Activities for Ukraine and not only. Selected initiatives and projects of the Open Dialog Foundation 2016-17

Last night we returned from a concert and a reception organised by the Ukraine Embassy in the Republic of Poland – like every year – on the occasion of Ukraine’s Independence Day. A question was often asked in conversations about our Ukrainian projects and further activities of the Open Dialog Foundation. We believe it is worthwhile to clarify some issues.

Contrary to the impression that may be created by the media, since the beginning of 2015 we have had financial problems. The peak of our activities was 2013 (especially its second half and end) and 2014. Clearly, we would like to go back to this level of activity when – as even those who are not friendly to us – Ukraine was associated in Poland with the Open Dialog. But this is primarily and regrettably a matter of financial capacities. The Foundation’s budget is clearly smaller and smaller year after year.

Petro Kozlovsky is not supporting us anymore and we did the last public funding events in 2015. It was then too that the last transport of humanitarian aid for victims of the war in Ukraine set off. We were to intensively reorganise our activities and put an end (with a heavy heart) to next projects. We do not have hundreds of volunteers anymore, and our team has shrunk from approx. 60 people working with us on a regular basis to ca. 15 people (some of who are working at our Warsaw office). In mid-2016, we closed the centre "Ukrainian World" (even though the financial issues were the decisive factors, a role was also played by the unclear ownership situation and claims to the premises): 

It is around there that many pro-Ukrainian initiatives focused, not only ours but of numerous partners too. In the second half of 2016, we also closed down the stationary office in Kiev (which had been set up on the wave of developments on Maidan and projects dedicated to Ukrainian reforms). Seeing the vastness of needs, we are working to change this state of affairs and improve the financial situation and our key problem is fundraising – as it probably is for many others too.

The most recent muddle in Poland, our role in it and widely-understood various consequences of our commitment – are clearly against us. Who is to blame? We, ourselves, in a way (especially the undersigned), and hence we have no right to complain, but we believe we could have behaved differently. Does it all mean that we are about to close? That we have stopped doing projects relating to Ukraine? Not at all!

First, we maintain our core activity: lobbing (so-called advocacy) internationally. In Brussels and in Strasbourg (and the capital cities of many other EU Member States) we lobby for sanctions against Russia which are to help Ukrainian political prisoners – so called Kremlin hostages – to be set free. This is the campaign #LetMyPeopleGo in which our main partner is the Ukrainian organisation Center for Civil Liberties / Euromaidan SOS. It is within its framework that we acted jointly to defend Nadia Savchenko, Oleg Sentsov, Yuriy Yatsenko, Gennadiy Afanasyev and many others. Together with Euromaidan Warsaw, we supported and organised manifestations against the war and Putin and in defence of Ukrainian political prisoners at the Warsaw Embassy of Russia, e.g.: "Stop Putin's War In Ukraine" or "Stop Killing Ilmi Umerov!". Finally – we drafted the Savchenko List of sanctions (opening with the name of Vladimir Putin). It attracted wide support in Europe. Then, in autumn 2016, we organised an event on the role of sanctions in the EU/Russia relations, and in February of that year, inter alia, a hearing and a debate at the European Parliament. A direct result of these activities was the resolution of the European Parliament of 16.03.2017.

The advocacy activities would not have been possible without the tedious analytical work. It is our team who prepare all reports, such as (selected studies on Kremlin hostages): "Political persecutions of Ukrainian nationals in Russia and occupied Crimea" or "List of Ukrainian citizens who encountered political persecutions from Russian prosecuting bodies in 2014-2016, "Repressions against leaders of the Crimean/Tartar nation in Crimea" (about persecutions of Crimean Tartars), "The case of Oleg Sentsov", "The case of "Crimean terrorists"" etc.

In 2016, together with the company The Farm 51, we launched cooperation on an innovative Chernobyl VR Project. We co-organised its world premiere in Kyiv under the auspices of the Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko, and on 1.07.2016 - in Warsaw. Then, together with a number of partners, we carried our assistance actions – thanks to The Farm 51 allocating some of the proceeds from the sale of the application to help schools and children from the area of Chernobyl. This programme is still on.

In that year, the case of Aleksandr Orlov – a Polish national unlawfully kept in a detention centre in Odessa for many years, became important. It cast a shadow on the Polish-Ukrainian relations but managed to be resolved successfully with the help of Polish parliamentarians. Orlov regained freedom and his case became a symbol of dysfunctions of the Ukrainian administration of justice and provided a basis for the report.

Until the end of 2016, we also operated the Polish-Ukrainian Programme for Development and Training of the Ukrainian Health Service Staff under which cooperation was established between medical circles from Poland and Ukraine, and Ukrainian medical professionals made study visits to our country.

Apart from doctors, we are also visited by young Ukrainian activists and students (e.g. study visit Donbas SOS in May 2017). We carried out the programme of visits of Ukrainian youth to Poland and other EU countries in 2016 thanks to the support from the Kyiv Dialogue. As part of the assistance we provided to Ukrainian migrants (also after the Ukrainian World had been closed down) with free consultations on the legalisation of stay and work in Poland and we delivered training within the Academy set up for the purpose.

We also intervened many times where the rights of Ukraine’s national were violated and we commented on practical problems with visa procedures, bureaucracy and the functioning of border crossing and business in the media. We are also strong supporters of as broad economic cooperation as possible:

and Ukrainian entrepreneurs could always count on our support.

Because of that, we visit the conferences European Forum of New Ideas (EFNI), within which we organised a discussion on Ukrainian reforms (2015) and human rights during the war (2016; in cooperation with the Global Compact Network Poland).

Occasionally, we were also active on other areas e.g. on the front of fighting the Russian disinformation.

In 2017, Moldova and the themes of persecution of Ukrainian reformers and anti-corruption activists (see also the report) became of a major focus of our activities. We are planning to continue these activities as soon as in the coming weeks – during the Warsaw CSCE (HDIM 2017) conference and in Brussels.

The reform of the Interpol and defence of political refugees continue to be regular themes. Regrettably, Ukraine does not always play a splendid role in this area.

Clearly, the above coverage is not complete. We must public the thematic report for 2016 in accordance with the law by the end of 2017. However, we wrote about some activities and effects of our operations last year when the year ended.