Public Service of Ukraine

POLTAVA BRANCH

Poltava branch of Public Service of Ukraine: “Building civil society for over 30 years”

From the declaration of Ukraine’s Independence to the present day, our civil society is constantly struggling with many challenges – from the uncertainty and poverty of the 90s to the war of today. There are a number of public organizations that have been operating for a long time, responding quickly to public requests and that are an important part of the development and support of the Ukrainian community. One of such organizations is Poltava branch of Public Service of Ukraine.  

For more than 30 years, a team of like-minded people has been implementing relevant and useful initiatives in Poltava region. Social and psychological rehabilitation is among several areas of work. The head of the organization, Ganna Kiyashchenko, talks about achievements and challenges over the years of work.

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HOW IT ALL BEGAN

  Poltava branch of Public Service of Ukraine began its work at the very beginning of the 90s, when our state had just gained Independence. These were, on the one hand, uplifting, and on the other hand, very difficult times. Organizational and financial support at the stage of formation was provided by the Public Service of Ukrainians of Canada and its branch in the city of St. Catharines.

The founders of the organization were members of People’s Movement of Ukraine and Prosvita, who saw that at that time it was important to provide social support to people in difficult financial circumstances.

Ganna Kiyashchenko

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In the early days, the activity had a humanitarian direction – providing food and clothing to children from low-income families, persons with disabilities, single elderly people, providing scholarships to talented students from poor families. For several years, summer camps were organized every summer for children from families who had financial difficulties, they held holidays and materially helped the elderly (primarily those repressed by the Soviet regime), communicated with children from orphanages.

However, over time, the number of people who needed financial assistance only increased. And we realized that without building a civil society, without the majority of Ukrainians being aware that they have rights and responsibilities, Ukraine will never have a state that will take care of its citizens. 

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FROM HUMANITARIAN AID TO CIVIC EDUCATION

We began to engage in legal education of the population, providing free informational, legal and consulting assistance. We began to teach citizens to protect their rights in relations with the local administration by applying to the court. Important in this context was our participation in the work on draft laws of the Verkhovna Rada “On labor protection”, “On universal mandatory pension insurance”, “On parties”, and the Civil Code: our colleagues submitted their amendments and comments to the Verkhovna Rada.

Since the end of the 90s, the organization’s activities have focused on education, dissemination of knowledge and best practices for the development of local communities, adult education in such areas as civic education, digital and media literacy.

A new part of our organization was created in 2015, called Theater of Contemporary Dialogue (TCD) – a format that uses art as a tool for solving social problems. Over the years, TCD has produced a number of socially important documentary performances, highlighting various social challenges, such as the integration and adaptation of IDPs into local communities, prejudice against certain categories of people, informational manipulation, corruption in educational institutions, bullying and many others.

Theater of contemporary dialogue

Theater of contemporary dialogue works on the basis of documentary materials – interviews with representatives of various target groups, journalistic research, recommendations of psychologists, sociologists, lawyers, and human rights defenders. These materials are extremely useful for analyzing many phenomena in our society.

We have another area of ​​work with documentaries – in the Poltava region we are also coordinating Docudays UA Traveling International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival. Since 2007, the residents of Poltava have been able to watch honest films about the challenges of today: the victory of justice, environmental problems, preservation of cultural heritage, war, etc.

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WORK DURING THE WAR AND SOCIAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL REHABILITATION

When the full-scale invasion of russia began in 2022, it was very noticeable in Poltava. The surrounding towns were shelled and destroyed, so the inhabitants began to leave them. Poltava received about 60,000 people, including many children who survived shelling, lost their homes, and some lost their loved ones. The team of Poltava branch of Public Service has teachers and specialists who know how to work with children, so we decided to hold events for little ones, because it was obvious that they needed attention, support and recovery.

In March we started the Art Anthill for children aged 6-14 – IDPs and local residents. It provides classes in music, visual arts, and acting. The Anthill forms a warm, supportive, creative environment in which children can express themselves and co-create together with teachers.

We also started workshops for teenagers and young people who have creative abilities and want to acquire basic competencies in media education.

However, not only children need social and psychological support, but adults as well. People who witnessed terrible events, lost their homes are under intense stress and often cannot cope with all this on their own without help. So our task became to help them adapt, find support, restore mental stability in a new environment. This is how work with social and psychological group rehabilitation began. We understood that people need to communicate and discuss not only social problems, but also their own experiences. We had not done self-help groups before, but we had a lot of experience in the field of adult education and conducting discussions in various formats, which became very helpful in this new form of activity.

The members of the groups with whom our facilitators work are mostly IDPs, among them many relatives of active military personnel and veterans. We have been working with internally displaced people since 2015. Before the full-scale invasion, these were mostly people who moved from Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and now many residents of Kharkiv region have moved to Poltava. However, people’s problems are very similar, regardless of where they come from.

The story of Elizaveta Melnyk, who moved to Poltava from Luhansk region and joined self-help groups.

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THE IMPORTANCE OF PARTNERSHIP

A challenge often faced by self-help group organizers is the lack of adequate meeting space. Then partner cooperation helps. One of the partners of Poltava branch of PSU in this direction is NGO “Common cause of Poltava region”. As the head of the organization Viktoria Bashmakova tells, “Common cause” began with humanitarian aid for internally displaced people in 2022 – people came to get basic necessities at the hub, which is conveniently located in the center of Poltava. However, at the beginning of 2023, it became clear that the needs of humanitarian nature are taking a back seat, but there is a real need for social adaptation and psychological support.

“We studied people’s requests, – says Ms. Viktoria. – We saw that they wanted to communicate, share their pain. After consulting with colleagues from the Poltava branch of PSU, we decided that we would work together on these requests. We had a large base (about 19,000 people applied to the organization at that time), and colleagues had great theoretical and practical tools. I personally attended one of the first self-help groups that we launched, so I was convinced of their effectiveness from my own experience.

In our hub, the groups are mostly attended by women aged 40+. The circle is a place where they can express themselves, they are LISTENED TO here. They talk about themselves, their problems, relationships with those around them. When your relatives and friends are far away – and this is often the case with IDPs – this support is especially important.”  

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COOPERATION WITH GURT RESOURCE CENTER

An important partner with whom we have been cooperating for a long time is GURT Resource Center. We met back in 1999, when GURT held training in Poltava. The first joint project was implemented in 2003-2005, it was devoted to the topic of institutional support of a network of social organizations to improve the efficiency of providing social services to local communities. Since then, our organization has repeatedly participated in various activities and projects initiated by GURT.

This year, in addition to joining the program for the development of social and psychological group rehabilitation in Ukraine, we also became participants in the initiative Meet and Code, which is implemented by GURT with the support of SAP Corporation. Since 2002, we have been conducting digital education training for teachers, journalists, and female entrepreneurs, and we see how this knowledge increases the capabilities of specialists at work and in everyday life. Therefore, this field is very close to us. The “Meet and Code” initiative is aimed primarily at children and young people, and this is especially important, because they need to learn digital skills as early as possible. So we use the opportunities of the initiative to train young people who have less prospects of obtaining relevant competencies, to encourage them to code, because it gives more options for self-realization in the future.

Thanks to these years of cooperation with the GURT Resource Center, we have strengthened ourselves institutionally, introduced Standards and quality management, improved our work with volunteers – we now more effectively involve them in the implementation of social projects and programs. Now, using previous relevant experience, we started working in the direction of social and psychological group rehabilitation. We are glad that this work brings benefits and expands the circle of partners.

With the EU Ambassador to Ukraine Matti Maasikas

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GURT Resource Center works on the development of social and psychological group rehabilitation with support from the Government of Sweden and the National Democracy Fund (NED).  

This material was prepared within the framework of the project “Psychosocial self-help for the support of Ukrainian communities”, which is carried out by GURT Resource Center with the financial support from Sweden.

The opinions, conclusions or recommendations are those of the authors of this material and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of Sweden. The authors are solely responsible for the content of the material.

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