“From the East to the West”
“From the East to the West”: Lviv Welcomes Students From Eastern Ukraine
Amidst the dramatic events of the last few months, events that have threatened to pit Ukrainians against one another, have spawned a set of initiatives designed to prove that whatever differences exist between East and West Ukraine, there is more in common than different between inhabitants of the two regions. But how exactly are Ukrainians to know that? Nearly 77% of Ukrainians have never had the opportunity to travel abroad, while fully one in three Ukrainians have yet to leave even their own region! With Russian propaganda filling the airwaves of Eastern Ukrainian with nonsense that fascist gangs from Lviv are soon to take over Eastern Ukrainian cities and towns, one initiative organized by Leopolitan students is designed to overcome these fears of difference. “From the East to the West” is a programme to encourage Eastern Ukrainian students that have never had the chance to visit Lviv, to come visit our fine city for themselves and meet its wonderful citizens, all at a subsidized cost. The first students, 80 young men and women from Donetsk and Mariupol, arrived in Lviv on March 21st.
Where Are All the “Fascist Gangs”?
Yulia Hnativ, a Ukrainian Catholic University alum and organizer of the campaign, believes that it is “necessary for eastern and western Ukraine to better understand each other.” Indeed, several participants spoke of the recent turmoil they are experiencing back home. Dasha, a student from Donetsk, explains that “the situation in Donetsk is more tense than in Lviv. Suspicious and aggressive individuals prowl the streets. Many locals are simply too scared to leave their homes.” Yet as dangerous as the region may currently be, many from Donetsk and other Eastern Ukrainian cities believe that it would be more dangerous for them in Lviv. Valeria Svischuk, a 4th-year journalism student at Donetsk National University, explains that she practically “ran away from home to come to Lviv since her parents would not let her go, claiming that Lviv was a scary place to visit.” This is exactly what organizers had in mind to combat when planning the initiative: “everyone who comes here is an achievement in and of itself”, explains Hnativ, “In coming, a person overcomes his or her own fear and does something new which he or she will take home with them.” She concludes that Eastern and Western Ukrainians need initiatives like “From the East to the West” to better understand one another.
First Time Experiencing the Western Ukrainian Capital
Participants were treated to a jam-packed weekend, as organizers kept them busy with a variety of activities to facilitate the cultural exchange. As a requirement for participation, it was the first visit to the Western Ukrainian capital for every person involved. Participants were treated to a variety of activities in order for them to learn about the traditions of the city, its architecture, and even its local cuisine. They took part in sessions designed to bring the students together, competed in a quest called “Unite Ukraine”, and even had the opportunity to meet with Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi. Lviv businesses, it should be noted, have thrown their support behind the initiative by offering discounts at hostels, restaurants, and cafes, while tour guides provided city excursions free of charge. Ruslan, a 4th-year Political Science major at Donetsk National University, enjoyed Lviv’s ancient architecture – especially staying in a centuries-old stone building. Bohdan Karasyov, another student participant, was struck by how Leopolitans were accepting of his Russian language: “no one even made a fuss about me speaking Russian all the time although I can also speak Ukrainian. I never felt albeit the slightest hint of animosity or aggression.” Natalia Klymovska, a student from Lviv, was excited at the opportunities that might arise from such an exchange. She noted that the students from Donetsk are “now ready to work … in order to create a civil society there. This simply underscores the fact that the east needs to be in contact with the west and vice versa.”
The campaign, which is set to run through Easter until the end of May, has turned out to be wildly popular among Eastern Ukrainian youth. The initiative received 800 applications during the first week after it was announced on social media and quickly grew to over 2000 applications, forcing organizers to introduce a quota (only those that have never been to Lviv are eligible). “We didn’t expect so many … to respond to the invite to Lviv,” says Hnativ, “We are aware that, considering the situation in the country, each participant who comes to Lviv is performing a great feat.” In the coming months Lviv students are set to host counterparts from across Eastern Ukraine, including: Donetsk, Zaporizhiya, Luhansk, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Mariupol, Kryvyi Rih, and Crimea. One highlight that students here are looking forward to is “Easter Together”, where Lviv students will introduce their Eastern guests to the Western Ukrainian traditions of celebrating the Feast of Christ’s Resurrection. It is hoped that the connections made between the students will lead to visits from Lviv students to their new friends in the East to better familiarize themselves with that region of the country. “From the East to the West” organizers understand that hosting even 2000 students from Eastern Ukraine will not directly impact the events that are currently shaking the country, but they hope to break down the stereotypes and misinformation that persist among Ukrainians and help to reduce the number of Ukrainians that have yet to leave their own regions. For our part, Lviv Today welcomes our Eastern Ukrainian friends and wishes them a great experience in Lviv and safe travels.
- LM Reaney