"Our mission is to assist in the reformation of Ukraine consistent with European standards, as well as to introduce democratic values and develop civil society in Ukraine."

From the Statute of
the Center for European Initiatives

The journal of a participant or a look from the inside

From the 17th to the 26th of February Sumy (Ukraine) was the site of an international youth exchange program between participants from Germany, Georgia, Poland and Ukraine. The topic was “Youth against Corruption.” Each country was represented by 9 active and creative youth aged 20-25 and one group leader. The exchange was sponsored by the Sumy Center for European Information and funded by the European Union program “Youth in Action.” We would like to mention that this is the first such event in our city. The first, but we hope not the last.

For us, the participants from Ukraine, the whirlwind of events began approximately one week before the start of the project. First, we had to organize a Ukrainian National Evening that would give the other participants the opportunity to get acquainted with Ukraine and with its culture; the majority of them had never been to our country before. Secondly, as hosts, our Ukrainian group had to provide the other participants with our well-known Ukrainian hospitality and to create a friendly but working atmosphere. The week of preparations came to an end very quickly because when you are doing an interesting job time flies by very quickly.

17 FebruaryArrival of participants. We were the first participants to arrive at the venue in order to have enough time to get ready for the arrival of our foreign guests. The group from Georgia was first to arrive followed by our guests from Germany. The Polish group was the last to come. We met all three groups with “bread and salt” and with balloons inscribed with “Welcome to Ukraine.”

Even though the guests were very tired after their long journey the desire to get acquainted won over tiredness. A game to get acquainted was played and well received: forming a circle the participants shared names and interesting facts about themselves. After that a movie was available but most were more interested in continuing their informal conversation.

18 February The first working day. Anna Desyatova, coordinator and initiator of the project, together with Luca Di Carli (Switzerland) and Rebecca Rogers (USA) presented the trainers of this exchange and talked about the project in detail. After that the hard work began. Before the exchange we participants engaged in different activities that helped to coordinate our upcoming work and to build a rallied group, not only among the representatives of our own national group, but also among the representatives of the other country groups.

After lunch we started our work on the project itself. We worked in our national groups to prepare a presentation about the level of corruption in our individual countries, about the reasons for its appearance, and about suggested alternative ways to fight it. We simultaneously worked in mixed groups where work proved to be much more difficult. Each had their own opinion of the problem caused by different levels of corruption in their individual countries.

In addition to daily work, every evening we met in our national groups in order to express positive and negative feelings about the day and share our opinions and impressions. After that the group leaders met.

This first day was also the day of the national Ukrainian evening. In order to show our culture to the full extent we invited professional dancers wearing national costumes who demonstrated Ukrainian National dances and songs. After the major performance all those who wanted were able to join the dancers and learn some movements. The evening ended with the tasting of Ukrainian national dishes and drinks.

19 FebruaryThe second day proved just as exciting as the first. Journalists from Sumy Regional radio came to visit us and get acquainted with the participants, with the work we were doing, and to observe our national presentations about Corruption. Following our national presentations we discussed our own personal encounters with corruption. As it turned out situations involving the giving and taking of bribes in Ukraine are similar to those in Poland and Georgia. In Germany people encounter almost no instances of corruption in their everyday lives; it exists only at the highest economical and political levels.

After lunch we had an excursion around the city of Sumy. Having divided everybody according to their preferences, we, as the hosting country, divided ourselves among the other participants and showed them the most memorable places of our city, as well as the best places for shopping or drinking tea in the cozy cafes.

In the evening the Polish group presented their country. They demonstrated a traditional polish wedding and treated us with traditional polish soup that reminded us of borsht.

20 FebruaryContinuation of ardent discussions on the topic “Corruption.” This day the facilitator for our theatrical performance, Shannon Zimmerman (USA), arrived in order to help us get ready for the final part of the project – the theatrical performance. After lunch we began discussing the scenario: the things we would like to show, what major moments we needed to demonstrate, in what order, etc. So that all of the participants could take part in the performance we decided to create groups according to our interests, such as pantomime, theatre, music, dances, and shadow theatre.

Sports were also a big part of the exchange. Every evening we had the opportunity to play sports in the sanatorium gymnasium, and we had use of a ping-pong table.

21 FebruarySki day. In order to make leisure time more interesting the organizers of the project suggested a half day for skiing. Almost everybody used this opportunity because marvelous snow fell the evening before; for some people it was their first time. This gorgeous walk ended with a terrific snowball fight.

After lunch we continued our serious preparation for the theatrical performance. The participants decided to portray the life of an ordinary girl, Maria, who faces corruption everywhere in her life, from the very first to the very last day. But, regardless of the circumstances, she continues to fight against it. This was one of the most important days in the whole project because we had to come to a consensus, taking into consideration everyone’s point of view.

In the evening we had the opportunity to get acquainted with Georgian culture. No one was left indifferent. Georgian landscapes, hot dances and music took our breath away. And of course, Georgian dishes, sweets, and worldwide famous Georgian wine.

22 FebruaryRehearsal day. The groups demonstrated the results of their hard work. It was finally decided that the theatrical performance would consist of 6 parts: shadow theater, pantomime, musical, and two theater pieces. Russian was chosen as the official language of the performance as many of the participants could speak or understand it. Of course some participants had to take up rapid “language lessons.”

In the evening we had the German presentation. We remembered it for its numerous quiz shows – contests that helped everybody to get acquainted with Germany and the German culture.

23 FebruaryThe day of final rehearsals. That day we saw the final results of our work in groups. After dinner we had a dress rehearsal and in the air we could feel excitement and tension knowing it was the final day before the performance.

24 FebruaryThe most important day for the participants of the project; the day of the performance. The atmosphere was even tenser. This was not surprising because many guests had been invited as well as representatives of the Sumy community and Mass media.

The last preparations, the last rehearsals, and at last the performance. The play was awesome! All actors performed wonderfully, which showed that the work we did over those long days was not done in vain, and it actually brought great results. In spite of different cultures, different mother tongues, and different views on the problem called “Corruption” we managed to create a performance that showed everybody that first we must change our attitude about the problem and then we must try to fight it as Maria did.

After the performance a press conference took place where the participants came to the conclusion that corruption in every country differs only in national currency (Hrynia, Euro, Lari, etc.). The final event of the evening was a small banquet where the guests could talk to each of us personally.

25 February The last day of the project. Before lunch the participants shared conclusions about the project, shared their opinions, and spoke about further exchange programs and projects.

After lunch we again had the opportunity to spend our free time in Sumy and buy souvenirs. Many people had the desire to visit the house-museum of Chekov and Sumy Fine Arts Museum. What a pleasant feeling that our cultural heritage is known far beyond the borders of our country.

26 FebruaryDeparture day. As we know, people who are united with an idea and a goal find a common language more quickly. That is why all 40 participants became dear to each other during the 10 days of this project. With tears in their eyes young people exchanged their contact information and invited each other to come visit. It’s a pity that all good things must come to an end.

In the end we would like to express our gratitude to the Sumy Center for European Information and especially to the coordinator of the project Anna Desyatova. Additionally we would like to thank the Peace Corps Volunteers Rebecca Rogers and David Becker, the volunteers from Switzerland Luca Di Carli and Sebastian Brenn, and of course our wonderful organizations and leaders who made it possible for us to attend this great event: Jugendhilfe und Sozialarbeit e.V. (Germany); Amicus Association (Poland); Youth NGO "Student-Youth Council" (Georgia). We are sure that all 38 other participants will join our words of gratitude because the organization of such events demands huge enthusiasm and persistent work.

Such exchange programs are really a marvelous opportunity for youth development beyond the borders of their educational establishments. It is an excellent opportunity to overcome language barriers and to improve our language skills, to learn how to work in groups, and to learn how to respect the point of view of other people. As soon as we returned home we heard skeptical questions: “Well, did you succeed in fighting corruption?”; “Is there no corruption in Ukraine anymore?” As a response we thought about the words of one Anglican priest who said, “When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits I dreamed about changing the world. When I became older and wiser I understood that it’s impossible to change the whole world. That’s why I decided to limit my aspirations and change only my country. This also turned out to be impossible. A lot of time flew by and I became old. In my last vehement effort I wanted to change my family – i.e. my closest relatives. Unfortunately it was beyond my force. And only now, right before my dying hour, I understood for the first time that if I had changed myself first of all I would have influenced my family with my example, with their help I would have been able to better my country and who knows, it’s possible that I would have managed to change the whole world someday”. Of course, we were not able to fight all corruption during these ten days. But we can say for sure that none of us came back home the same. We became a little bit better; we changed our point of view and our attitude to a burning social problem.

Because, really, everything does depend on us!

Two Ukrainian participants of the project Anna Khvorost and Oksana Bondarenko