Saturday, September 19, 2015

A Valient Struggle for Civic Reform in Eastern Ukraine

Promoting Citizen Participation in eastern Ukraine:
East-Ukraine Center for Civil Initiatives (EUCCI) 

"EUCCI sincerely hopes that local officials will be brought to their administrative responsibility to promote compliance with the principles of transparency and openness in the education departments of Poltava."  East-Ukraine Center for Civil Initiatives (EUCCI) 

Step by step.  City by city.  Town by town. Day by day. The East-Ukraine Center for Civil Initatives (EUCCI), an NGO dedicated to promoting transparency and citizen participation in govenment at the local level, valiently pursues its mission.  It is still going strong inspite of the Russian proxie war in eastern Ukraine that has decimated parts of Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts (counties). Vovo, a EUCCI founder and its director, was forced to flee Lugansk for his life. But he has never given up. 

St. Volodymyr Cathedral
I worried about him for a long time when his website went down and he went silent on social media. Where is Vovo? I was scared he may have fallen victim to the Russian-led terrorist gangs who destroyed his beloved city of Lugansk. I spent a lot of time there, the hub of my universe when I served with the Peace Corps.  Vovo knew the history and culture of the city, and his city tours were highlights of my eastern Ukraine experience.  
Lugansk Train Station

The city now lays in ruins. The University doesn't function, having moved its faculty to its branch in Starobelsk. The Biblioteca is quiet. The NGOs scattered.  The bustling cafes and bookstores, the shops and street life silenced.   The train station, where I came and went just about everywhere in Ukraine, is a war zone.  So I worried about Vovo, about his co-workers, about the large network of NGOs of which he was an integral part.   But then he surfaced, with his humor intact. 
Lermontova st at night.

We messaged. Vovo, are you okay, are you safe? "Yes, I'm okay. I was put on a list by the rebels."  I received similar messages from one after another NGO leader, messages from Kiev, Khargiv, Lviv, and other cities. The  war has killed the Lugansk reform movement.  It has sent thousands upon thousands of people, including young community activists, intellectuals and scholars, librarians and teachers, women leaders and civic reformers, to other parts of their country.  Many of those who didn't make it out of Lugansk were jailed, tortured or "disappeared."   Friends of friends have still not been heard from in months.   

My counterpart Vera, of NGO Victoria
in Starobelsk, attends one of Vovo's
workshops, and luckily took me
 along.  We visited women's NGOs
 in Lugansk on that visit, as well. 
Vovo continues his work from Kiev, but spends half his time on the road in eastern Ukraine, valiently conducting training and development workshops that encourage transparency in local records, city planning, and local decision making.   Chernigov, Poltava, Severodonetsk, wherever he is welcomed, Vovo is a traveling reform agent for change from the bottom up. He dreams of a Ukraine free from corruption, fear and human rights abuses, a Ukraine open to change, education and self-determination. An intrepid spirit, dedicated, Vovo is Ukraine. Vovo is Ukraine's future.      
In front of the Lugansk Public Library,
the Lugansk Biblioteca,on one of many visits. 
Its "Windows on America" program was wonderful,
 an English-language library
of American classic literature for the public.

Taras Schevchenko statue in front of
the National Taras Schevchenko University
in Lugansk, once one of the best in the
country, now dysfunctional because of
Putin's war in eastern Ukraine. Vovo and
many intellectuals, civic leaders,
 and progressive thinkers
attended the University.  I weep for Lugansk

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