On 1 December 2022, Promote Ukraine, under the patronage of the President of the European Economic and Social Committee, Christa Schweg, and with the support of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung organised the European Advocacy Forum – Ukraine Leads. The Forum brought together Ukrainian civil society organisations from 14 countries to discuss challenges and best practices of advocacy and actions in support of Ukraine.
During an opening speech, the President of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), Christa Schweg, welcomed the participants. She spoke about the strength of the Ukrainian civil society and expressed a full support of the EESC. “We are here to help you with our knowhow, including on postwar reconstruction. Ukrainian proverb says “No water flows under a lying stone”. I am convinced that you are able to move that stone and we are here to support you”, said President Schweg.
Igor Bryzhatyi, who represented Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS), highlighted KAS programmes in support of non-governmental organisations and the rationale behind the “Ukraine Leads” Forum. He noted that unlike in many other countries where KAS is active, Ukrainian civil society is professional, well-coordinated and well-networked. It joined forces with the government, people and business “to say no, to say stop and to withstand the attack of the Russian Federation”. According to Mr. Bryzhatyi “it is now the time to also develop capacities and coordination of Ukrainian civil society outside of Ukraine in order to advocate more effectively in the EU”.
During his introductory remarks, member of the European Parliament from Romania, Vlad Gheorghe, spoke about a Facebook group “United for Ukraine” that he created in order to help the country. Today, the group has close to 282,000 members. Thousands of Ukrainians found help through the page.
Chairwoman of Promote Ukraine, Marta Barandiy, thanked everyone for their important roles in making “Ukraine Leads” a reality. She stressed that organisations which are represented at the event have done incredible things from gathering thousands of people for demonstrations to fundraising, sending life-saving equipment to Ukraine and helping displaced people.
Following opening remarks, the participants were invited to a networking session in order to get to know each other and the invited guests. Afterwards they were divided into 5 groups in order to identify the challenges that different organisations face in their work as well as possible solutions.
Russian propaganda, lack of understanding in some countries that peace cannot be achieved without Ukraine’s victory, sustainable human resources and finances, lack of networking and coordination among civil society, were among some of the challenges that were identified and presented to the audience.
During the second session, the aim of the group work was to generate ideas to tackle identified challenges. The participants were again split into five groups with moderators from Promote Ukraine guiding the discussions. After one hour the groups were ready to present their solutions.
When it comes to Russian propaganda, group one thought that a Telegram channel on the major Russian narratives would be very useful to create. Involvement of influencers in destroying Russian myths and organisation of press tours of European journalists to Ukraine to show the real situation on the ground was proposed by the second group. A representative of the first group also spoke about the importance of repeating the message “no peace without weapons” in different EU countries.
To help coordinate the efforts of the Ukrainian civil society organisations, group three proposed to organise an annual Forum, similar to the European Forum Alpbach. “It can become an inspiration for us. It was founded after the Second World War by 30 people, today it is attended by more than 8000 representatives of business, politics and the civil society” – said Hanna Slobodyanyuk from IWEK (Germany).
Human resources, volunteer burn-out and lack of resources within Ukrainian civil society in the EU was a topic that was especially poignant among the groups. For solutions, group three argued that it was important to focus on professionalisation of HR practices. When looking for new volunteers, interviews and motivation are important. Signature of the volunteer contracts could also help to professionalise the relations with the volunteers. At the same time, through alumni programmes a contact with those volunteers that left should be kept as they can still bring important contributions to the organisations. Group four also stressed that understanding which people are needed for which actions is important to have. Finally, group 5 reminded everyone that knowing how to prioritise and also how to involve business into our work could help organisations in the long term.
Last but not least important, group 4 argued that localization, in other words, adapting our methods to the countries we are operating in, is the right way forward.
In the last session, the participants discussed the results of Ukraine Leads: Advocacy Forum and the next steps. Bohdan Yeromenko, IT Lead at Promote Ukraine, presented some ideas for a digital platform that could help organisations to continue sharing best practices, coordinate and advance their work in defending Ukrainian interests in the EU. The participants were encouraged to reflect on whether such digital platform would be useful for their organisations.
Marta Barandiy, the Chairwoman of Promote Ukraine, closed the Ukraine Leads Forum by thanking all the participants, the supporters Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and the European Economic and Social Committee, but most importantly the 20 volunteers of Promote Ukraine who helped to organise the event.
The following organisations were represented at the Forum:
- Unlimited Democracy – Verein zur Förderung der Demokratisierung – Austria
- Promote Ukraine – Belgium
- Hlas Ukrajiny – Czech Republic
- Bevar Ukraine – Denmark
- Institute of Innovative Governance – Estonia
- PromoUkraina – France
- Eastern Circles – France
- IWEK – Germany
- Professional Government Association – Germany
- Ukrainian Action in Ireland – Ireland
- Associazione Cristiana degli Ucraini in Italia – Italy
- Lukraine – Luxembourg
- Stand with Ukraine Foundation – Poland
- International Cultural Club – Spain
- HELP UKRAINE ALICANTE – Spain