Young Ukrainians are surprisingly optimistic about the future of their country and about their right to express their own opinions and engage in social activism, but many are not yet convinced that traditional forms and institutions of democracy will provide the answer, says a new British Council report and survey published today.
‘Hopes, Fears and Dreams: The views of Ukraine’s next generation’ found that over half of young people in Kyiv and the west of Ukraine are optimistic about the future of their country, but not so in the east where a small majority think the future will be worse than before 2014.
While there is a strong belief in the value of protest – 80% felt that citizens had the right to express their views through protest and demonstrations - 66% felt that Ukraine did not need a parliament, but rather a ‘strong leader’, a finding which may reflect a widespread desire among the younger generation to see the past two decades’ legacy of entrenched corruption, stifling bureaucracy and inadequate social investment turned around.
The survey of 1,200 16 to 35 year-olds explored attitudes to education, democracy and dictatorship; protest and activism; and culture and studying English - with the UK coming through strongly as the most favoured foreign education destination, ahead of the US, Germany and Poland.
The desire for accession to the EU continues to be relatively high at 54% of those polled, but is not universal. Support for closer ties is strongest in the west (78%) and in Kyiv (61%). In the east, enthusiasm for joining Europe drops to just one in five. Support for union with Russia runs at 29% in the east (and only 11% nationally), with 40% in the east preferring that Ukraine is non-aligned.
The findings also provide strong evidence that undermine a popular misconception about linguistic and ethnic divides in the country. Only 11% saw bilingualism (Ukrainian and Russian) as a barrier to Ukraine’s development, against 69% who saw it as a positive factor for this. Almost half felt that Ukraine’s ethnic and religious diversity was an advantage for the country as against just 6% who saw this as a problem.
Simon Williams, British Council Country Director in Ukraine said:
‘Young Ukrainians – the country’s future leaders and influencers - see the UK as a great place for realising their educational potential and expanding their cultural horizons. But this research also shows that the future success and stability of Ukraine depend on strengthening its civil society, reforming its education system, expanding the use of English and supporting the growth of modern skills needed for the economy, including in the cultural sector. The UK and the British Council can do a great deal to support all of this.’
Ukraine has a well-educated workforce, and clear drive and ambition amongst its young people. At the same time there is a lack of some of the skills and capacity needed in order to achieve reform and change, both in the public and private sectors, whether for improving public service provision, tackling corruption or growing business and the country’s economic output.
The report recommends that UK policy-makers and institutions should consider stepping up their engagement with Ukraine in the spheres of civil society, education – including English Language - and culture, recognising that these are crucial to furthering stability, an active civil society and economic development in the country.
Ukraine, Russia and the wider region are important for both the UK and the world, and are at a crossroads. There is a real opportunity for the UK to invest in, support and develop closer international partnerships with these countries.
One important way in which this can be achieved is through close and effective engagement with Ukrainian young people to support their English language, education, skills and employment prospects, to enable them to engage with all forms of culture, including from the UK and Europe. Through greater sharing of culture and education, the UK, Ukraine and Russia, and all the countries of their region, can together build collective prosperity, security and stronger international partnerships.