2023 is the European Year of Skills, a year focusing on the importance of acquiring the skills necessary to succeed in the modern world. The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-21, followed by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, have had a detrimental impact on world stability but in Ukraine itself they have created unprecedented challenges. Access to quality medicine is limited and power outages are frequent. All these challenges combined continue to cause emotional upheavals among a significant proportion of the population. However, these crises can also provide opportunities for growth and development of new skills in new environments, manifesting as catalysts for change and long term innovation.
Resilience is the ability of people or things to rapidly recover after something unpleasant, such as shock or injury. I consider this skill to be one of the most important attributes that young people should be able to demonstrate today. Resilience refers to the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity, and continue moving forward. In Eastern Neighbourhood countries, resilience is absolutely necessary, for those who are resilient can better cope with uncertainty and stress, and are more likely to succeed when challenged.
Another term that is sometimes used alongside “resilience” is “resistance”, though the two should not be conflated. Resistance is the act of fighting against something that is attacking you, or refusing to accept the status quo. While resilience can be useful to resistance, it is not the same thing. While resilience is the ability to bounce back, resistance is refusing to comply, perhaps with the authorities, or in Ukraine’s case, the occupation.
More than ever, young people in Ukraine need to be resilient as they are faced with unpredictable events, emergency situations and other dramatic challenges. Not only is this important for individuals, but also for the society as a whole. People who are resilient are more likely to be active citizens in their communities and to make positive changes.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented many challenges, especially for young people, but also provided opportunities for growth. The spread of online education, for example, is commonplace today. Now in the conditions of a real war in Ukraine, many young people have been forced to develop even more new skills and thus become more resilient.
For example, youth centres and schools have set up shelters that allow them to continue tuition and activities even during air raids. And in winter, when there were constant power outages, the state and charitable organisations created “unbreakable points”, equipped with a generator and heaters. So, for example, a video spread around the world showing a Ukrainian teacher teaching her online lessons through a power cut, near a post office branch where there was internet from a generator.  It was a true example of indomitability.
Another example is Mykhailo Fedorov. The 31-year-old Minister of Digital Transformation and Ukraine’s youngest cabinet member has rallied the Ukrainian IT community and lobbied international tech companies to support Ukraine in the digital hybrid war against Russia. He is also behind the wartime adaptation of a government app that is providing social benefits to millions of internally displaced people who lost their jobs as a result of the war.
Nataliia Shevchuk, Chairwoman of the National Youth Council of Ukraine, highlights the dramatic situation facing young people: in one way, she says, it can seem as if the war “is creating a protracted and complex crisis in which we are losing a whole generation of children and youth”.
“This is true when it comes to human losses,” she admits, but adds: “At the same time, there are unprecedented opportunities to seize the moment for profound reforms towards European integration, without the moral right to make a mistake in memory of those who gave their lives for Ukraine and Europe.”
In 2022, the European Year of Youth, the team of the “ТВОРИ” youth spaces and the European Youth Capital 2025 of the city of Lviv launched a video clip with the main message that Ukrainian youth did not lose their youth, but actually pumped it up, a message echoed by Nataliia Shevchuk. “We have upgraded our skills in many areas.” she says. “We have become more multi-tasking, stress-resistant and adaptable to all kinds of challenges, from air raids to mass blackouts. The full-scale invasion reaffirmed that the environment of civic activism and youth organisations is a unique space for acquiring soft skills at any time.”
She emphases the importance of creating a favourable environment for the comprehensive development of youth skills, which in the near future will lead to sustainable reconstruction and growth. “The adoption of European integration legislation to support adult education (lifelong learning) is important for the creation of such an environment. This will allow us to support young people who lost their jobs due to the war or were forced to retrain, it will promote the reintegration and resocialisation of war veterans, and will help to improve qualifications.”
But above all, she adds, “it is important for young people to remember that democracy and peace require constant commitment and work. This does not start somewhere at high political levels, but also from school, university and own community. It is precisely in this that you can acquire all the most relevant and necessary skills and abilities.”
Yuliana Vashchuk, head of the “JCI Youth” NGO, is also hopeful: “Even in such difficult times for our country, we can see the growth of a new generation of socially conscious citizens who are committed to positively influencing their communities. Over the past year, our young people have gained valuable skills and experience in social emotional learning, digital and media literacy. And they help young people become more effective agents of change.”
Yuliana says one of the most important skills young people have developed is the ability to work on their own mental health and support each other: “War has created challenges for young people to develop resilience and courage as they face significant challenges every day.”
Young people’s involvement in civil society is one of the most striking aspects about Ukrainian youth. Despite the war, youth are active in promoting social justice and advocating for change. They have gained new skills in advocacy, community organising and public speaking.
The resilience of young people in Ukraine has been impressive in the face of war. They have overcome hardships, displacement and loss of loved ones but have displayed great strength and resilience. Many young people have learned new skills like language skills, entrepreneurship, and leadership through EU support programmes, such as EU4 Skills and EU study days. These programmes help participants to succeed in the face and overcome challenges.
In summary, crises and difficulties force us to learn new skills and adapt. Today’s instability and constant change highlight the importance of resilience. This is an essential skill for today’s young people. Taking into account all the challenges and contextual nuances, politicians at different levels should remember that the focus on youth and the development of skills and abilities among young people should not last only for one year, but should become the basic value of creating state and European policies, not only at the EU level, but in neighbouring countries aspiring to join the European Union (Eastern Partnership, Western Balkans). As we celebrate the European Year of Skills, let us not forget the importance of learning resilience and other skills that will allow us to make positive changes in the world.
- Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/english/resilience#:~:text=%2Fr%C9%AA%CB%88z%C9%AAli%C9%99nsi%2F,as%20shock%2C%20injury%2C%20etc.
- Cambridge Dictionary https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/resistance
- Video in “West observer” https://westobserver.com/news/europe/in-kyiv-without-electricity-a-teacher-held-a-lesson-just-outside-a-touching-video/
- Article in “Atlantic Council” https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/generation-ua-young-ukrainians-are-driving-the-resistance-to-russias-war/