wartime would be addressed efficiently and proactively. The opening of the location boosted collaborations between local activists and international projects. One of the biggest programs is “SpivDia Dity” [Co-action Children], which is a daily workshop for internally displaced children as a way of helping them to adapt and find peers. The team of “Aware Zone” hosted over 15 joint projects with international and local partners. Moreover, the Hub became a space for volunteer events organized by local activists, such as the production of periscopes and delivery of food boxes to the military of Ukraine, and the delivery of medicine to those in need, addressing more than 200 requests monthly. The activities of the Hub also include seminars on youth engagement, project management and fundraising for active young people and those who are internally displaced. The Hub continues to serve as a coordination center for providing humanitarian aid, as well as legal and psychological support, directly to Ukrainians in need.
As the invasion moves forward, EDYN members strongly believe youth play a key role in Ukrainian victory. This is important, especially given the unpredictable nature of the invasion and how quickly the day-to-day reality of young people is changing in Ukraine. As the “Aware Zone” Youth Hub becomes a location for uniting youth, the team is motivated to open similar Hubs throughout the country. As Mariia Zavada, an EDYN member concluded, "Only when youth is engaged, it makes sense to formulate a vision of Ukraine's future."
Author: Mariia Kovaliova, Senior Program Officer, Youth Team, NDI Ukraine
NDI’s engagement with this program is implemented with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) within the framework of the project “Responsible and Accountable Politics in Ukraine” (U-RAP).
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms, and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.