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Against the backdrop of the Dutch EU Council presidency, OneWorld.nl has sent Reinier Vriend on a mission to identify the everyday European values and concerns. In the interview series #ThisIsMyEurope he speaks with colourful individuals in and of the continent, trying to find out what ‘Europe’ means to us. This week he speaks to Vira in Lutsk, in war-torn Ukraine.

“For most Ukranians, Europe means an alternative. Do we carry on with our Soviet socialism? Or do we choose a different path?” Vira Orlovska (26) works as a teacher in a private school in Lutsk, Ukraine. Vira means ‘faith’, the name was given to her by her father. He told the family that he picked the name randomly, but later confessed that he had it in mind all along. I speak with her in a time when Ukraine can use every bit of faith it can get its hands on: “There is a general mood of disappointment.”

Talking about what Europe means, is talking about war. Lutsk might be miles away, but the fighting in the east of the country colours the public mood. Vira repeatedly vents her frustration about the euphemism that surrounds the conflict. “Officials refuse to call it a war. But here in the hospital, 50 soldiers are recovering from their wounds. Each day families lose their sons and fathers. If this is not war, what can you call it?”

Education and culture

Vira wants to put in her two cents by changing education in Ukraine. “I have put a lot of thought in this. I’m not an economist, I’m not military. I’m a teacher. Everyone should contribute what they can best” Vira recently returned from Potsdam, Germany, where she worked at a school as part of a European Voluntary Service project. Back in her hometown, she is exasperated to see that many formative aspects of life have currently become neglected. “With our broken economy, we don’t care about the things that can bring us respite. Education and culture are at the bottom of the list, right at a time where people need to be able to take a break and have the opportunity to focus on different things”. Vira finds that in the current education system, too little attention is given to the individual. Germany felt different. “In Europe there’s this importance given to formation – Ausbildung. We need a way to show young people that they can develop ideas, we need to show them what they can come up with.”

What Europe is and what it can be for Ukraine, makes for prickly conversation. “For me, Europe and the EU function in creating a shared space. The countries come together and reassure each other economically. With that boring part out of the way, they can each focus on the things that really matter. Culture, education, formation.” Asked about EU’s possible provocation of Russia by offering Ukraine the trade agreement, Vira snaps: “We're not a sphere of interest. We're a country of our own, we can choose our own direction. This war isn't Europe's fault. It's the fault of the Russian Federation with their massive ego. I think it's obvious.”

Disappointed and betrayed

In Lutsk, the depressing effects of the conflict are felt. “During and after the Maidan protest we were hopeful. Now everybody feels super disappointed and betrayed.” Vira brings up her father, also a teacher. “He has been teaching here for a long time. In the past months, seven of his former students were killed in action and were brought back to get buried here. 18 years old, 23 years old…” Vira hopes that in the future, Ukraine’s youth should meet a different fate. “I really find inspiration in the World Youth Alliance. Their central issue is promotion of human dignity. It is a value that really fits Europe well, it could be its core value. But to make that come true here, we first and foremost need peace.” Who will realize that peace? “We need to somehow get Putin’s people out of there. He isn’t going by himself. For that we need support. By now, I don’t care anymore who will do it, but it has to be done.”

This interview is part 3 of the series #ThisIsMyEurope. Join the conversation on Twitter [@OneWorldNL] and read the other interviews on the special #ThisIsMyEurope Oneworld page.

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Reinier Vriend

Reinier J. M. Vriend (1984) is mediawetenschapper, docent en filmmaker. Hij is mede-oprichter van stichting Volunteer Correct, waarvan hij …
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