The Ukrainian political environment is as tricky for citizens of the European Union, as the EU's political environment is tricky for Ukrainian citizens.
An important challenge is therefore to facilitate mutual understanding and build bridges. This is the ambition of SD Platform, the non-governmental organization that unites progressive people all over Ukraine.
The country has to deal with its post-Soviet past, oligarchs, internal corruption issues and – obviously – Russia's war, while at the same time progressive activists in Ukraine have to actually fight the stereotypes surrounding the concept of social democracy.
There are indeed no clear ideological dividing lines between the parties in Ukraine, and even the word "social" often confuses people because of the communist past.
The "pro-Russian" and "Russia-backed" parties are banned by the law, and the course of the country is now clearly "pro-European", but there is also a rise of far-right ideological orientation in the society as a reaction to the Russian brutal invasion and the necessity to defend national identity.
"For us it's important to educate the public about who we are, what we do and what is the idea behind what we do," says Bohdan Ferens, the founder of SD Platform.
"We are fighting for democracy and a better life in Ukraine."
The war that started in 2014, but escalated on February 24, 2022, makes it much harder to implement changes that Ferens and his team are struggling for: a society built on values and the principles of freedom, social cohesion, gender equality and justice.
"But for now, Ukraine's main goal is not only to survive and defend the common European values but also to radically change the attitude of civilized countries towards the aggressor state in order to avoid the occurrence of such wars in the future", says Ferens.
The team of SD Platform is very young. Ferens and its two fellow founding partners colleagues were under 30 at the time when they launched the platform in 2012.
Ten years later, the organization has become the most visible political youth organization in Ukraine, while maintaining independence from existing political and oligarchic projects. SD Platform keeps mobilizing progressive citizens and prepares to become a political party in the future, while at the moment the martial law does not allow for the establishment of political parties in Ukraine.
"The attitude in Ukrainian society towards political parties in Ukraine in general is currently anyway quite bad," Ferens says.
He mentions the "pocket parties" that are created not because they have a programme or incarnate a political ideology, but because before they are "vote-collecting tools". But the team remains full of hope.
"Our advantage is that we are independent. No politicians, no political parties influence our decision making."
And the local angle is very important to the SD Platform too as it strives to set up regional contact points throughout all the country's regions called "oblasts".
"Mayors are very important and we want to communicate more, also with the support of the PES Group in the European Committee of Regions. We need to be more visible in Ukraine's political scene," Ferens says.
While the SD Platform receives support from social democrat partner organisations throughout the European Union, such as technical assistance from the Dutch Max van der Stoel Foundation or the German Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung or traineeships for SD Platform activists at the S&D Group in the European Parliament, Ferens insists that the know-how provided has to be transformed into action on the ground.
This is also why the SD Platform focuses very much on developing concrete policy responses in coordination with civil society organisations such as with teachers on education programmes.
Starting from this autumn, the SD Platform in cooperation with the UK Labour Party's Westminster Foundation will seek to establish a regional consortium for Fair and Inclusive Recovery of Ukraine composed of various stakeholders, including the branches, trade unions, government bodies, non-governmental organizations, international agencies, and local communities.
"The journey is long and painful but one day the sun will rise and there will be new horizons for the political culture in general and social democracy in particular in Ukraine", Ferens concludes the interview with us.
Picture provided by Bohdan Ferens from his archives.