REFLECTIONS FROM UKRAINE: A HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCATE'S TIME IN THE FIELD

Photo credit: Alex Shpak, Photo taken during a SDG-related even with CSOs when facilitating group discussions surrounding Democratic Governance.
 

Three months have gone by since I first arrived in Ukraine to get involved with the International Development & Diplomacy Internship Programme (IDDIP) as a Junior Professional Consultant, at the UNDP Country Office in Kyiv, Ukraine. This project aims at strengthening capacities of the Ombudsperson’s Office to respond to human rights challenges in Ukraine, while mobilizing national authorities and human rights defenders to improve the overall human rights record of the country.

Photo credit: Stéphanie St-Laurent Brassard, Orthodox church.

As my first impressions are fading away, my views on the country are evolving with time. Arriving in a post-soviet territory, with strong nationalist sentiment, and an active civil society, can be quite destabilizing for a foreigner, especially in Ukraine. As the country recently marked its 100 year anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution and commemorated the Holodomor, the memory of those atrocious events contributed to this recently independent country’s context. The Revolution of Dignity and the ongoing conflict in the eastern regions also raises tensions and it is sometimes palpable in people’s behaviors and attitudes. Despite the exciting expats urban life, frequent protests against corruption and military presence, this has now become a part of my daily life.


Photo credit: Jocelyne St-Laurent, Protestor camping in front of Verkhovna Rada building.

The cultural shock is more intense than my previous work experience in Latin America and my biggest challenge is the language barrier. Even if the learning curve is steep, I am constantly making efforts to learn the local expressions and interact with others. Twice a week, I also attend Russian courses to increase my language proficiency.

Recently, I had to chance to support the work of the UNDP’s team in Geneva on November 15th. Ukraine’s country representatives were presenting their Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to permanent mission’s delegations of several countries. This unique mechanism aims at reviewing the Human Rights situation of all United Nations Member States and hold each state accountable in front of the international community to align their National strategy to the recommendations of the UPR. It was a truly unique experience to actively contribute to the logistics and provide communication products during the event! 

Photo credit: Svitlana Kolyshko, Photo taken at Palais des Nations after Ukraine’s Universal Periodic Review by country delegations

As I hear nationalist slogans yelled in a megaphone through my office window, I am reminded of why I am here and why it is so important for me to get involved. Overall, this experience has allowed me to grow as a professional on many levels and I can only be grateful for being offered the opportunity to develop my diplomatic and analytical skills. 

Photo credit: Stéphanie St-Laurent Brassard, Motherland statue in Kyiv 


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