Open World facilitator, Yuriy Didula, helped establish a youth center in the eastern city of Kramatorsk called “Freedom Home."

Open World facilitator, Yuriy Didula, helped establish a youth center in the eastern city of Kramatorsk called “Freedom Home."

Open World facilitator, Yuriy Didula, helped establish a youth center in the eastern city of Kramatorsk called “Freedom Home."

Open World facilitator, Yuriy Didula, joined the Open World family in September of 2014 and has traveled with two delegations to the United States. The last delegation he traveled with was a group of NGO and Civic Society Development professionals traveling to Brookings, SD. The group was comprised of five civic activists who work in social, cultural, educational and environmental fields. Yuriy Didula is a native of Western Ukraine, but since mid-2014 has been active in the eastern city of Kramatorsk, where he has led volunteer efforts to rebuild homes damaged in the conflict. He helped establish a youth center in the city called “Freedom Home,” which has inspired similar initiatives in other cities in eastern Ukraine.

1. What is your most memorable Open World experience?

Among the most memorable experiences, I would most definitely highlight the visit with an organization that runs a social entrepreneurship program with a mission to integrate and employ people with mental and physical disabilities. All of the delegates, including myself, were impressed by their ability to help those with disabilities. We were also impressed with how socially responsible large corporations and businesses could be in offering them jobs.

2. How do you network with Open World alumni in Ukraine? How useful is your OW network to your own work?

All of my past delegates and I are part of civic society, so we do not just communicate, but often partner in our activities. For example, Olga Skrypnyk a human rights activist from Crimea who participated in Open World’s program to Buffalo, NY in October 2014, came to The Freedom Home youth center in Kramatorsk and conducted training on critical thinking in the circumstance of war. I think one of the most valuable gifts Open World gave me is exactly the ability to meet and establish friendships with civic activists at home.

3. What is the mission of the Lviv Education Foundation? What does the organization hope to accomplish? What are some of the most significant accomplishments, so far?

Lviv Education Foundation’s mission is to create favorable conditions for the development of Ukrainian society, spread humanistic values and the spirit of volunteerism. We achieve that by motivating youth to serve those who are in need, by providing tools for those who strive for change, and by helping young people travel and communicate. Among the most significant accomplishments are the long-running mentorship programs that provide care to children whose parents died during the war, a service project called, Building Ukraine Together that brought together over 200 young people in Eastern Ukraine to rebuild houses, and the establishment of two civic activism centers in Kramatorsk (Freedom Home) and Sloviansk (Telytsia, Platform for Initiatives). These were the first cities to be occupied by Russians, and first to be liberated by the Ukrainian army.

4. Since the opening of Freedom Home, how many people have visited the center? What does the center offer the community?

The Freedom Home serves as a community center that is meant to foster informal education, offer networking opportunities, promote innovation and urban development and unite community members in solving local problems. The Freedom Home center offers a healthy environment, comfort and motivates the youth to become involved in a field of their choice. Most importantly, it creates the atmosphere of trust and security that is a fundamental precondition for a healthy civic society. To achieve that, we offer trainings in personal and professional development through art workshops and master-classes, Hackathons, and outside-the-city volunteering opportunities. Both Freedom Home in Kramatorsk and Teplytsia in Sloviansk serve as cultural bridges between eastern Ukraine and the rest of the world. Not only do we give youth a chance to better understand Ukraine, but we also expose them to different cultures, people and ideas.

5. What is your vision for the center in the future?

Throughout its existence, we realized that Freedom Home not only served as a platform for cultural, professional and artistic development, but also played the role of a watchdog organization making local government more transparent and accountable. Our goal is to continue forming a healthy society. During next couple of years, we will emphasize informal education, cultural and professional East-West exchanges and promotion of volunteering. We are also in the process of developing a social entrepreneurship program (Crafts Workshop, Bicycle rent, and Recycling) which will both employ Internally Displaced Persons and generate income to cover a part of center’s operational expenses.

6. How has volunteerism been significant to your work?

Volunteerism has been vital in the formation and, later, the operation of the Freedom Home. The very creation of the center would have been impossible without previous volunteer activities and mobilization of local youth. LEF has conducted four service trips in Eastern Ukraine. By implementing small and practical projects and mobilizing youth, LEF has showed the local community that change is possible.

7. Has Freedom Home dispelled some of the pernicious stereotypes that exist between Ukrainians in the east and the west?

Indeed, among most important achievements of Freedom Home and Greenhouse Center is that their existence and work dispelled some of the most pernicious stereotypes about East-West split. In fact, the division is less geographical, as it is mental and psychological. There are people who believe in democracy and freedom, and people who want to preserve the current corrupt system. There is a clash of ideas in Russia, on the one side are human rights, accountable governance, fair elections, and on the other is the monopoly on state power and total corruption. Most Ukrainians are now trying to build strong civic society and democracy.