#IstandWithUkraine: the story of Jules
March 30, 2022

#IstandWithUkraine: the story of Jules

Jules is a French Young European Ambassador. He is on an Erasmus in Prague for the third year of his Bachelor’s degree and doing an internship at the French Social Sciences Research Centre (CEFRES) in the Czech capital. Having grown up in a very European environment in Brussels, Jules has always been driven by the desire to meet new people and talk about Europe. This is why he got involved in various EU-related initiatives. He is also a contributor for The New Federalist, where he tries to give a youth perspective on European politics and affairs.

Hello Jules! We know you are giving space in your interviews to Ukrainian people, to speak about their reality and how it has changed in the last few days. Could you tell us more about your initiative?

When the war broke out on 24 February, like all of us, I was in a state of disbelief and felt powerless in the face of the tragic situation in which our Ukrainian YEA friends found themselves. I tried to do the little things I could: I went to the different demonstrations organised in Prague, tried to convince my friends and family to do so as well and kept in touch with the Ukrainian people I knew. But as the war went on, with demonstrations organised one after the other and text messages becoming quite repetitive, I tried to find other ways of helping. I wanted to find a way to help which kept the personal dimension of the messages I had exchanged with Ukrainians, but which also allowed me to export this personal dimension to a broader stage.

Having already written a couple of articles for the Young European’s newspaper The New Federalist, I thought this could be a good platform (the readership being composed of young people from around the EU). In this context, the interview felt like the best format, allowing on one hand to have a framework, but on the other to give a lot of freedom and sincerity in the ideas and feelings conveyed. I asked a couple of Ukrainian YEAs if any of them would be interested in participating in this exercise, and tried to contact a Ukrainian political personality to have two different perspectives of a same situation.

On Sunday, 27 February I had found my two interviewees in Oleksandra Petrakova, a 21-year-old student from Kharkiv and Young European Ambassador, and Alona Shkrum, member of the Verkhovna Rada [the Ukrainian parliament]. The two interviews were planned for the next day, 28 February. I, therefore, had to rush into writing the questions which I decided to articulate around three main points: daily life in times of war; the Western reaction to the war; and the steps that EU youth can take to help Ukraine. The interviews were held over the phone and were very fruitful and (I think) really interesting. There was a fair amount of work to be done afterwards, but they were published on 2 March and 11 March.

What were the biggest challenges that you encountered?

The biggest challenges I had to face for the interviews were due to the nature of war. The unpredictability it brought in the life of the interviewees made it hard to organise ourselves for the interviews, everything being dependant on the evolution of the situation in the city they lived in. The interview with Oleksandra Petrakova was held a couple of days before she evacuated to the West of Ukraine, an important element of a war experience that we wanted to integrate into the interview. We therefore had to reorganise a meeting for her to be able to tell me about this evacuation. As she was just settling into her new city and busy volunteering to help with the war effort, it was hard to find this time. It was also difficult to find a suitable time for Alona Shkrum’s interview: the parliamentary schedule is already busy in peace times, but wartime made it unpredictable and we had to jump in her few minutes of available time at the end of her day.

The rapid evolution of events in times of war also made it challenging for the publication of the interviews. I tried to publish them as quickly as possible to make sure that events did not change too much between the time the interview took place and the time it was published, but that meant a lot of work had to be done (transcription of the interviews, correction, finalisation, translation) in a short period of time. It was challenging but exciting at the same time because the end result was something somehow useful for Ukraine.

Linked with these previously described difficulties was the importance of the interviewees’ words. The context in which every sentence was spoken gave them an increased degree of importance, every word having a symbolic significance and importance. I therefore wanted to make sure that the final version of the interviews fitted perfectly with what the interviewee had in mind. In Alona Shrum’s case it was made hard by the fact that she obviously did not have time to review the interview before it was published. This added pressure on me, because I was the only one in charge of deciding what was important in her comments and what was not. The case of Oleksandra Petrakova was the opposite. She was really keen on making sure that the interview recounted exactly her thoughts, which led to a series of editing sessions that lengthened the publication process, but that ensured that it was a truly personal account of her war experience. Although these difficulties are described as challenges here, there were an integral part in the shaping of the interview and are minor in comparison to what the interviewees and the Ukrainian people in general are living through.

What are the next steps?

The next steps I set myself were to provide more concrete help to Ukrainian refugees, by giving them shelter for example. The goal of the interview might have helped the Ukrainian cause in some way, but not the Ukrainian people as such. I nevertheless believe that this goal I had set myself through this initiative – of giving space for Ukrainians to express themselves about their war experience in western European media – will be more than ever important as the war continues to rage in Ukraine. Indeed, just as with COVID and most other long-term tragedies, the support and solidarity momentum created by the shock of the start of the war will probably wear off, the war in Ukraine becoming more and more a question of numbers (number of days of fighting, of deaths, of displaced people) forgetting the people’s lives behind them. It is precisely our responsibility as Young European Ambassadors to avoid this and to remind people that the war is still about people like us suffering and dying from a barbaric invasion of their homeland.

This is why we, the Young European Ambassadors are launching a series of podcasts called “Voices of the East/Ukraine (depending on the name we choose), that will give the floor to different people with different profiles from the regions of Ukraine. Through this podcast, we wish to set a regular reminder of the lives that are still affected by this deadly conflict at the heart of Europe. By working collectively, we wish to be more efficient in the development and production of the interview and to be able to invite people with a large diversity of profiles. The message we would like to convey through these series of podcasts is that the war in Ukraine is not finished and that even if a lot of people have been evacuated, most of them still live in Ukraine and we are not forgetting them, we are thinking about them and standing for them just like we will continue standing for Ukraine.

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