Before the Maidan uprising in 2014, most people living in the West could be split into two categories: those who thought Ukraine was already part of the EU and those who have never heard of it. This is important to bear in mind when attempting to look for solutions to the ongoing conflict. The reason most people struggle to identify Ukraine with anything distinct is because the country itself has been facing an identity crisis for quite some time.
many are looking beyond the EU vs. Russia narrative
Yet, every crisis presents an opportunity. In this case, it lies within a generation of Ukrainians under 30. They are different from both their parents and grandparents, who almost certainly have a preference between adopting an EU-led approach and submitting to the Russian influence. Instead, disappointed by the Maidan outcome, many young people are becoming increasingly in favour of stepping away from mainstream electoral rhetoric and looking beyond the EU vs. Russia narrative. This includes, for example, examining a wider range of success stories around the world and finding a hybrid governance model that fits country’s present needs and circumstances. It also means distancing themselves from radical nationalist slogans and accepting that in 2017, it is possible to speak both Ukrainian and Russian.
Luckily, with more and more leadership and educational initiatives taking hold in Ukraine, young people are presented with a unique to chance to combine their vision with soft skills and technical knowledge to pursue it. From the United Effort Agency that offers fresh thinking about town administration and Uspishna Gromada that informs citizens about decentralization reforms, to programmes like LEAD that offer talented Ukrainians in their 20s a chance to learn about bespoke private and public practices abroad.
These projects are no doubt promising, but much remains to be done. Increased ‘brain drain’ is one of the biggest problems, with young and bright leaving the country in record numbers. Although official figures of how many young people left home in research of a better future is unavailable, Ukraine’s population has decreased from 46.8 million to 45.1 million people between 2006 and 2016 – a sizable decline and even more astonishing given that population amounted to nearly 55 million in 1990. Another big issue is ensuring that all young people, not just from big cities like Kiev and Odessa, can benefit from and get involved in these projects.
Much hope can and should be placed upon the new generation of Ukrainians to redefine country’s identity. That is why, giving this part of the population a real voice and right tools is crucial in helping Ukraine, whatever its final boarder arrangements might be, to gain a clear image, sense of unity and peace.