Ukraine Rising: Perspectives of a European (r)Evolution

The Ukrainian crisis has dominated the news in the past months. In order to show a European perspective on the situation, AEGEE-Nijmegen organised a debate night, with a broad panel of academics, policy makers and of course AEGEEans from Ukraine. The debate, titled ‘Ukraine Rising: perspectives of a European (r)Evolution’, took place on May 14th and was the kick-off for a series of thematic events on Ukraine. The AEGEEan spoke to the organising team about their activity.

Last December a small delegation of AEGEE-Nijmegen members visited the city of Lviv to witness and experience what’s happening there first hand. There, they came in contact with some of the organisers of the demonstrations, and spoke with them about their view on the protests and Ukraine’s future. As the conflict escalated, they remain concerned for Ukraine, and decided to act. Soon enough ten motivated members were found and Project Ukraine became a fact, consisting of Manon Luinenburg (President), Monika Paskauskaite (Secretary), Luke Peerdeman (Treasurer and Board Responsible), Jesper van Munster (PR & Fundraising), Jenya Bednaya (Incoming Responsible), Anouk Evers (Outgoing Responsible), Alexander van Ratingen, Wouter de Vries, Dorian Schaap and Ron Stoop.

During the event a broad panel discussed their views on the history, present and future of Ukraine.   First off, doctor Marc Jansen (University of Amsterdam) put the Euromaidan rallies, the deposition of Yanukovych and the annexation of the Crimea in a historical perspective. After his address, two Ukranian AEGEEans shared their personal stories; Nelia Golubiatnikova from Lviv and Diana Melikian from Charkiv. Even though both girls had a long trip behind them, they still managed to show the well-known AEGEE-spirit during their presentations. Nelia shared her personal story about the demonstrations in Lviv, while Diana focused on the situation in the eastern part of Ukraine and the anti Maidan protests.

After the speeches, a panel debate was held, to which the earlier speakers contributed with additional experts. These were John Stienen, OSCE observer, civil servant and AEGEE alumnus, and Mikhail Smirnov, a Russian student, who now studies conflict sciences in Nijmegen. Together with the audience, they discussed about the future of Ukraine. The goal of the debate was to have people from different backgrounds share the different perspectives on the current situations. The personal stories of the Ukranian speakers and the passion of the Russian panel member resulted in a strong discussion, while the audience felt free to share their opinion too.

The evening attracted over 80 participants, from a variety of backgrounds.  The next big event on the calendar will be an international conference on Ukraine, later this year. The conference will consist of lectures from different international speakers and interactive workshops, so the different visions can be shared. Project Ukraine wants to combine the event with an exchange, so participants can discover Nijmegen and the Netherlands too, while sharing their views and concerns in an international arena.

Of course, a question that arises is: should there be more large events like this organised about the situation in Ukraine? The organising committee says they were lucky to have enough enthusiastic members, and that organising an event like this takes up a lot of time and energy. They feel like a dire situation like the one in Ukraine deserves to be taken seriously. That’s why they wanted to provide a platform where people from different background can feel free to share their thoughts.

As organisers, they wanted to remain neutral which can be a delicate balance on such controversial topics. Their main goal was to add to a comprehensive civil discussion on the Ukrainian situation. It was felt that this kind of event was something their antenna could do, and that the organisers had the passion and capacity to do the topic justice. They feel it’s very important to find the passion in your antenna, and to translate that passion into events that fit the identity of your local. “In the end, we just hope that we could help, even in a small way, to illuminate and educate about Ukraine’s situation”, Jesper says.

Written by Svenja van der Tol, AEGEE-Nijmegen, pictures taken by Kelley van Evert, AEGEE-Nijmegen