The importance of dialogue between youth and government: youth diplomacy in Ukraine
May 27, 2024

The importance of dialogue between youth and government: youth diplomacy in Ukraine

What is youth? For some, young people are confused rebels, for others they are ordinary children trying to change something they do not understand. Yet in reality, young people have always been the key to an active society and the lifeblood of the state. Around the world, and especially in Ukraine, they have harnessed their collective power to usher in remarkable transformations, ranging from historic revolutions to unprecedented policy shifts. The voice of youth should never be neglected, especially when it comes to reforming the political status quo. The role of youth in politics is fundamental to the vitality and integrity of democratic societies across Europe. Young people bring fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and a deep commitment to core European values, including the rule of law, democracy, human rights, and freedom. In this article, I will share the experience of Ukrainian youth in cooperating with government institutions and the prospects of youth diplomacy in the country.

To begin with, let’s have a quick overview of the history of Ukraine’s youth policy. It was officially given a start just a year following the country’s restoration of independence, being codified in the corresponding governmental declaration. To much dismay, political traditions were often a significant obstacle for efficient youth activism: the lack of stable and effective influence mechanisms weakened the political subjectivity of citizens, especially the young ones. In turn, they are supposed to be a backbone of political change. 

Over the years, the young have always been the driving force of political change, especially during times of harsh political upheaval. Following the 1991 restoration of independence, the socio-economic situation in Ukraine has often been a reason for public discontent. Poverty, multilevel corruption, and the inability of the state to provide a full list of social freedoms enshrined in the Constitution of Ukraine have driven young people to try to change such a state of affairs. However, one of the most notable examples of young people’s aptitude for resilience can be traced back to October 1990, before the breakdown of the Soviet Union, when a simple student protest turned into a civilised anti-government demonstration, with strong and specific demands, known as the Revolution on Granite (named after the paving stones on which the protesters’ tents were pitched). Dissatisfied with unfair parliamentary elections in the Ukrainian SSR, students demanded fair and genuine elections to the country’s parliament and the rejection of an upcoming intrastate treaty between the members of the USSR, which could have only prolonged the existence of the Soviet Union. This student-led protest, looming over all regions of Ukraine, played a crucial role in the country’s move toward independence from the USSR. 

Just 14 years later in 2004, young people became a cornerstone of a much more serious political shift, when the entire nation stood up against Viktor Yanukovych’s illicit attempt to steal elections. But an apex of youth political participation will forever be inlaid in the Revolution of Dignity, when Ukrainians filled the streets to object to Yanukovych’s notorious decision to halt Ukraine’s integration towards the European Union. On the eve of November 30, 2013, government-backed riot police attacked peaceful protesters, including students, with a previously unseen cruelty, which resulted in 79 wounded and 3 missing persons. This was the ultimate boost for subsequent events that allowed Ukraine to preserve its path towards European integration. Eventually, the Revolution of Dignity became an impetus which spurred a consistent youth participation in Ukrainian politics. Since then, young people have established countless NGOs and initiatives, making them an increasingly important instrument of socio-political influence. Yaroslav Hrytsak, prominent Ukrainian historian, described this political shift, “After the Maidan, we revealed to ourselves and the world a Ukraine which earlier we ourselves had not known.”

Since the unprovoked Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, young people have not hesitated to step up to the plate and do everything possible to repel the onslaught. They built barricades, joined local defence, as well as regular armed forces, participated in the information warfare, gathered intelligence about the enemy’s movements, allocated funds for military and humanitarian purposes, launched multiple protests to spread the truth about Russian atrocities abroad. They did not hide, run, or give up. They chose to fight and resist, alongside the rest of the population. Many of them could have a tranquil and peaceful student life, go to parties, love, relax and travel. Yet today they are fighting on the frontlines, rebuilding destroyed houses and dedicating their precious young years to the nation’s future victory.

In 2023, with the glorious goal of defending Ukraine’s national interests, the Youth Council under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was created. “Engaging talented young people in the Ukrainian diplomatic service is one of my priorities in the personnel policy of the Ministry. I am convinced that this will contribute to the effective coordination of joint actions on the diplomatic front, as well as influence the development of the international youth network,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said. I had the great honour to join the Council as a Young European Ambassador. The experience that I gathered in this initiative has greatly contributed to my success in serving for the diplomatic service in Ukraine. Together with my colleagues, we work on education and communication projects, represent Ukrainian youth on leading national and international events, and enhance our potential for pursuing our careers in the foreign service. I’m convinced that youth in government institutions is a quintessential element that should be free of scepticism: young professionals are able to offer high-quality solutions, perform tasks that require delegation, and speed up the overall workflow. The Ukrainian authorities are gradually becoming more and more open, which is an indispensable step for the improvement of the country and its path towards EU membership. 

According to a recent survey, conducted by the Dobrodiy Club Charity, 90% of questioned teenagers stated that they would like to be useful during the post-war reconstruction of the state. In particular, they seek to participate in the development of the economy and infrastructure and see their benefits, in particular, through volunteering. At most, they are already making personal efforts towards this: 43% of those surveyed have already participated in volunteering during the war. Some collected money for the needs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, others prepared food for those who needed it, wove camouflage nets, or worked with foreign audiences to promote Ukrainian narratives and truth about the war. The EU has already provided numerous opportunities for Ukrainian youth to speak up on its platforms and share their view of the future of Ukraine, which stimulates the participation of the young generation and strengthens their belief in their ability to be influential in the political life of Ukraine.

In the intricate tapestry of international relations, youth diplomacy emerges as a vibrant thread, weaving together nations through the exchange of ideas, cultures, and mutual understanding. For Ukraine, a nation standing at the crossroads of East and West, the importance of an effective youth diplomacy strategy cannot be overstated, especially amidst the Russian full-scale invasion, where every person can bring Ukraine closer to victory. Ukraine’s current youth diplomacy landscape presents a mix of opportunities and challenges. On the one hand, the nation’s youth are passionate, driven, and eager to engage with the world. On the other, they face limited opportunities for international exposure. Exchange programmes, though present, are not as widespread as one would hope. The ongoing war has also changed the landscape of Ukrainian youth, as a lot of them left the country due to safety risks.

This lack of international interaction is further exacerbated by a general lack of awareness among the youth about the subtleties and significance of diplomacy in shaping global narratives.

Wartime casts a long shadow over Ukraine’s foreign policy and diplomacy efforts. This has also impacted Ukraine’s image on the global stage, which helps Ukrainians to speak about the invasion. 

To bolster its youth diplomacy strategy, Ukraine needs a multi-pronged approach. 

First, there is an urgent need to expand student exchange programmes. By immersing themselves in different cultures, young Ukrainians can gain invaluable insights and perspectives, which can be instrumental in diplomacy. Awareness campaigns targeting schools and universities can ignite interest in diplomacy and international relations. Through seminars, workshops, and interactive sessions, students can be made aware of the global significance of their nation, especially in the context of the war. There are already numerous Erasmus+ programmes that contribute to enriching the expertise of young Ukrainians, preparing them for their future mission of helping their country to recover from the war.

Furthermore, specialised training programmes focusing on practical diplomatic skills should be introduced. These programmes, enriched with modules on negotiation, conflict resolution, and international law, can equip young diplomats to navigate the complex world of international relations. Cooperation with international organisations can also provide a platform for Ukrainian youth to engage with their global counterparts, fostering mutual understanding and cooperation. In the digital age, leveraging technology for virtual exchange programmes and webinars can bridge the gap between nations, even in the face of physical constraints.

Lastly, given the ongoing conflict, it is imperative to include modules on conflict resolution, peace advocacy, and the historical context of the Russian invasion in these programmes. This will ensure that the youth are well-equipped to represent Ukraine’s stance on global platforms.

Therefore, it is necessary that Ukraine not only should, but also must adopt a youth diplomacy strategy, as well as revitalise currently existing policy papers within this scope. Many reforms are now being implemented, which indicates the readiness of the government and civil society to unite around the cause.

Our nation will never be the same again, neither will the rest of the world. Today, we have an incredible opportunity to become a world influencer and set the forthcoming world agenda. With young people, who have always been game-changers in world history, it is our obligation to open and enhance their potential. 

Contributors: Yan Earl-Ruzhytskyi and Ruslan Hrabovskyi 

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