5 years ago I left Ukraine. What is interesting that after 5 years outside of my home country I can’t answer a question "So how is life in Ukraine?" anymore. I mean I’m following news and can tell you what is happening. But it became much harder (it requires more thinking) for me to explain what are young Ukrainians up to. What are the problems, what are the challenges, what are the trends and what will happen next?
5 years ago I was part of the up-and-coming generation that was going to define Ukrainian future. I knew what my peers were thinking, doing, dreaming, etc (and to be honest I wasn’t impressed). But right now there is an even younger generation of people in the early 20s, and they definitely have some differences (as any generation) with the previous generation.
I don’t have good connections and knowledge about these younger Ukrainians. If I come to Ukraine now, I wouldn’t exactly know what to expect. I have some ideas though about my expectations, and you can read them below.
A lot of things happened in Ukraine in the past 5 years. First we had Victor Yanukovych regime, then we had the Revolution of Dignity connected with tragedy but huge hopes. Now we have a war against Russia. My country has a lot of problems now: war, corruption, slow speed of reforms, economic crises etc.
But I see 2 signs of future success of Ukraine. I have a good feeling about my home country. Bear with me to know why.
Music & art
When I was younger, we had a handful of the good Ukrainian music bands. To become successful, they needed some money/connections to appear on popular radio stations and TV-channel rotations. Now we live in the Internet age. To deliver your art (music, movies, etc) you don’t need money or connections. All you need to do is your work of art and Internet. If you are a music band, you can release your music independently on the Soundcloud. You can keep in touch with fans on Twitter, you can organize events on Facebook. This is a completely new thing that is happening globally and also in Ukraine.
Basically, there is a general trend right now which I would call "without their permission" (see Alexis Ohanian’s book). You don’t need to ask anyone for "permission" if you want to start a company, political party or music band. All you need to focus on is your idea and execution. And if you are able to create something worthy people would pay attention to it. In a way "without their permission" phrase can be applied to the whole country. Ukraine used to be for quite a few centuries Russian colony. As a colony, we were looking towards Moscow and "asking permission" what to do, what to think. We don’t need to do it anymore. We can define our country, our ideals, our goals and directions ourselves.
I definitely like it. It enables people around the world to make a difference, do what they love and feel that they are working on something important. Priorities changed. If you are an artist, you don’t need to be globally successful to be able to pay your bills. What you can do is be successful in a small niche. Previously it was difficult to deliver your work to that niche because of the geographic restrictions. That is not the case anymore. If you’re a band from Ukraine making music in some specific genre/style, your fans/listeners no longer need to be in the same city, or even country, they can be around the world.
In the last 50 years for a lot of Ukrainian artists' success meant going to Moscow (which was a center of the bigger market for Soviet and post-Soviet countries). The focus changed completely recently. Currently, a lot of young Ukrainian bands do high-quality music oriented on the Western and global market.
This is the thing that excites me the most. I feel that culture/art and music is an extremely important indicator of change. It shows where country and society want really to go. Alain de Botton said that art balances us, it tries to compensate for what we are missing in our lives. And that is an important observation. Because producing high-quality western-like music shows that the new generation of Ukrainians wants to be better integrated with the Western world and there is high demand for quality too. It also shows that artists are not afraid to try anymore. An artist in some way also sends a right message to the rest of the society: if I am not afraid to try and do what we love - you can and should too.
In the 90s, most of the population in Ukraine became suddenly extremely poor after the collapse of Soviet Union. Early days of capitalism in my country were pretty wild. Some people became rich quickly. Most people who achieved high status and "success" were not good people. The majority earned their money doing some illegal things. Most of our rich people also became corrupt politicians, they don’t have proper education and more importantly good moral values by any means. What even worth that several generations didn’t have good roles models. "Bad guys" had better chances of success, which created negative dynamics in the society and probably some hopelessness.
In the last 10 years in Ukraine, we started to have some tiny layer of middle-class people that were able to earn enough money for the comfortable living. It’s hugely important to have these people. Because the truth is after some income level more money doesn’t bring you more happiness. See WSJ article which says:
It turns out there is a specific dollar number, or income plateau, after which more money has no measurable effect on day-to-day contentment.
I hope that people who reach this level/income plateau would fill the need to do something else to be happier. There are not a lot of more fulfilling things than giving back to the community: through donations, volunteering work, building social enterprises or even building regular enterprises to help fellow citizens to live a decent life.
Also, some good role models (for future generations) are emerging. We started to have good, socially active artists, we started to value intellectuals, it’s becoming fashionable again to be smart and kind.
You can be pessimistic or optimistic about Ukrainian future. It’s hard to predict what would happen next. There are great potential and a lot of opportunities, some are described in Ukraine is open for U video.
But I think that reforms from our government are not as important as two things I talked about above. There is a big demand among progressive young people for living (and building) modern Western state. There are artists who can show to the rest of us what we want and need and there is middle-class that would be able to execute these changes. None of this people is going to ask for the permissions from our government or from other countries. And that is the most significant fundamental change that happened. People did realize that they are in charge of everything and there is a way to achieve what they want.