Everyday revolutionsUkraine: How everyone can make a change
You think you can’t change the world all by yourself? Then the “Wonderful” initiative in Ukraine is proving you wrong! The actions taken by these young people have started to change the urban landscape of Kiev. Read More
The revolution in Ukraine has turned life in the country on its head. But while politicians are struggling to find a way forward, small revolutions are underway: What these young people do every Saturday is changing the urban landscape of Kiev.
For more than half a year now, life in Ukraine has been turned upside down. The country has experienced a revolution of such force that it changed the course of history. Its capital Kyiv has seen protests and violence, and after all, it has seen president Viktor Yanukovich being chased out of office.
It is end of March. In the evening of our interview appointment, Mariia Nasiedkina, the founder of the “Wonderful” initiative, arrives straight from work. She is exhausted, but smiling and has a glow of excitement in her eyes.
“These weeks have been very active”, she says. “The whole world has witnessed our desire for freedom and independence.” Mariia has spent hours and days in Kyiv’s Independent square, together with thousands of other people, demonstrating for a better future.
But that was in March. A lot has changed since that day.
Only a few days later, the Crimea was annexed to Russia. In other parts of eastern Ukraine, pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian military were fighting. A huge political crisis and a disaster for the revolution had only just begun: Who knows where the country is headed now?
Who knows where the country is headed now?
In the midst of these political tensions though, despite the violence and the threat of war, Mariia and a group of youngsters try to keep a spirit of positive change:
Every week, they make life in Kiev a bit more beautiful.
And every week, they make its citizens become a bit more responsible.
In October 2013, long before the revolution crashed into their lives, the friends founded the “Wonderful” citizen initiative. The aim of Wonderful is to mobilise people to make little improvements in their neighbourhoods. It inspires them to change things they do not like, like installations that are neglected or simply ugly.
In other words: Wonderful is about small every-day revolutions. “We are the repairmen of consciousness”, as Mariia puts it.
A small team of three is the current power behind Wonderful. Together they organise “theme months”: over the course of one month they hold an event every Saturday, inviting others to join in and realise small changes – like painting a neglected bench in a local park, for instance.
Wonderful campaigns should be engaging, have an impact, and be achievable with limited financial means – that’s the group’s aim. Every action they take is fun doing, requires almost no resources and is simple to reproduce.
In October, for instance, Wonderful kicked off with the “clean the forest” campaign: in four events, volunteers collected 250 bags of garbage in the local wood and filled four trucks with collected waste.
Even a crazy idea is worth going for.
“The funny thing is that many of our ideas didn’t even seem achievable in the beginning,” Mariia remembers. “Take improving the vandalised elevators, for instance. We wanted to change neglected elevators in apartment houses. We didn’t know how to do it, but we felt it was important.” So they made it happen: Mariia’s team improved four elevators around the neighbourhood, and painted beautiful pictures inside the cabins.
The event showed that even a crazy idea is worth going for, if you really believe in it: a few weeks after the event, the team realised that their work had been continued – someone had painted the doors of one of the repaired elevators bright green. Close to another elevator, they found a thank you note with a small present for the repair team.
With one small action, Wonderful had started a whole wave of changes – it obviously just needed someone to begin. And: “It really doesn’t take a lot to take the first step”, says Mariia.
But how did she come up with the idea of starting Wonderful in the first place?
Making Ukraine like Switzerland
“To really change something, you need to get a new perspective,” she recalls. “I have lived in different countries since I was 17 years old, and I saw what life was like in other places. In Ukraine, I felt people were indifferent to each other; they didn’t take care of their environment; streets and facilities were often broken. I always thought: Something has to change in my country. But I didn’t know if and how someone could bring about that change.”
When she received a grant to study in Switzerland – in this neat, clean, and well-organised Alpine country – one question stuck in her mind: “How can I make my country like Switzerland?”
The idea came to my mind one morning while I was brushing my teeth.
“Before, when I talked to friends in Ukraine, many of them said ‘I can’t do anything. Why should I start, if nobody else is doing anything?’ That was when I realised that someone had to start.” So she decided to apply to the DO School, a Hamburg-based organisation that supports social entrepreneurs in developing their ventures.
“At the DO School, they give you one month to develop your project. For me, this month was a nightmare! Every night, I developed ideas, threw them away, invented new ones… I just really wanted to have a great idea – THE idea to bring value to Ukraine.”
“The idea finally came to my mind one morning while I was brushing my teeth. You know, in this moment, when you just woke up, when dreams are still somewhere close to your shoulder; you don’t have to think about anything. You just wonder. The word “wonderful” had been stuck in my mind for some time – I wanted to bring wonderful people together to do wonderful things! I knew that there are many wonderful Ukrainians, ready to act, rather than complain. So that’s when the idea came to me. And then I couldn’t wait to get started!”
But upon returning to Ukraine, she noticed that turning her plan into a reality wasn’t an easy task: “In the beginning I had nothing: no money, no team, no clear understanding what is the first step. The only thing I had was an idea.”
So where to start?
Do you want to know more about DO School? Visit the website.
Starting from scratch
Mariia started by randomly meeting with people – friends, relatives, LinkedIn contacts – and presenting her idea to them. Her plan was to find at least one more person who would start the project together with her. Successfully: After one month of meetings, she had identified her founding partner.
“I had met so many people, and they all gave me advices – do this, don’t do this, this is good, this won’t happen. Some were very enthusiastic about the idea and promised to join, others said it’s rubbish.” But none of them took action – apart from the girl who then became her founding partner. “So this is my advice for anyone who wants to become a social entrepreneur:
If you can’t take criticism, don’t do it!”
In the end, criticism was what helped her kick off her idea: Among the many people she talked to, there was this one person who initially told her that the idea was “crap”. He advised her to try it out at a small event.
Mariia followed his advice: at the first two events, Wonderful mobilised 27 volunteers and received 70 Facebook likes. The foundation for a successful initiative was laid. And the person that had criticized her before quickly changed his mind: He is now mentoring Wonderful.
Since that time, Wonderful keeps pushing for the positive change. Today, the initiative has organised more than 20 events and mobilised more than 200 people. “The actions are making Ukrainians understand that what is common is mine too,” Mariia is convinced. “If we want to live in a nice, clean and beautiful country, no matter how good or bad public services are, we should treat everything with responsibility.”
The big revolution
When the revolution came, Mariia’s dream of citizen activism had suddenly come true. “It was like a ‘revolution of the mind’,” she recalls. “People realised that we could actually change things; that we can do anything if we do it together. It didn’t matter how small and insignificant one’s action was – it felt like being part of something big, like being in a wave, or even being that wave.”
The protests on the Maidan, the independent square in Kiev, became big by the beginning of December 2013. A whole “city within the city” evolved. “Voluntarism and patriotism, as powerful as never before, became a new reality for us. People supported each other and those protesting with money, their clothes, their time. There were field libraries, hospitals and kitchens organised right in the street, surrounded by barricades, to support the protesters. Citizens were active, like tiny ants, all pursuing a larger goal.”
But now the demonstrations have come to an end. “Russia has started a war against us. We won’t ever recover from all these tragic events,” says Mariia. “But what is here to stay is this energy, this spirit of change – this shared sense that small things really matter. It helps so much when working for a better future!”
What is here to stay is this energy,
this spirit of change.
We met Mariia at Deutsche Welle's Global Media Forum.