Our destiny is written by us: how communities in Ukraine take the future into their own hands

On European Neighbours Day, we bring you two stories of community activists – in central Ukraine and in the conflict-affected Luhansk Region – who proved that self-mobilization is often key to success.

“Kindergarten that we dreamt of for decades”

If it was not for the strong sense of community, the village of Slobidka in Vinnytsia Region in central Ukraine would not have had its own kindergarten and local children would still have needed to travel over 7 kilometres to a neighbouring village. Such journeys are now in the past as a brand-new kindergarten opened its doors in 2020 to thirty children. All the village of approximately 700 people mobilized around this project: from teachers of a local school to authorities, businesses and volunteers who joined the construction works in their free time.

“There was never a kindergarten in Slobidka, moreover, not a single pre-school facility was built in the entire Vinnytsia Region over the last five years. When we initiated the project, everyone came on board. On some days, the construction site reminded an anthill – villagers were coming to give a hand or simply bring water and food to those working. It is not easy to mobilize a construction team who would work for free, but we have never had a shortage of volunteers,” said Mykhaylo Kulyk, the head of the Ivanivka newly amalgamated territorial community which includes Slobidka and 13 other villages.

Instead, mobilizing resources became one of the hardest parts. Partially, the project was funded from the local budget and private businesses. Finally, the community decided to reach out to the international donors and applied for the IOM programme aimed to contribute to decentralization reforms in Ukraine through community-driven development projects. This initiative was selected from among 160 applications that IOM received within its Community-Driven Development (CDD) Project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Anastasiya Lanova is a local activist who helped the community to develop a project proposal. She admits that the application entailed many technical details, such as logical framework, indicators and assumptions which are a “nightmare” for people living in the village and lacking experience in project development. “The ability to get united over an idea is common for Ukrainians. However, in this community, the leadership of the authorities played a decisive role – they were able to convey to people why they should be interested and contribute to the common good. Thanks to the private businesses support and volunteers’ work, we saved a lot of funds and used them more efficiently.”

Through the multilateral funding, residents in Slobidka rehabilitated the school which currently hosts 86 students and built a kindergarten for 30 children who can receive a pre-school education and play in a safe environment. In 2020, with the IOM support, the facility received new furniture, kitchen appliances and equipment for the outdoor playground. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and imposed restrictions, the kindergarten functions in a limited capacity with only 20 children attending regularly.  




New kindergarten assisted by IOM can host up to 30 children

“People from the neighbouring villages often come to Slobidka to study our success story which serves as an example that together we can really be agents of change”, said Kateryna Kolomiyets, manager at the facility and also a mother who is happy that her own children can finally attend the kindergarten close to home.

From losing job during pandemic to bringing innovative learning ideas to community

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded in 2020, Iryna Lomkova lost her job due to reorganization in the state police service where she had worked for over five years. However, Iryna took it as a chance to embark on a new journey working closely with her community in Sievierodonetsk in the conflict-affected Luhansk Region. In a “new digital world”, where all the businesses migrated to the Internet since the start of the pandemic, she realized that new skills were needed to effectively develop projects online.

Iryna benefited from the IOM assistance, provided to support vocational trainings and employment opportunities during the pandemic. Through the project funded by the Government of Japan, she received a new laptop which enabled her to advance in her career development. Iryna completed several IT and digital marketing courses and learned how to produce in-house advertisement materials which meant that no additional cost would need to be spent for promoting her business and creating web platforms.

Mobilizing their own resources, Iryna and her husband decided to open a mobile planetarium to offer children and adults a new opportunity for development and recreation. This portable dome is equipped with projection systems and serves as a mini-theatre where educational films are displayed in 360°.

 Iryna Lomkova, mobile planetarium manager

Iryna describes the benefits of the innovative tool: “You receive an immersive experience when visiting this planetarium. Firstly, you learn by discovering a story from the inside. One of the films that we showed was about microorganisms. Technologies allow you to see everything as you were inside a microscope. Today, when we have YouTube and TikTok, children and adults do not feel a need to discover new ways of learning. Visiting a planetarium is like going to a cinema, you receive scientific information in a more entertaining way than it is offered at school.”

She is certain that such creative learning space brings positive effects for different age groups in the community and improve family connections as children, parents and grandparents spend time together and later discuss what they learned at home.

Moreover, Iryna works with people from vulnerable groups inviting to the shows children with disabilities and those living along the contact line, such as from the town of Popasna. “These children live in a very difficult environment and they need psychosocial support and development opportunities. We try to show these children that the world is big and so diverse, and there are so much to see and discover beyond their daily reality.”

Apart from running the planetarium, Iryna is a fierce defender of human rights. She is a certified free legal aid volunteer and works with law enforcement services in Luhansk Region to identify gaps in the state policies and advocate for changes. Promoting gender balance and supporting those affected by gender-based violence (GBV) is one of the key areas of her expertise. With other activists, Iryna represents a coalition that works to ensure the implementation of the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security Agenda in Luhansk Region.  

Iryna Lomkova at the training for the law enforcement agencies 

Speaking of community achievements in this area, she highlights the importance of women engagement in the decision-making process. The coalition worked with the regional authorities to develop a budget that would include gender-related initiatives, such as opening new shelters for victims of GBV. “I think that gender policies do not concern only women. When I deliver trainings for members of law enforcement agencies, I reiterate that men should be also interested in achieving gender balance, as this will create a healthier division of roles in our community”, Iryna said.