This post written by Stephanie Rust.
In my day-to-day work I rarely stop to think about what ISC was doing ten years ago, but I was prompted to do so last month when Andriy Skipalskyi, a former ISC staff member from the Ukraine Citizen Action Network (UCAN) project, stopped by our DC office.
Back in November 2004 I had just joined ISC as Macedonia Country Director. Andriy was Grant Program Coordinator in Kiev. The goal of the UCAN project was to make citizen participation and advocacy a regular part of life in post-Soviet Ukraine. We were amazed as many of the organizations and individuals we had trained and supported through the project were actively participating in the Orange Revolution, a series of peaceful civic protests in response to what was seen as a corrupt run-off election for President.
In the intervening decade, Andriy has built on his UCAN experience in impressive ways. Today, Andriy is Chairman of the Board of Life Regional Advocacy Center, a Kiev-based nonprofit NGO that provides advocacy and tobacco control expertise nationally and regionally. Life Center successfully advocated for two tobacco control laws that increased the smoking age, restricted places where smoking is allowed, increased taxes on cigarettes, and put graphic images of the effects of smoking on cigarette packages. The net effect has been fewer Ukrainians smoking and an overall healthier population!
To be honest, I did expect Andriy to say that the knowledge and skills he gained at ISC contributed to a large part of his organization’s success – it’s something I hear pretty often from “ISC alumni.” And he did. But I was amazed to hear that he also sees a direct connection between those who participated in the UCAN project and the most successful nonprofit, non-governmental organizations today in Ukraine.
Here’s what Andriy had to say about his fellow UCAN alumni and their work today:
“They are focused and steady. They are still around, sustainable and have results…
For sure there is still much to be done: coalition building and forging constructive relationships with government, monitoring and enforcing the progressive laws that are passed.”
It is hard, these days, to think about what is happening in Ukraine without a great deal of sadness and a fair amount of worry. We are a long way from the friends we worked with during the UCAN project, and we are concerned and anxious about the challenges they face today. There is much work to be done, as Andriy notes, including the need to resolve the deep divisions between East and West. But it gives me hope to know that Andriy and his colleagues have hope, and that the work we did a decade ago still matters today.
Back in Ukraine in 2004, the word “advocate” meant someone had specific technical skills and training, and not many Ukrainians knew what it meant. Andriy says that today everyone calls themselves an advocate. It is no longer special; it is normal and accepted. I will remember this conversation on those days when I’m frustrated or tired – it can take a long time to change cultural and social norms, but it is absolutely possible.