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JOC Europe gets moving in the Ukraine

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"We want change in our society"

An economic crisis felt across the world in 2008, has had a huge impact on the situation of young workers in the Ukraine. The stories of young workers interviewed by local members of the YCW in L'viv, show us that the official figures of unemployment cannot fully express the reality lived by the unemployed in their search for work. In addition, workers who were affected by precarious conditions in the workplace, hesitate to share their experiences for fear of losing their jobs.

"I work in a factory that makes electronics for mobile phones. The crisis has had a bad impact on us all. Many people were fired. In addition, many of my colleagues are now working without contract because of the crisis. Our salary has also been reduced and I only work three days a week. It is not enough"

- Ivan, 24 years, L'viv

Since 2005, the YCW (known as PHM in the Ukraine) has been working to collect the experiences of young unemployed, not only to learn more about their situations, but together with them, to take practical steps towards change. Our work in the Ukraine is continuing, and at this time of economic crisis, the working conditions of young people are increasingly precarious.  For this reason, JOC Europe is taking time to invest in making more contact with young job seekers, and those in temporary and precarious work.

"My salary is very low. It means I have to rent a room  which I share with two others. I can't rent a room for myself alone. In winter, it gets very cold. I was hospitalised twice because I became ill from the cold.  With my salary I need to pay the rent and clothing for work, so I save by not buying much food. I know this is no good, because I don't get enough vitamins and I'm often getting sick" - Natalia, 26 years, L'viv

Anna, one of our newest members in the PHM Ukraine, has recently started to work full-time to help build the movement in the Ukraine. Anna has been busy collecting stories from young workers, who, like herself, have experienced the difficulties of unemployment and the uncertainty of work without a permanent contract. We recently interviewed Anna to know a little more about her experiences and those of others in the Ukraine.

"During the economic crisis, I found work in the mountains outside of L'viv. It was another temporary contract, and it was interesting, but it was stressful and unstable. Many others like me, left the city to try and find work in other places. The crisis had a big impact on our lives."

- Anna, 27 years, L'viv

" I was born in a region of Russia called Republic Ingushetiya, but I am Ukrainian, and have lived nearly all of my life in Ukraine. I grew up with my family in a village not far from L'viv called Pidberizei. My parents are agricultural workers. I left the village when I was 13 years old, and finished my schooling in L'viv. I then had the chance to study economics, and later philosophy in the university, and really enjoyed learning about the history and culture of society.


"It didn't feel good to have this instability"

After studying, I started to work in a social centre in L'viv for families, youth and children. I worked with families who had difficulties in their social life, and accompanied them in their difficult situations. I was there for almost one year, and then the centre went through restructuring, and as a result I had to leave. The people with more experience continued. I became unemployed for a few months. I started to work again, but without contract. I had to door-knock people in their homes and interview them for a research project. I didn't have a fixed salary, just an amount according to how many surveys I had completed. I was lucky to have the experience of work, but it didn't feel good to have this instability. I lived for some time with my parents, only because it was free, and then I shared with some friends in an apartment. I also spent two months in Poland, and I spent one and a half years with little jobs from time to time like that.

An organisation by and for young people

"During this time - while I was unemployed, I came in contact with the YCW. It was five or six years ago and I came to know the YCW through Raluca who was responsible for the extension work in Eastern Europe at that time. I found the YCW a really interesting organisation especially because it was 'by and for young people', and this type of organisation didn't really exist in Ukraine. I asked my friends if they would be interested to join this group as well. I found some friends interested, but others who just wanted someone to do the work for them - they didn't want to be responsible. Everyone had practical questions: "what's going to be the result?" or "can this organisation help me to find a job?" There are many other organisations who do a lot for the people, they give something to the people, so there is this expectation from the people. There are a lot of people who expect something to be given to them.

We started an action called "Young people for work". We met people at the unemployment centres to talk to them and understand their reality, and to let them know that they weren't alone. We saw that these people who were unemployed, were outside of the society, and had a really bad feeling because they were excluded - without social contacts. We developed an inquiry and asked others about their experiences. We met together as a group to view our reality and to learn the method of work of the YCW. This was a group of young people who had the same experience. We were unemployed, and we shared our experiences, and through this became stronger. We developed an idea to demand our rights and give strength to others and to have more knowledge about the work of the YCW.

The project was also to accompany the young people who were looking for work. We helped them to write a CV, help find the places to apply for a job, and then gave information about the conditions in certain places that we knew about already. What we saw there had an impact - personally and for the group. Many had the same sentiment and it changed us - our level of confidence and consciousness of who we are. From the group, many finally found some work, and we stayed in contact because it was interesting to continue to speak about our experiences, and our new work too.

"The crisis had a big impact on our lives"

During the economic crisis, I found work in the mountains outside of L'viv. It was another temporary contract, and it was interesting, but it was stressful and unstable. Many others like me, left the city to try and find work in other places. The crisis had a big impact on our lives. After that period I worked in Kyivstar which is considered one of the best workplaces in L'viv. I worked in the call centre, and at the beginning it was very difficult, answering around 300 calls per day, but I adapted myself to it and I accept it as a good experience of work.

After six months, I decided to accept the work as a full-timer to help develop the YCW in the Ukraine. I started this work in April 2010. Now, we are restarting the work with workers who are unemployed. The impact of the economic crisis left many without work, so many of our contacts in the base group left L'viv to search for work in other cities. Right now we are going to focus on meeting the target group of young workers who work in precarious work - to give them hope, and strength, and conviction that they can change their situation, that they are not alone, and that it is through them that things will change.

"We want that people develop a critical mind"

We have grown in our understanding of YCW over three years.  We want to continue to work with the target group because we want change in our society. We want that the people develop a critical mind, that their dignity is respected - that they keep this dignity as a human being. I find that the most important people to work with in my country, are young people in Ukraine, so I want to work with them. The older people are not so open to change their society.

Our plan is for the coming year is to launch a project with the young workers who are searching for work at the unemployment centres, or through the temporary employment agencies, and more longer term, to develop an exhibition to motivate the young workers to share their experiences of work and life in a creative way. We will start by doing a research and collecting testimonies of young workers who search work. It's a process similar to what is being developed in the other YCW movements in Europe with interim and precarious workers. We want to involve the people with an objective to help them realise their capacities, and not be afraid to speak in public about their experiences. For me the best form of support from the YCW is to feel that I'm not alone. It gives me a good feeling to know that there are others who do the same thing."

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