Ukrainians and the Changes We Face Today

Maria BasovskaMarch 4, 2024Crisis & ChangeInterfaith Connections

Artwork by Jane N. Odoom, age 16

Changing is a difficult thing to do.

Even with the best of intentions, actually making behavioral changes can be a slow and laborious process. Change is rarely a straight line. The process of change is littered with ups and downs, jumps forward and backwards, and motivational waxing and waning. Alterations can be long and evolutionary or rapid and revolutionary. Change is not possible without an idea, just as it is not possible without a tool. But who can influence change, and how?

First of all, human participation is essential in the implementation of any change. People are constantly changing, gaining new experience and knowledge. Society and the individual are interdependent, so changes in individual views stimulate the process of social transformation. And vice versa: social changes can contribute to internal ones. Moreover, the motivation for positive social and internal changes usually coincides. The cause of these changes can stem from new knowledge and experiences superimposed on the cultural context, from social or personal values, or from dissatisfaction with a situation.

Culture is represented by a combination of factors, including: knowledge, norms, skills, ideals, patterns of activity and behavior, ideas, hypotheses, beliefs, goals, and values. People are proud of their cultural heritage, and they protect it while trying to make it a living element of social life.

A characteristic feature of Ukrainian culture is its openness and stability, the ability to perceive and adapt to various influences. We have a lot of social movements formed by people who are dissatisfied with their lives and have a desire to solve this problem by working toward a common goal. Over the past seven years, cultural projects have strengthened Ukrainian civic identity, and have more clearly drawn Ukraine's borders on world maps. There were many discussions about what we wanted to do, how we should serve society, and what changes we wanted to achieve. Thanks to this, during our history, Ukrainian culture was twice able to be revived. We know how to survive changes because Ukrainian culture has this ability to adapt, but the question arises: how do we relate to these changes — whether they are negative or positive — and how flexible is our culture? Is it open to these changes, or do we not want to shift from tradition?

The development of Ukrainian culture was negatively affected by the absence of its own statehood, which would have facilitated a unified national policy in the field of culture. In the conditions of colonial dependence (from Poland, the Russian Empire, and the USSR), the creative spirit and identity of the nation were restrained, and cultural processes were inhibited or became impossible. Ukrainian society experienced fundamental changes in history and culture after becoming a separate state in 1991. Its powerful potential started to grow and its effective energy resources and progress continuously inspired our nation to further struggle nowadays. After the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation on February 24, 2022, Ukrainians all over the world joined up to protect our identity. We started to speak our own language with some pride, and wore our national clothes more.

Due to my personal experience, I can say that Ukrainian culture is open to changes. I had to move from my hometown to the west of the country because of the full-scale invasion. There are some stereotypes that people from the western regions of Ukraine are too conservative and do not tend to pursue changes. However, living here showed me that these citizens are hospitable to refugees from the east. They bring some changes to their usual habitat in this way. People are helping each other and are likely to accept positive changes.

The basis of all change in culture is the spiritual needs of the citizens. Internal and social changes constantly stimulate each other. This is an endless, immeasurable, multi-vector movement that develops our society and ourselves. However, unfortunately, many are guided by the thought "I will not change anything," or "my vote will not change anything.” Millions of people who can make change in society give up the opportunity without even trying. As sociologists found out, Ukrainians have different perceptions of the changes that took place after the collapse of the USSR. The vast minority of people unquestionably welcomed these changes, considering them progressive, despite the difficulties and shortcomings. There was a relatively small number of people who believed that there was no need for any fundamental change and that it was not necessary to improve the existing order of life at that time. And finally, the majority believed that these changes were necessary, although not at such a price.

Ukrainian society is currently in the opposite of the democratic "corner" — upholding the values of preservation and self-affirmation, traditionalism and survival. The society is dominated by values related to basic needs: a high level of adaptability, a constant lack of security, a persistent search for sources of security, protest actions, (although the discourse of "dissatisfaction" is a permanent state), normalization of low standards of living, social irritation at the presence of attributes of quality of life in others, a normalized state of constant stress and demoralization, mental exhaustion, and orientation to self-interest as opposed to orientation to common interest. Ukrainian society is characterized by conservatism — i.e. the way things were before is considered “correct” — and changes and innovations are perceived with caution, often as a potential source of new danger. The long stay in a state of threat, as well as the long-term absence of its own statehood in the past, has led to the fact that the society treats state institutions with distrust and fear and probably still does not understand how to treat them.

In conclusion, Ukrainian culture is capable of adaptation — it developed under the influence of at least four other cultures(Russian, Polish, Belorussian and Hungarian), in the territories of many different states, and, it would seem, should be open to change. But there is a thin line between the culture of the nation and the society itself, which directly experienced those changes under the influence of which the culture changed. You can see this difference between attitudes to change between generations — older people tend to be more conservative, while younger people welcome change. Therefore, it cannot be said that Ukrainian culture has a negative attitude to change, otherwise people would not have called on others to change there would not have been changes in power, and we would not have come to where we are now — an independent country with a separate culture. Ukrainians constantly want changes for the better, they are open to them, our culture and our society are flexible for this, but many years in the Soviet Union influenced the understanding of "change" in the older generation, who lived a significant part of their life in those times and remember them positively. But even these people, despite their conservatism, are ready to accept changes when they are really needed.