Teens in Ukraine Create Artwork Inspired by Testimony for “Sources of Tolerance” Summer School

Tue, 08/25/2015 - 5:00pm

For the second year in a row, testimony from the Visual History Archive is inspiring teenagers to illustrate true scenes of the violation of human rights during the Stalin totalitarian regime and Nazi persecution of Jews in Ukraine. The artwork was part of the teens’ application to participate in the annual Inter-ethnic Summer School Sources of Tolerance.  This tolerance-building course aims to build a safe space for inter-ethnic dialogue and follow-up activities for teenagers from conflict affected areas in Ukraine and their peers at host communities.

Founded in 2002, the summer school’s objective is to facilitate dialogue between teenage members of national minority groups, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and students from the host community, to strengthen social responsibility and empathy among teenagers, to assist in the integration of minority members, IDPs and victims of conflict. The concept has been further developed to address the demands of the ongoing conflict situation in Ukraine. The 2015 summer school took place July 23-August 5 at the Sun Valley resort near Chernivtsy in southwestern Ukraine.

USC Shoah Foundation’s regional consultant in Ukraine, Anna Lenchovska, helps organize the summer school and is involved with the application process.

For their application to the program, students had the option of making an illustration about a testimony clip from Where Do Human Rights Begin: Lessons of History and Contemporary Approaches, the testimony-based Ukrainian-language teacher’s guide published on the USC Shoah Foundation website. The guide consists of 10 modules highlighting the rights guaranteed by the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as human rights violations of the 20th century and recent cases. Each module includes clips of Holocaust survivor testimony from the Visual History Archive.

Because the number of internally displaced people in Ukraine increased to over 1.4 million people in 2015, the topic for the application this year was “Right for free movement.” Students were asked to watch the clips from Lesson 7, “Right for free movement” and from Lesson 10 “Rights of the child” and create an illustration or cartoon about the testimony that most affected them.

“Many people have fled their houses in fear of repression for their political views or even human rights activities or belonging to protestant church, or out of fear of military actions,” Lenchovska said. “Children have witnessed the terror of killing and destruction, the fear during flight, and bitter political arguments, even between people they love.”

Fourteen illustrations were submitted to the competition, inspired by survivors including Nikolai Verhogliadov, Vasyl Val’dman, Mariia Moseichuk, Leonid Shulga, Adel’ Zagurska, Ivan Lebedev, Borys Arsen. These survivors talk about their experience of limitation of their right for free movement as children or young adults during Ukrainian Great Famine, Soviet political repressions for members, during Nazi organization of ghettos for Jews, about Soviet ban for nomadic life for Roma people. 

One applicant, 15-year-old Elizaveta Olenkovskaya, was especially touched by the testimony of Mariia Moseichuk. Elizaveta wrote in her application that her own family’s experiences were very similar to Mariia’s during the Soviet era; both families were arrested by Soviet authorities and sent away from their homes. Elizaveta wrote a story about her family and drew an illustration of how totalitarianism powers can take everything from ordinary citizens.

The summer school ultimately included 92 students and 29 tutors from 18 ethnic groups, who explored the world of identities, culture, language, symbols and traditions of ethnic groups living in Ukraine. The course program consisted of seven Ethnic Community Days, and teenagers took part in intense training on conflict mediation and tolerance, aiming to act as multipliers at their schools.  Special psychological support was provided for internally displaced teenagers and teenagers who are living in the acute conflict area.  Course graduates will participate in follow-up activities in Tolerance Clubs in three cities across Ukraine, such as mediation training, psychological group sessions, and peer-guides activities.  

“Watching and illustrating VHA-testimonies teenagers have learned empathy and critical thinking, which are highly in need now in Ukraine,” Lenchovska said. “It is very important that the project graduates will act as peer-guides for each other in their communities making learning process more efficient and personal.”