The pandemic has made it difficult for The Danish Youth House to organise events but things are looking better now and project leader Julie Arnfred Bojesen says that everything is in place for next year. She expects to host a big opening party in Spring. 

The Ukrainian-Danish Youth House in Kyiv started its activities this year with an online launch due to the pandemic, which has postponed many of the initial plans for the initiative – created by the Danish Cultural Institute and The Danish Youth Council with a support from the Danish Foreign Ministry on 18 million Danish kroner. The project, aiming at supporting democratic change and empowering youth in Ukraine, is, however, on track, explains project leader Julie Arnfred Bojesen to Ukrainenu.

Among other things, she says that they have managed to find a building from where they will host events in the future. Many planned activities this year have had to be adjusted and moved online due to the pandemic, but that might change next year.

“We made the best out of the situation last year, but it was very difficult to travel and connect people through dialogue by meeting physically, which is the main reason for this project,” says Bojesen, “We still managed to do good things both online and offline in 2021, and we have spent the time creating a great network and finding out how we best can target young, active people’s needs..”

“Next year, we have a lot more on the program, as we are now well-settled and have the capacity to operate at  full power.We will move into the physical Youth House, where we are planning a big opening in spring. If corona permits, we will be able to host many more activities,” says Bojesen and adds that while there has been quite some success with online events and workshops, it will be great to be able to organise more in person-workshops.

The goals are still the same

Bojesen underlines that the goals remain the same for The Ukrainian-Danish Youth House despite the pandemic. This year, a group of young Ukrainian activists was in Denmark on the youth leader exchange program, where they met Danish counterparts to learn from each other and explore democratic aspects. They, for example, met with the mayor of Holbæk, Christina Krzyrosiak Hansen, the youngest ever Danish mayor, to learn about her experience of gaining political responsibility and leadership at a very young age.

“I think that both Ukrainians and Danes can learn a lot from each other,” says Bojesen, “The Ukrainians received new reflections and perspectives on is the different aspects of the Danish democracy, and how it is not just about electing someone but also about trust within the society. The other way around, I think that the Danes can learn a lot about how Ukrainians just never stop fighting for what they believe in. They continue to work tirelessly, no matter the obstacles.”

“It is my impression that there is another kind of spark in activists in Ukraine.,” says Bojesen, “The context is, of course, different – and that makes the comparison of civil society and being young and active in our two countries interesting. There is a big difference between being a scout in Denmark and being a political activist in Ukraine. So, they have a lot to learn from each other in that regard.”

Bojesen also adds that Ukrainians and Danes often find they are very similar when they meet. While there are some differences, the Danish and Ukrainian sense of humour and way to behave is close to each other and communication is easy, she says.

Need to know how to organise

One of the main goals of The Ukrainian-Danish Youth House is to provide young people with the tools to better organise and support their understanding of democracy. Bojesen says that the many workshops provided by The Ukrainian-Danish Youth House are aiming at providing the participants with tools to be a more active part of society – such as in communication, artistic or creative expression, planning and organising.

“Denmark is known for having many associations but that is not the case here in Ukraine,” says Bojesen, “Young Ukrainians are searching for influence and to get the tools to do something and learn. There aren’t so many places to go to get involved in Ukraine, so we see a lot of interest towards our projects. Actually, a lot more than I expected when I first came here.”

Do you see an effect at this point?

“We are working with youth and the civil society, so we cannot measure effects on a large scale shortly after an initiative. But we hope to see results on a societal level after a few years, and we are already getting a lot of positive feedback from the young people we work with and who participated in our activities, who tell their stories of how it has had an impact on them. It is inspiring to see that some have become more conscious about their rights and about their competences. That they can lead these processes and that they feel that their voices are important,” she says.

“We hope to be that place that gives people a voice and make sure that they are heard. It is about consciousness. To know that you have rights to be heard. It is often a personal change and that personal change in some can spread to others.”