‘EU, Ukraine and me’ Essay Contest Winners

author: Kseniia Kharchenko, Diana Liubova, Yulia Danylenko  31-05-2021

In May 2021, the Young European Ambassadors in Ukraine, in partnership with the Zaporizhzhia State Oblast Administration, carried out an essay contest titled ‘EU, Ukraine and me’ envisaged for participants from Zaporizhzhia oblast studying in 9-11 school grade . The activity aimed to raise the curiosity of local young people on the European integration of Ukraine and share their thoughts and ideas on it. They were invited to write their essays on one of the following topics:

•    What does it mean to be a European for me?
•    Europe in my life/city/country 
•    The European Union and Ukraine: past, present, future  

In total, almost 30 young people from all over the oblast participated in the activity. It's noteworthy that the majority of the participants of the contest studies in the village schools (Matviivka village, Mala Bilozerka village, Velyka Bilozerka village, Novospaske village, Vilnoadnriivka village, etc.) and the schools in small towns (Huiaipole town, Energodar town, etc.).   

The professional jury consisting out of the representatives of the Zaporizhzhia State Oblast Administration, the ‘Young European Ambassadors’ in Ukraine initiative, and the Institute of the International Relations of the Kyiv National University of Taras Shevchenko selected three winners in each category. 

The works of the three people that got the highest results in each category are presented below.
 

What does being a European mean to me?

(Kseniia Kharchenko, 10 school grade pupil, Educational complex #1, Energodar city, Zaporizhzhia oblast)

At first glance, it seems that the question is quite simple and clear: of course, one might think that being a European is having the citizenship of one of the European countries or the European Union (the EU) states. And Ukraine is a country on the map of Europe. The question arises: is each of us, Ukrainian, a European? However, this definition is geographical. Let's talk about something else.

For me, the image of a modern European is not associated at all with the citizenship of a European state or its absence. Yes, this term may mean the person's affiliation, place of residence and stamp in the passport with the mark of any country that is a member of the EU, for example: the Federal Republic of Germany, the Republic of Austria, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Kingdom of Belgium, the Republic of Ireland, etc. But what exactly unites all these states? What the EU member states have in common is the way of life of their population, the level of their economy and its rapid development, the existence of a type of government that is really effective and efficient, which brings positive changes and maintains internal and external political ties. We, Ukrainians, are accustomed to hearing that we have not yet achieved indicators worthy of "entry" into the EU in all spheres of state life. But why so? Why are we "out of reach" of the EU? And if we make it, will we be able to keep the level? And how will this affect each of us personally? And, by the way, why should we answer the question: "What does it mean for me to be a European"? Why not an American? A Russian?

I'll try to elaborate on that more. First, environmental security in such countries is much better than in others. There are laws governing penalties for environmental damage, and environmental integration is mandatory for all members of the EU. That is, society has begun to understand that for its actions and deeds it will always be accountable to public authorities, and therefore the attitude to the environment has changed radically. People voluntarily recycle garbage, sort it into special bins to speed up the process, do not leave waste just on the ground or asphalt, because such habits in Europeans are formed from childhood. It is known that the use of plastic bags is considered very dangerous (due to its one-time usage and large amount of time for recycling), and therefore more and more people are consciously using shoppers and eco-bags, which also significantly saves personal money. I have heard many times that environmental protection is a really common and important issue there, because, as they say, "Think globally, act locally" (Greenpeace's motto). Thus, the first sign of a true European is the protection of the environment and multiplication, the enrichment of its invaluable resources and natural resources.

Secondly, it is a tolerant attitude towards other people, unlike you, which is quite relevant today. In the EU countries, residents of both large and small cities respect each other, tourists and new guests, regardless of race, nationality, orientation, appearance and other things that should not affect their attitude. Support for national minorities is global, widespread, which is gratifying. There is almost no discrimination on any grounds, because people understand why personal life is called personal and respect each other's choices. Europeans value freedom, respect the borders, the limits of everyone, do not allow humiliation, even when it comes to outsiders, because they seek to have a similar attitude to themselves. They support the culture and traditions of others, allow them to express their opinions freely, because they know that this is how honest, liberal people, independent of other people's beliefs, behave. For example, in 2021, people of non-traditional orientation can get married in countries such as Germany, Luxembourg, France, Sweden and others without any comments or questions. This is a very important and necessary law today, because the 21st century must start a life without racism, xenophobia, homophobia and nationalism around the world, and it is Europeans who are now moving in the right direction.

Third, it is a healthy, active lifestyle that people lead not for a "one week", but for many long years. For many migrants, this is one of the most important aspects when choosing a country to move to. Sociologists say that on average in Europe, 39.7% of the population regularly goes in for sports (but there are countries where this figure is much higher). Many people have already started changing their cars for bicycles and even for constant walking, if time and distance allow. Yes, a proper, balanced diet significantly improves not only the quality of the body, but also well-being and mood throughout the day. A large amount of water helps our body to function better, which reduces the risk of disease and strengthens the immune system. So, from this way of life as a result there are only advantages, therefore the European is the one who actively implements it in the life and cares of a happy healthy future.

Also, one cannot ignore the fact that only someone who proudly and boldly exclaims: "I am a Ukrainian", while being proud of the history and heritage of his people, can call himself a European. The one who is ashamed of his/her heritage and culture has no right to consider himself/herself a citizen not only of Europe but also of the country in which he/she actually lives. We can be Europeans and not lose our Ukrainian identity. We have to promote our traditions and tell about them, because everything we have is achieved through hard work every day, from year to year, from generation to generation. We should be grateful for those fruitful negotiations with Switzerland, or even for a new bill, or for paved roads, or an open museum in Baturyn, which in theory is very useful and necessary for our citizens, because constant criticism will never work for the public good: only the cooperation of the government and the people is an effective way to achieve the standard of living that each of us dreams of. We must learn to appreciate and hear each other.

In such circumstances, another question arises: Are there any prospects for Ukraine's European integration in today's conditions? Yes, it was held by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation. I. Kucheriva and the company "Ukrainian Sociology Service" poll on the attitude of Ukrainians to join the EU. According to the study, a fairly clear public opinion has been formed in Ukraine, where a positive attitude towards Ukraine's membership in the EU prevails. "The EU is clearly the choice of young people, where 54% of respondents aged 18 to 30 consider Ukraine's European integration to be positive," said I. Bekeshkina, director of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation.

Usually, young people are considered to be the most committed part of society to European integration than the older generation. Moreover, young people were the only age group that advocated the European integration direction as a priority.

The main advantages of EU membership Ukrainians consider the possibility of free movement abroad (39%), improving the quality of life (37%), free access of young people to study at universities in EU member states (34%). Almost one in four Ukrainians hopes that EU membership will help to bring about internal change in Ukraine in order to achieve European standards.

Undoubtedly, European integration is an important step for any country, and, of course, Ukraine is no exception. But is it worth taking such an important step? The question remains open, because to understand this requires a complete and in-depth analysis ...

In my opinion, it is worth starting with the fact that the EU guarantees the development and dominance of democracy among the member states. Freedom, in any of its manifestations, is the most important life value for all mankind, which is why Ukrainian society aspires to it. I believe that European integration will have a positive effect on this aspiration, will become a catalyst for the establishment of real democracy in Ukraine.

No less important is the development of commodity-market relations and cooperation between Ukraine and European countries. This can have a positive impact on the rise of the economy and the foreign policy status of our state.

In my opinion, European integration has become a reflection of Ukrainians' demand for a "big idea" that the political system has not been able to implement in previous years. In the face of economic decline and failed social change, EU flag stars have become even more attractive to young people.

Despite the strengthening of centrifugal and even separatist tendencies, European integration can still unite Ukrainian society. This requires certain conditions. First, it is necessary to perceive and present European integration not as a foreign but as a domestic policy. A policy of reforms that are relevant and necessary for the whole of a united Ukraine. I would like to emphasize in the words of Ukrainian writer Dmytro Cherednychenko: “Humanity is seen as a tree: each branch has its own bird, each bird has its own language. and together - a tree. And together - the choir.”

Today, the level of legitimacy of the authorities in Ukraine is below average and it is extremely difficult to spread the idea of ​​the importance of European integration. However, the combination of a credit of confidence, a plan of economic and other European reforms as an internal dimension of European integration creates extremely high chances for the country's unification around European integration.

For me personally, as a high school student and future student, the issue of the quality of education in Ukraine is acute. I believe that after European integration, following the example of EU member states, Ukraine will raise the level of quality of secondary and higher education, design certain features of study abroad for itself and change the standards of the educational process. This means that our higher education institutions will produce highly qualified specialists who will be in demand not only at home but also abroad.

Still, being a European - opening new perspectives - is the best way to realize national interests.

And now everything will depend on how we, the Ukrainian society, will take this chance and whether we are ready to add our own contribution to the promotion of European integration from within the country and really become Europeans.

So, we can conclude that being a European for me is not just a "title", but hard work that begins from us personally and brings fruitful results for the whole country.  We must re-educate ourselves, treat others more humanely and kindly, we must learn to live in society and do everything to make the Motherland prosper - we should become united. We need to create an environment in which we respect each other - that's what real Europeans do. We must understand that being a European does not mean losing Ukrainian. You need to reconsider your own values, work on your mistakes and understand what needs to be done to make the next year's international topic for an essay: "What does it mean for me to be Ukrainian?"

Europe in my daily life

(Diana Liubova, 9 school grade pupil, Matviivka educational complex ‘Vsesvit’, Matviivka village, Zaporizhzhia oblast, Ukraine)

Hello! My name is Diana, and I live in Ukraine. In this essay, I would like to share my thoughts and views on what Europe means for me in my daily life. 

'Europe' is a beautiful word, isn't it? It means home, part of the world, enchanting place, and many, many other things. It has a special meaning for everyone. For me, it's the place where people live in peace and harmony, where people support and care for each other. It is a place where you feel secure, a place where you receive a high-quality education, and afterward, you give back to the country by investing in it and improving the lives of others. Each country in Europe is unique. They are unique in their customs and traditions, views, and way of life. I have a desire to find out more about each of them and to travel around Europe. But first, I want to analyse the place of Europe in my daily life at the moment. Let's start!

On the one hand, even though I live in a small village and don't know much about Europe from the inside, it interests me a lot! I'm familiar with European culture. I already know French, Italian, English languages and a little bit of Spanish. And I don't want to stop on it! I often watch European TV shows, and I know a few teams participating in the 'Europe League' from my father. He plays football and always shares with me the football news. I know how to cook many delicious European dishes. Especially I love Italian cuisine (tiramisu and pizza have captured my receptors, and I adore them). I have clothes from Europe. I like their quality and convenience. And what beautiful cultural monuments are there in Europe: the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, and many others. By the way, do you know that Europe has found a place in space? It is a satellite of Jupiter. Wow! Europe stands out with its beauty everywhere, and it is charming even in space. Interestingly, the geographical centre of Europe is located in a Ukrainian village (it is just a fact). Very famous scientists lived and made discoveries in Europe. They made discoveries that improved the lives of all people, not only those living in European countries. A fun fact is that my cat's breed comes from Great Britain, Scotland. It is a Scottish fold cat. My family and I named him Richard (it is a royal name, I think). I have some friends from France and Italy. And I am delighted to have them in my life. It is cool to have acquaintances in Europe and all over the world. You learn languages together, and you get a chance to immerse in the culture of the country of your friend in practice. Frankly speaking, I can continue writing about the place of Europe in my daily life, and I will not run out of thoughts and stories! 

However, on the other hand, while discussing the role of Europe in our daily lives, we must also consider more global issues, such as those related to our country, its prosperity, and success. Unfortunately, there is some place for improvement in Ukraine: we have an ongoing war with a neighbouring country, COVID-19 pandemic crisis, and other problems. But let's not focus on bad things. We need to work hard to help Ukraine to reach the level of prosperity of European countries. I'm sure we deserve it. Our country has well-established friendly relations with many European states with which we cooperate in different fields. I am very happy about it! To reach success, one needs to have a desire. In this regard, it is essential to highlight that Ukraine is very diverse. Each city is unique. It has its history, amazing places, and wonderful people. At the same time, at a national level, every year, all Ukrainians celebrate Europe Day in Ukraine. Ukrainians will always be proud of European countries for their achievements and victories; concurrently, Ukrainians will not be left behind either. We have many intelligent and creative people who want our country to be the 'number one’. And so do I :) 

To sum up, Europe has an important place in my daily life. Every day I learn something new and exciting about it. I celebrate Europe Day – a day of peace and unity in Europe, and I believe that it is incredible that people gather on this day together to tell their stories, prepare various delicious meals, and spend time in a peaceful and friendly atmosphere.

I am very grateful to the organizers of this competition for the opportunity to express myself and a part of myself with others. Thank you so much! 

And I want to congratulate everyone on Europe Day! 

Be happy and don't worry - everything will be great!

 

The European Union and Ukraine: past, present, future

(Yulia Danylenko, 10 school grade pupil, Matviivka educational complex ‘Vsesvit’, Matviivka village, Zaporizhzhia oblast, Ukraine)

In my opinion, Ukraine has always had an inseparable connection with European countries. Their relationship began long ago and continues today. But what is Europe? If you ask, for most - it's Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland. Of course, these are the most developed, bright countries. But they are not the only ones in this part of the world. There are those like our state. Ukraine is the hot heart of Europe, a country that is truly worthy of great respect. It hurts when it is ignored. Although they know that every piece of its land smells of sweat, blood, and tears. And all this happened because of the formation of Europe, which is known today.

First, without the past, there is no future. Ukraine has always been marked by fertile land, precious subsoil, singing language and culture, and, above all, strong people. From time immemorial, many countries wanted to take over these territories for the sake of their economic, territorial development. Many trials befell Ukraine in the XIX-XX centuries. But it defended with dignity and fought to the last, even if it no longer had a chance. Its strong and mighty army repulsed any offensive, trying to win. Great support were the writers who inspired the soldiers to fight, glorified the culture of our region. A striking example is the poem "Любіть Україну" (Liubit' Ukrainu) by Volodymyr Sosyura, written during the Second World War. It became a kind of national anthem. The poem calls to love the native land, not to shy away from it, to glorify one's name for the sake of the Motherland. Returning to the argument, I would like to add that many countries understood that Ukraine, having become an independent state, would be able to overtake everyone. Therefore, large countries, such as the Russian Empire and Germany, wanted to become even more powerful. Their goal was to conquer Ukrainian territories.

Secondly, realistically assessing the current situation, it is safe to say that since independence, Ukraine has declared itself an independent state that can defend its place in the world market, including in Europe. Independence has led to the creation of favourable conditions for the development of many areas of activity. Ukraine was able to make its own decisions on the growth of our state's economic and cultural levels. Our country has sufficient resources and human resources to reach a high status among other countries. Ukraine is associated as a part of Europe.

After the declaration of independence, the Ukrainian government tried to reach the level of other European countries, carrying out a number of significant reforms, which were generally borrowed from other countries with a high level of the economy. The government understood that without the support of the European Union, it would be difficult to do so. Therefore, one of the important goals is to join the European Union and support the great powers of this union. And still, this question remains actual. We already have some achievements in this direction. All this, of course, at the political level, but also other spheres of influence: educational, cultural, scientific - bring us closer to the countries of the European Union. In addition, many Ukrainians glorified us with their victories, talents, and works. They make the history of our country and raise it in the eyes of the world community. Many of our compatriots, having emigrated to other European countries, proudly say: "I am Ukrainian." They do not shy away from their language, their origin, but on the contrary, glorify it among the European people as a country with many talents.

We need to think about the future today. What will Ukraine be like? I see it as part of the European Union. I believe that in time our state will be somewhere on the top of success and will finally show its potential. As already mentioned, Ukraine has numerous riches. But its real development, its elevation depends on each of us. What can this mean? It is necessary, of course, to make every effort to the dream goal. Ukraine will be what we make it. Every citizen of our state must accurately perform their tasks, reveal their abilities, and do everything for the benefit of the state. So let's walk and do not stop. Every year we will be known not only as a country of the European Union but also as a country of global scale.

Thus, analysing the history of Ukraine's development, its past successes and failures, its uncertain steps towards recognition, we can confidently say that our Motherland should be called Europe and be part of the European Union. But everything is still ahead. Maybe time will pass, and our descendants, and perhaps we too, will have a decent standard of living close to the European one: high wages, sufficient security for vulnerable groups, opportunities for young people in higher education, and many other aspects of life.