Muskie Alumnus Advances Transparency at the Local Level
I recently traveled to Luhansk, Ukraine, to witness alumni of the Edmund S. Muskie Graduate Fellowship Program in action. In a region filled with challenges—lagging industry, political division, and unemployment—one alumnus I met with is offering hope and driving positive change.
Meet Volodymyr Shcherbachenko , who started a local NGO, the East Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives (EUCCI), which currently works to protect homeowner’s rights and open spaces like parks, forests, and neighborhoods.
Under his leadership, EUCCI fights legal battles in support of the housing rights of Ukrainians. In fact, EUCCI is involved in 26 cases throughout Ukraine working to provide public access to comprehensive city plans. The organization works with and for citizens because, as Volodymyr explains, Ukrainians work so hard to own a home, often making the investment only once, that they deserve to know what they will be living next to as the city continues to develop.
During our visit, Volodymyr spoke about the obstacles Ukrainians face when they cannot access city plans, an ability that many Americans take for granted. For example, in Odessa, a famous port city with a rich history, citizens recently obtained access to a draft comprehensive city plan. They learned that officials planned to reconstruct one of its oldest districts and move residents to a new neighborhood, an area situated on what was deemed chemically contaminated territory of a former water treatment pond. Armed with this information, citizens were able to begin protesting the plans and engage officials in civic dialogue.
Continuing with his passionate description of his daily work, Volodomyr highlighted a more local victory: EUCCI recently succeeded in declassifying Luhansk city plans. Stamps of secrecy have been placed on nearly every single city plan in Ukraine since Soviet times. These stamps have prevented citizens from accessing vital information essential to their daily lives. Without knowing what might be built next door or whether—or even when—their residence may become the subject of eminent domain, families have been afraid to invest in improving their homes. In cities such as Luhansk, residents have also been unable to hold their leaders accountable to international standards specifying the amount of public green zones required for citizen health. By allowing access to city information, Volodymyr hopes to change that; he is changing that.
Sitting in Volodymyr’s office, as we discussed the range of daily challenges local citizens face, he articulated to me the connection between his Muskie fellowship and EUCCI’s current activities. In 2008, Volodymyr didn’t just study public policy at Kansas State University, but he also engaged with the local City Council and witnessed public hearings on land issues. Through his practical experience, Volodymyr realized openness and action were possible in local government affairs. EUCCI has extended its efforts beyond Luhansk and is now teaching other organizations and individuals throughout Ukraine how to utilize new legislation empowering citizens with the right to information in support of their housing rights. Every victory is one step closer to greater community transparency, a goal that feels untenable to so many across Ukraine. But not Volodomyr: he is a firm believer in and activist for citizens’ rights.
I’m inspired by Volodymyr’s story. Luhansk has always been a special place for me since my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the region, a place that is often overlooked and discounted. Volodymyr’s work is a powerful reminder of what individuals can achieve when armed with passion, education, and skills. To know that Volodymyr can connect those three attributes to his Muskie experience is an energizing example of what makes the Muskie program such a powerful tool for positive, lasting change across Eurasia.
Elizabeth Knight is the Country Director for IREX Ukraine.