Democracy Under Pressure in Ukraine: JEF Europe’s commitment to supporting Ukrainian youth

, by Asfandiyar

Democracy Under Pressure in Ukraine: JEF Europe's commitment to supporting Ukrainian youth
Kwh1050, CC BY-SA 4.0 <> , via Wikimedia Commons

In a modern technological world, European society is known for its human rights friendly laws, freedom of expression and its stand against authoritarianism. This discussion has particularly gained pace after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In order to safeguard Europe from the catastrophic plans of Putin, European leaders took a stand for Kyiv both diplomatically and militarily. However, a beacon of hope emerges as JEF Europe spearheads a campaign to address the pressing challenges of Democracy Under Pressure. With a focus on the backsliding of law and human rights over the past two years, this campaign marks a pivotal moment in the organization’s history, building on its legacy of activism and advocacy for a more just and equitable society.

The genesis of this campaign traces back to 2006, when JEF was at the forefront of the Free-Belarus Action, advocating for democratic reforms in the region. In 2014, amidst the geopolitical upheaval in Ukraine, Russia, and other EU states, the campaign evolved into “Democracy Under Pressure,” encompassing the entire European continent. The campaign has been running for 18 consecutive years and aims to raise awareness about the threats to the rule of law in Europe. Despite some setbacks, the campaign emphasizes the need to support Ukraine and democratic voices in Belarus, Russia, and beyond to ensure long-term peace.

In line with its manifesto, JEF Europe recently organized an event with the National Youth Council of Ukraine (NYCU), European Youth Capital 25’ and a Belgian-based advocacy and manifestation platform called Promote Ukraine. Yelizaveta, who participated on the behalf of NYCU, explained the motive and purpose of their platform and elaborated about its origin, being active since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Delving into the achievements of the platform, she briefed the participants about their different initiatives. She further highlighted their initiatives by providing some insights about different meetings. For instance, in December 2022, the first networking meeting of the member organizations of National Youth Council of Ukraine (NYCU) was arranged in Western Ukraine with the coordination of German Federal Youth Council. Participants gathered to confront the challenges posed by disinformation and media manipulation.

“The positive response from member organizations at the networking meeting was encouraging,” Yelizaveta remarked. “It served as a retreat for us, a sanctuary where we could reaffirm our commitment to defending the truth.”

The audience was briefed about the efforts of the Council which extends beyond advocacy. In 2023, they launched mental health support programs for internally displaced persons (IDPs), recognizing the profound impact of conflict on individual well-being. Moreover, arrangement of stationary for offices that were destroyed during the war and offering financial support to begin working in smaller groups and then grow gradually. These initiatives were successful owing to the fact that people were suffering from numerous issues. These events not only brought forth awareness and a message both on a national and international level, but also provided a wider gap for future projects such as supporting the region from a different perspective, amidst various political and crisis situation and focusing on inclusivity due to large number of youth veterans, having disabilities, who are coming back from the armed forces.

Meanwhile, in Lviv, European Youth Capital ’25 took a center stage, championing youth activism and engagement in the midst of war-induced adversity. Maria, the head of the office, outlined their ambitious vision for the future during the event. She continuously stressed on the creation of inclusive spaces for young people to thrive and contribute to their communities. “The loss of initiative-oriented youth in the post-invasion scenario has been a profound challenge,” Maria acknowledged. “But we remain steadfast in our mission to empower the next generation and foster a culture of resilience and innovation.” Their vision includes fostering collaboration, creating an “ideal smart city” environment, and promoting inclusivity for veterans and youth with disabilities. The focus on creating a Municipal Youth Strategy and establishing Youth Funds demonstrates a long-term commitment to empowering young people.

As networking and collaboration is important for fruitful outcomes, EYC25’ main focus is on creating places of informal and formal education on streets for trainings, networking and collaboration among youth. As stated by the EYC head of the office - Maria, the vision behind this strategy is to create an inclusive and multicultural society that embraces diversity and fosters intercultural initiatives. Additionally, the strategy focuses on fostering collaboration between civil society organizations and the general young population, recognizing the pivotal role they play in driving positive change. “One of the key initiatives under the strategy is the establishment of Municipal Youth Funds, which will exclusively provide funds for youth-centric projects. This initiative is already in the stage of legal establishment, indicating the commitment of the EYC to prioritize youth development”, the presenter adds.

In order to portray a wider picture of the platform, the presenter focuses on steps taken for the support of civil society youth. It has launched projects for civil society organizations, providing them with funds to enhance their projects and initiatives. International youth visits are also organized to facilitate global networking opportunities, while flagship events, such as the upcoming conference in May focusing on science and technology’s importance in times of war, serve as platforms for knowledge exchange and collaboration. The Design Conference scheduled for September aims to further explore innovative solutions and strategies for addressing contemporary challenges facing youth and society at large. Through these initiatives, the EYC is striving to create an environment where young people can thrive and contribute meaningfully to their communities and the world.

As JEF Europe promotes inclusivity and diversity in its projects and campaigns, space was given to Ukrainian platforms based outside of Ukraine too. For instance, a Brussels-based Ukrainian Advocacy NGO ‘PROMOTE UKRAINE’ was also invited to the awareness event. Olena, an advocacy and manifestation scholar briefed about the core goal of the organization. “Promote Ukraine focuses on lobbying and advocating for Ukraine’s interests in EU, focus on information which is similar to the official stances of Ukraine and advocates for sustainable peace on the Ukrainian terms”, She added. Interestingly, the organization, though established in 2014, also changed its structure and mission like others in 2022 owing to Russian invasion. The manifesto put forth by the advocacy NGO includes demands for recognizing Russia as a terror state, advocating for the establishment of a special tribunal against Russia’s war aggression, imposing sectoral economic sanctions against Moscow, and pushing for its exclusion from key international organizations such as the UNSC and FATF. Additionally, the manifesto calls for the manifestation of Russian foreign assets to support Ukraine’s needs for construction, rehabilitation, and defense. To disseminate these demands effectively, the NGO utilizes various channels, including closed-door meetings with decision-makers, open discussions with youth and experts, and publishing opinion pieces and articles in the media.

Since the invasion, Olena’s team has held over a hundred meetings with Belgian institutions and the EU, organized marches and demonstrations in Brussels and in front of Russia’s UN mission, and will host the Pilot Advocacy Forum in 2022 to coordinate with newly established Ukrainian NGOs in EU member states. This forum, co-hosted by the European Parliament, drew participation from organisations representing 20 member states and Ukraine, resulting in a consensus on prioritising Ukraine’s interests ahead of the European election. Furthermore, the organisation created the Ukraine Leads Network Map, an online platform designed to consolidate stakeholders and facilitate support for Ukrainian civic society overseas. The platform also focuses on elevating the voices of Ukrainian veterans who have undergone war trauma and disability, as well as sponsoring programmes that attempt to increase funds for Ukrainian veterans and military groups. Through these activities, the organisation aims to advocate for Ukraine’s interests and gain support from international partners.

Indeed, every initiative faces certain hurdles in its initial days; however, here all the activists from various organizations agreed on a combination of challenges, which they are currently facing. When responding to the youth’s questions, they described a shifting financial condition that, while displaying development compared to the early days, remains unstable. Furthermore, civil society organisations have moved their focus to risk-mitigation projects, which have been a common topic in all sessions and training. In response, there is an increasing emphasis on diversity inside the campaign. However, the European Youth Capital anticipates new problems for its projects, particularly the communication gap in public communication, as it struggles to adequately convince the public while avoiding discomfort. Furthermore, topics like pushing for Russia’s de-imperialism and decolonization remain contentious, particularly among non-Eastern European activists. Likewise, the campaign is facing a human resource issue, since many people who formerly worked for NGOs and organizations in Ukraine are either overseas or do not wish to return.

Reflecting on the event, it is clear that the challenges identified highlight the critical need for ongoing efforts and collaboration to address important concerns confronting Ukraine. Despite enormous barriers, the event demonstrated JEF Europe’s persistent commitment to assisting Ukraine in its quest of democracy, human rights, and peace. As I watched attendance’ passionate interactions and collective determination, it became evident that JEF Europe’s commitment to Ukraine goes beyond rhetoric and into concrete initiatives aimed at encouraging positive change and regional solidarity. This event demonstrates the organization’s long-standing support for Ukraine’s goals, as well as its steadfast trust in the ability of youth-led initiatives to create genuine development in difficult circumstances.

Your comments

Warning, your message will only be displayed after it has been checked and approved.

Who are you?

To show your avatar with your message, register it first on (free et painless) and don’t forget to indicate your Email addresse here.

Enter your comment here

This form accepts SPIP shortcuts {{bold}} {italic} -*list [text->url] <quote> <code> and HTML code <q> <del> <ins>. To create paragraphs, just leave empty lines.

Follow the comments: RSS 2.0 | Atom