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Strengthening Ukraine’s Democracy, One Youth Center at a Time

Ukraine’s democratic survival depends on cultivating the next generation of democratic leaders. If Ukrainian democracy fails, the country could once again fall victim to the predations of the Kremlin, and the U.S. and its democratic allies will lose a vital strategic partner. The International Republican Institute (IRI) is working to ensure that Ukraine’s democracy not just survives, but thrives—investing in developing young democratic champions through programs like our Youth Civic Academy (YCA).

With an estimated youth unemployment rate of 20 percent and ongoing problems with brain drain, there is an urgent need to create spaces for young people to gain the skills needed to participate in the economy and communicate their priorities to decision-makers.

As part of our ongoing efforts to strengthen Ukrainian democracy, IRI’s YCA is training young Ukrainians to share the skills they learn with other young people in their communities. This has produced youth-led programs such as the Kamyanske City Council Youth Initiative Center which offers a wide array of programs for Kamyanske’s youth—hosting activities including a street art festival, a comedy show and a job fair, and conducting regular trainings on topics such as management, applying to municipal participatory budgets and grant writing. In doing so, Kamyanske City Council Youth Initiative Center is helping to increase youth engagement in local politics.

The center was first proposed to the city council of Kamyanske two years ago by IRI YCA alumna Kateryna Borovyk. Kateryna developed the blueprint for the center through her participation in the YCA in Dnipro in 2017 and later became the center’s director. Kateryna was interested in learning how NGOs and the government could work together to engage citizens in developing strong and democratic communities.

During their time at the YCA, participants learned about leadership, project design and management, and how to write a project proposal. Kateryna and four other participants developed a proposal for a youth center in Dnipro. In 2017, the group presented the project at another IRI program, the Citizen Engagement Forum, and received the most votes during an informal round of voting. Although the project never got off the ground in Dnipro, Kateryna persisted and decided to see if it would be feasible in her hometown of Kamyanske.

With the help of like-minded, motivated young people committed to expanding civic engagement opportunities for the city’s youth, Kateryna improved the project and adapted it to Kamyanske. Thanks to her YCA experience, Kateryna understood the importance of cooperation with local government officials and gained skills in leadership and proposal writing.

Local government representatives were impressed by the quality of Kateryna’s proposal and the potential benefits of a youth center for the city. They moved to register the youth center as a communal enterprise under the authority of the city council and provided financing. Kateryna and other young people who helped develop the idea were put in charge of managing the center, which is currently working on expanding its programming.

Programs that give them the opportunity to connect with one another, learn the skills to succeed and communicate their priorities to government are vital to giving Ukrainian youth a stake in their society. As more young leaders like Kateryna step up to improve youth representation in their communities, Ukraine’s democracy will have a better chance to not just survive but thrive.