From isolation to innovation: Student-led UActive projects revitalize hard-hit Mykolaiv, Ukraine

The UActive program teaches and empowers Ukrainian students to rebuild their schools, communities, and contribute to the war effort. Through UActive, high school students in formerly occupied Ukrainian territories are taught leadership, entrepreneurship, civics, planning, and project management skills. They are tasked with developing projects that will improve their schools and neighborhoods, and their project ideas are awarded micro-grants that then fund the projects they come up with.

Watch Anastasia, a UActive student participant, explain how the program impacted her.

In 2022, the UActive pilot program launched in five war-affected schools from Kyiv and Chernihiv. By fall 2023, the program expanded to hard-hit Ukrainian communities near the front lines, with 100 schoolchildren from the Mykolaiv region participating. After pitching their projects in April 2024, five of the 10 Mykolaiv teams received $5,000 grants from Spirit of America to implement their ideas.

The Mykolaiv project pitching competition in fall 2023 took place underground in an air raid shelter due to safety concerns. Nonetheless, UActive students’ energy and perseverance shined through.

Many new UActive projects in Mykolaiv focused on creating youth hubs, providing safe spaces for students to interact and engage, addressing the intense isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion and occupation. Through UActive, Ukrainian students are reclaiming their childhoods, serving their communities, and becoming leaders.

Learn more below about some of the new Mykolaiv projects and the impact on their communities! To help more Ukrainian students restore their schools and neighborhoods, please donate today.

A youth space in Centralne village

Students from Centralne school opened a youth space for their community. They equipped a room for meetings and leisure activities with books and board games, and a gym space with workout equipment. This is the first full-fledged gym in their village.

In 2022, Centralne village was under Russian occupation for 9 months, preventing children from gathering and interacting with one another. Also, the students had been studying remotely for more than two years already. Now the “Magnet” space will become a place of unification — including, according to the teenagers, for the faster return from abroad of those children who fled the full-scale invasion with their families.

The Centralne school has also partially funded the renovation of their bomb shelter, pictured below. It needs heating, sewage, furnishing, and furniture. We hope that in September, after these necessary upgrades, the students will be able to return to in-person learning for the first time in almost three years.

An outdoor stage and community hub in the Yelanets village school yard

There have been no community events in the Yelanets school for more than two years. For young people, the most important thing was to create a space in the community where they could gather and spend time together.

That’s why the “Respect” team opened their project loudly: numerous vocal, musical, and dance performances filled the program of the first event in the newly opened stage on the school’s territory — “The Uniting Place.” In addition to school-wide celebrations, teenagers would like to launch an open-air cinema here in the summer.

The open-air stage that the Yelanets students built is important for multiple reasons. The first obvious reason is that the students now have a place for self-expression and community. The less obvious reason requires some historical background.

At the beginning of the 1930s, 259 Ukrainian writers and poets were actively published in the Soviet Union. By the end of the decade, only 36 remained. What happened? Seventeen were shot, eight died by suicide, 175 were arrested or sent to camps, 16 went missing, and seven died of natural causes. These figures illustrate the Soviet Union’s oppressive stance as they enforced a cultural silence on Ukraine for decades. That is unfortunately why today, people can typically name a famous Russian poet or author but fail to identify even one Ukrainian alternative.

In the 1960s, a new generation of Ukrainians brought a resurgence of artistic expression, but it was quickly quashed: poet Vasyl Symonenko was beaten to death, artist Alla Horska and composer Volodymyr Ivasiuk died under suspicious circumstances, and many others were jailed, institutionalized, or banned from publishing. The Soviet regime’s political aggression against Ukrainian literary figures persisted from the 1920s until the late 1980s, just before the Soviet Union collapsed. (Source)

Years later around 2005, Vladimir Putin called the Soviet Union’s demise “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” Today, he is attempting to reverse what he sees as a “mistake,” by launching and continuing Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

That is why UActive projects like Yelanets’ outdoor stage – although seeming deceivingly simple – are tremendously important. This project allows creative, artistic Ukrainians to reclaim what was unjustly taken from their ancestors: the right to express themselves and to embrace their rich, beautiful Ukrainian culture without fear of oppression.

As Ukrainians continue to valiantly fight for their freedom on the front lines, “The Uniting Place” is a way for Ukrainian youth to stand up to Russian silencing in their own way.

Multifunctional space in the village of Berezanka

The Berezanka school was lucky not to suffer from Russian shelling. As a result, the Berezanka community understands how to take care of their own and bring other people in need into the fold. During the earlier months of the full-scale invasion, the village quickly became a central community of the Mykolaiv region, taking in internally displaced persons from neighboring towns or becoming an intermediate point for them.

For their UActive project, the “Heba” team opened a multi-functional space that can serve everyone. They brought in a gazebo, rocking chairs, tables, and benches, and patched up the plot from covering to wisteria seedlings. Schoolchildren also bought a bicycle parking spot for their school. Now both young people and adult village residents can spend their time and enjoy the outdoor space together.

The grand opening included workshops for all who attended.

When you support UActive, you are helping prepare a future generation of resilient people to have the tools they need to become leaders as they navigate identifying and solving unique problems in their communities. While others live “normal” childhoods, Ukrainian youth are coming together to pick up the pieces of Russia’s continuous destruction.

 “[Because of UActive], now we can start thinking about the future. We are not going to stop here; we are going to develop this further!” – Oleksandra, a student from Berezanka school

“We are united people…I am sure that [Americans] already know that we are strong, and that we are powerful Ukrainians. But it really is true. We will say it, and we will prove it by our actions every day, every hour, every minute.” – Yana, a student from Yelanets school

Watch Viktoria, Centralne team’s mentor, explain how she thinks UActive helps Ukrainian children closer to the front lines.

Your generosity has made it possible for us to expand this program and reach severely impacted regions like Mykolaiv. United we can continue to show America at its best and help Ukraine win. Visit our donation page to help UActive students achieve their dreams.

Adriana Teluk joined Spirit of America in April 2022. A multilingual communicator, Adriana is a long-standing, active member of the Ukrainian-American community in Washington D.C., with familial ties to Ukraine. Having lived there as a child, it is imperative to Adriana to now be a part of the effort to help Ukraine. Prior to joining Spirit of America, Adriana worked with several Ukrainian organizations to promote advocacy and development. 

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Suite 70 | Arlington, VA 22201

Follow Us

No endorsement of Spirit of America by the US Department of Defense, Department of State, or US personnel is intended or implied.

Registered 501(c)(3). EIN: 20-1687786

“You don't have to wear a uniform to serve the nation.™” and “Patriotism without politics.™” are trademarked by Spirit of America.

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