The situation: an overview
Since the 2014 Euromaidan revolution, Ukrainian citizens have acted as the main driving force for democratic change in the country. However, despite the important reforms passed as a result of their efforts, there are still significant political threats to the reform process – a process that has been marred by a lack of inclusiveness and engagement.
Governing elites continue to resist changes to the rules of the game and people have become increasingly detached from the reform process since few, especially those outside of Kyiv, feel properly informed about the ongoing changes and debates. This lack of knowledge on the status of reforms leaves people reluctant and disillusioned. Additionally, there is a gap between activists in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and more grass-roots activists in the regions. This disconnect creates a challenge; although Kyiv civil society is closer to the reforms they lack the ability to mobilise citizens across the country and ensure wider engagement in the way regional activists could.
DRI’s approach: bringing reforms closer to people, making reforms for the people
Awareness. Engagement. Accountability. These are the key concepts behind DRI’s approach to supporting democracy in Ukraine. We believe that empowering citizens, especially in the regions, is the best way to contribute to an inclusive reform process.
Our project seeks to inform people about how the reform process affects their lives and give them the tools to participate in the decision-making process.
Below are the three main components of our approach.
An integral aspect of this project was ensuring that people in the regions were informed and involved in the reform process, so DRI hosted activities throughout Ukraine, as is shown below.
This isn’t the beginning
DRI started working in Ukraine in 2014 in the lead up to the snap parliamentary elections in October of that year. In this period, DRI prioritised promoting transparency by monitoring, analysing, and publicising the legal reforms instituted by the Ukrainian Parliament. DRI considered it crucial that citizens were informed about the progress of reforms and the continuing reform debates occurring in the Ukrainian Parliament before they cast their vote.
In the post-electoral phase of this project, DRI expanded its activities and began to engage with students, foster a dialogue on the reform process and provide legal expertise to Ukrainian CSOs and stakeholders in the constitutional reform process.
Afterwards, our 2016-2018 project was similarly based on awareness raising and empowerment so that individuals could monitor the progress of reforms, acting as watchdogs of the process, and effectively advocate for change. The project additionally sought to create links between various activists across Ukraine, so that they could help each other thrive.
While we are now moving into the next phase of our project, we continue to go beyond Kyiv and empower regional actors of change to contribute to key political reforms, which we have been doing since 2014.
Our work in 2018-2020
DRI continues its work in southeast Ukraine and covers topics ranging from the effects of decentralisation to various tools for direct civic action. Given recent pressures facing civil society, DRI has also sought to equip these activists with knowledge on how to react to situations with restrictive government measures. Additionally, DRI fosters youth engagement through its work with teachers. DRI works with teachers, providing them with tools and methods to teach about constitution and basics of law. This will help students better understand the concepts of active citizenship and constitutional democracy.
So what defines DRI’s work in Ukraine?
DRI’s approach to supporting democratic reform in Ukraine is comprised of a number of key elements:
- We aim to fill gaps in information, providing analysis of current reforms and using our international legal expertise to show how these align with international standards.
- We work to empower civil society and youth by providing various forms of trainings and creating platforms for them to discuss the process with other stakeholders and decision makers. This way, they can chose their priorities and advocate for them accordingly.
These comprise DRI’s historical and ongoing contributions to promoting a more inclusive and transparent democratic reform process in Ukraine.
DRI’s programme in Ukraine was launched with support of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is currently funded by the German Foreign Office.