The spirit of Zaporizhzhia – keeping up connections in the face of war
May 27, 2024

The spirit of Zaporizhzhia – keeping up connections in the face of war

Photo credit: Yevhen Kotenko via Reuters Connect 

Zaporizhzhia is one of the biggest cities in southeastern Ukraine, situated on the banks of the Dnipro River. Its nickname of the ‘Cossack capital’ refers to the city’s long and glorious history of bravery. Since its inception and up to now, the city has stood strong against tyranny and oppression, echoing its historic resilience in the streets and hearts of its people.

Since the first days of the full-scale russian invasion of Ukraine, Zaporizhzhia has witnessed dozens of mass shellings, destroyed houses, and thousands of air raid alerts. However, the hardships have failed to break the spirit of freedom that flows in the veins of Zaporizhzhians, and the city has become one of the biggest hubs for Ukrainians escaping from occupation. 

Today, the frontline city is trying to keep up with other Ukrainian cities in embracing European values among its citizens. Martial law in Ukraine was imposed on 24 February 2022, the day Russia launched its full-scale invasion, resulting in constant air raids, rocket attacks, lack of electricity, unstable mobile communications and Internet, and the transfer of Ukrainian pupils and students to distance learning for security reasons. As a consequence, there is a clear lack of in-person communication. This is especially acute for young people, who require information support. 

As citizens of Ukraine and representatives of YEAs in this country, we believe our goal is to support young people in developing their potential by organising meetings among Zaporizhzhia youth, especially in a face-to-face format. There is an enormous need for public events for the youth. One of the first in-person activities was organised by the YEAs in Zaporizhzhia. 

We decided to organise an event on the topic of ‘EU opportunities for youth’. the first in-person activity in the frontline city of Zaporizhzhia was held in a safe space – the Nezlamnyi Hub Zaporizhia, which has been a multifunctional shelter space since the first days of the invasion. When we spread the word about the event, many young people in Zaporizhzhia were excited to join in! 

8 January 2024, the day of the meeting, was the coldest one of this winter – even public transport had been cut to the minimum of a few buses an hour. At 7am, the city woke up to explosions. Nevertheless, we received a lot of questions in the chat of the event: “Hey, I hope everyone is safe. Are we still OK to attend?”, “Hi! Can we participate or the event will be cancelled?”. And despite everything, 56 youngsters still made it. Together, underneath the city, all united in a spirit of learning and growing. 

Among those who participated were students from local schools, colleges, and universities. It’s worth noting that a whole class from one of the city’s schools joined, along with their teachers, showing how much they wanted to be a part of the event. Despite the tough times with conflict and transportation problems, these young people were eager to learn and connect. Their presence shows how determined they are to learn about and make the most of opportunities for growth and to stay connected with their community. It’s clear that education and coming together are important to them, and their involvement gives hope for a better future, including being more connected with the European Union.

 The main objective of this event was to share information with young people about opportunities offered and funded by the EU that are useful for young people and to provide resources for finding opportunities for young people in the EU, such as Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs, Erasmus Mundus, the College of Europe, and much more, and to tell more about the YEAs initiative and the regional communication programme EU NEIGHBOURS EAST. The participants were able to socialise and get acquainted with each other during the coffee break, and take part in the Q&A session, as well as take part in the Kahoot-quiz, where they were able to win branded gifts from the YEAs initiative. It is exciting to see how the youth activity in Zaporizhzhia is gaining momentum, as young people actively seek opportunities to engage with initiatives like the YEAs. These events provide a platform for them to come together, learn, and contribute to their community. Young Zaporizhzhians want to learn more about what we’re doing with the YEAs initiative and the EU NEIGHBOURS EAST programme. They’re curious about what the EU stands for and what opportunities it offers young people like them. 

The strong interest and participation of young people in Zaporizhzhia have inspired us to continue organising similar events in the future. Seeing how much these events mean to them motivates us to keep providing opportunities for learning and networking. By continuing to create such gatherings, we aim to continue to foster a sense of community and empowerment among the young people of Zaporizhzhia. We look forward to seeing even more enthusiastic participation in our upcoming activities as we strive to create a platform for growth, learning, and engagement within the community.

In Zaporizhzhia, a city known for its history of bravery and resilience, this interest in learning and participating shows how determined its people are. Despite facing tough times, they’re eager to embrace new ideas and opportunities. With each person, especially the youth, wanting to get involved, Zaporizhzhia moves closer to its goal of being part of a brighter future linked with the European Union.

The author has chosen not to capitalise “russia” or its adjective “russian” in response to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, as a way of refusing recognition of the russian regime and underlining its isolation from the international community.

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