Notes from the discussion

On the Day of Unity of Ukraine, we unveiled our course “History of Ukrainian Civil Society” set against the backdrop of the independence era. This occasion provided a wonderful platform for us to convene with our friends and partners in the vibrant hall of the Kyiv School of Economics, where we engaged in a stimulating discussion on Energy of Change: The Triumphs and Trials of Ukrainian Civil Society.

Here are some insightful quotes from our speakers:

 “Recently, I’ve arrived at a significant realization: even amidst war, it’s possible to experience happiness, to grasp the essence of one’s contributions to the country, and thereby, find fulfillment and life’s purpose. I wish to acknowledge all NGOs and activists who invest their energy, strength, and time in mitigating the aftermath of the war and aiding others. I understand the magnitude of effort demanded from individuals who, despite their own need for empathy in challenging circumstances, extend it to others,” Viktor Liakh, the President of East Europe Foundation.

 “Recently, we marked the 10th anniversary of the @Crimea SOS organization. When questioned about our motivation, we responded that we couldn’t help not doing it. I often jest that my current work in the civil and public sectors, particularly at the Ukrainian Institute, is driven by personal motives. I yearn to return to my home in Crimea, and I strive to ensure that individuals like me can freely do so. Discussing happiness during times of crisis and war is complex… I haven’t experienced it for a decade. Because you can feel it when all parts of you are gathered” Alim Aliyev, Deputy Director General of the Ukrainian Institute, co-founder of the CrimeaSOS and House Crimea public organizations.

 “Crafting a lecture on mass media for this course served as a form of therapy for me. Working a while in media, especially during challenging times, leaves little room for introspection. The year 2000 marked the establishment of Ukrainska Pravda in Ukraine and the rise of Vladimir Putin in russia. Since then, Ukraine has made significant strides in recognizing independent media.

In general, as of 2000, russian media has more freedom than the same in Ukraine. Half a year after our media was founded, the body of its founder, Georgiy Gongadze, was discovered in the Tarascha forest, sparking protests. I believe people didn’t fully grasp the significance of independent journalism when they initiated the ‘Ukraine without Kuchma’ protests.

Ukrainians were protesting against violence inflicted upon an individual. This incident served as a reference point during the Revolution of Dignity, leading to a broader understanding of the value of free media. Since then, Ukraine has made significant strides in recognizing independent media. while the russian media infrastructure has been systematically dismantled over the past two decades,” Sevgil Musayeva, Editor-in-Chief of Ukrainska Pravda, member of the Supervisory Board of East Europe Foundation.

“I’ve been studying civil society professionally since 2014. However, I often question the distinction between Ukrainian civil society and the general populace. If we define civil society as activists and protest participants, it likely constitutes a minority. However, according to surveys conducted post-2022, this group is no longer a minority but at least a relative majority, and in some regions, an absolute majority.

One doesn’t need to be a formal member of an organization to take action. It is such an environment and a course where we come together when needed and disperse once the issue is resolved.  Informality is the first characteristic feature to think of if we wish to understand the true essence of Ukrainian civil society.

Classification of Ukrainian civil society dimensions:

  1. Organized and non-organized

NGOs represent just one facet of Ukrainian civil society. Other aspects include our Monobank “jars”, making of camouflage nets, etc., all of which form part of an informal civil society that operates without formal registration and is much broader in scope.

  1. Since 2014, in Free Ukraine and Occupied Territories

The history of both armed and nonviolent resistance, such as the yellow ribbon movement in the occupied cities of Horlivka and Sevastopol.

  1. In Ukraine and Abroad

Diaspora and refugees

  1. Stories of Communities as Success Stories

This aspect is discussed during the course and includes, for example, the tale of an older community that envisioned Ukraine and fought using literary and artistic methods, among other things,”  Kateryna Zarembo, Ph.D. in Political Science, Associate Analyst at New Europe Center, and Non-resident Fellow at Central European University.

“Previously, many international and Ukrainian researchers argued that Ukraine had a weak civil society due to a lack of substantial NGOs and their participation in the democratic process. This led to the perception of Ukrainian civil society as weak. However, this raises a paradox: if our civil society was supposedly weak, how did events like the Orange Revolution and the Euromaidan occur? How were people able to unite and take to the streets? One of the ways out for them is to admit the allegedly wrong definition requiring review.

Hence, new concepts emerged: focusing not on formal affiliation, but on people’s actions. For example, they are signing petitions, rallying, and addressing authorities. Over the years, sociologists have observed that more people participate in public activities than are members of formal organizations. Interestingly, many Ukrainians volunteer independently,  not as part of an organization. We even donate using our smartphones, not because we established an NGO to do so,”Tymofii Brik, rector of the Kyiv School of Economics University.

“The late 80s was a period when I was unfamiliar with the term “civil society”, which was not in use then. We referred to them as “informal organizations””. The events that happened during the Orange Revolution, which was an outburst of civil society, then Euromaidan, and the current situation, all have roots in this earlier period, when the transition to Independence began. The Ukrainian political nation was being forged not as ethnic nationalism but as a purely Ukrainian political nation.

Another significant trend since then is the rejection of authoritarianism. Western researchers later described this as “Ukraine has so-called pluralism by default”, meaning that Ukraine’s diversity prevents any single political force from monopolizing power. Hence, Ukrainians are compelled to negotiate, and the authorities cannot ignore the political opposition. In many instances, different political forces must compromise, creating opportunities for democracy. Looking back at Ukraine’s transition to independence, it was a compromise between national communists and national democrats. Oleksiy Haran, Political Analyst, a participant in the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy re-establishment, Research Director of the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation.  


This event was organized as part of the Phoenix Project, executed by East Europe Foundation with funding from the European Union, in collaboration with the Ukrainian Institute and the Kyiv School of Economics.