Empowering Young Leaders and Activists Close to the Frontlines

  • Timothy Stoutzenberger

On November 11, 2022, the Armed Forces of Ukraine successfully regained control of the right bank of the Kherson region, including the city of Kherson, from Russian occupation. Although this is a significant achievement, the region continues to face ongoing challenges. Despite the successful liberation of the entirety of the right bank of Kherson region, the deoccupied territories are still under relentless shelling from Russian forces. Due to the constant danger, many residents of Kherson have left the region; according to the Deputy Head of the Kherson Regional Military Administration over 150,000 young residents have fled, and those who remain are forced to spend most of their time at home or in bomb shelters. 

To help the youth of Kherson develop their leadership skills under challenging conditions and engage young people in the reconstruction of the region, the International Republican Institute (IRI) has launched the program “Empowering Young Leaders and Activists Close to the Frontlines,” which is implemented with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Youth participants from Kherson attended a three-day training, during which they developed projects for the region’s recovery and presented them to the Kherson Regional Military Administration. Thanks to these projects and with the logistical support of the local authorities, books will appear in Kherson’s bomb shelters, plays will be broadcast on the radio, and training sessions will be conducted for the youth who were forced to leave Kherson.

Training for Kherson youth in Odesa, December 1-3, 2023 

“The IRI training is the first opportunity for young people in 2 years of this terrible war to work on something positive – developing their leadership skills and creativity – and to start thinking about the future…. creating projects that will help in the restoration of Kherson,” noted Volodymyr Klyutsevsky, Deputy Head of the Kherson Regional Military Administration. 

Book Shelter 

Living under constant shelling, Kherson residents are forced to spend much of their time in bomb shelters. During IRI’s training the youth decided to create libraries within the shelters to provide residents with books, aiming to improve the psycho-emotional state of those in shelters. 

The first Book Shelter in a Kherson shelter, Suvorovsky District 

“With this project, we want to improve the psycho-emotional state of the people [of Kherson]. We hope it will also contribute to the increase in citizens’ education and cultural knowledge and motivate the next generation to actively participate in the life of the city,” explained project coordinator Marina Chyzhykova

Books will be provided from the fund of the Kherson Regional Universal Scientific Library named after Oles Gonchar, which was preserved despite the destruction of the building due to enemy shelling. The first Book Shelter has already been installed in one of Kherson’s bomb shelters. 

Theater in Your Pocket 

Kherson is a theatrical city. According to the survey “Kherson, Culture, Future” conducted by the NGO “City Community Fund Kherson ‘Defense’, 70% of surveyed Kherson residents believe that theatrical art should be a priority in the city. Currently, theaters in Kherson are not operating, except for the Kherson Regional Music and Drama Theater named after M. Kulish, where performances take place in the basement. 

Presentation of the ” Theatre in Your Pocket” project 

“We want to give Kherson residents the opportunity to return to their native theater, unite them around art, and help them unwind emotionally. We hope that this will also help those Kherson residents who left to understand that the city continues to live, and we are waiting for their return after the war,” explained project coordinator Oleg Mykytas

The youth working on this project are already recording performances that will soon be broadcast on the radio. To ensure high-quality recording of the performances, they collaborated with and received technical equipment from the Odesa Film Studio. 

Invincible Children 

To maintain communication with the youth of Kherson who left due to the war and to support their return to the region in the future, IRI program participants launched the project “Invincible Children of the Kherson Region.” The project involves conducting training sessions for young Kherson residents aged 14-17 who are internally displaced in other regions of Ukraine and abroad. 

“The IRI program united us around a common goal – to live in and to restore Kherson. It showed that we can do this now, creating projects that can completely change the lives of Kherson residents. Our project aims to help the youth who left Kherson engage in the reconstruction of their native region,” explained project coordinator Olena Zubal

Training for Kherson youth in Odesa, December 1-3, 2023
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