Ulyana from Lviv – maintains local democracy in times of war

“Being a leader entails a great responsibility, especially during times of war. A true leader must stand with their citizens, reassuring and supporting them no matter what happens!”

These are the words of Ulyana Pak, a former participant in ICLD Women’s Political Leadership Programme, who despite the ongoing war in Ukraine has redoubled her efforts to serve the city’s citizens and those who have been displaced by the conflict. We present her in ICLD series Champions of local democracy.

Ulyana Pak wears many hats in her professional and personal life, serving as a Lviv city councillor, assistant to a national deputy of Ukraine, accomplished lawyer, and devoted mother to her two boys, Marko and Nestor. Her impressive accomplishments, combined with the kind and compassionate nature, make her a true champion of local democracy.

As a response to the influx of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who were displaced by the Russian war, Ulyana has taken a lead on a public project called “Shelter friendly Lviv” which aims to support and provide free activities for those who relocated to Lviv due to the war, particularly children. It seeks to integrate them with local children and offer a variety of activities. We will delve further into the project later on, but first, let us introduce the heroine of today’s article.

Way into politics

Despite her initial aspirations of pursuing a career in legal academia, Ulyana found herself increasingly drawn to the world of politics and has since developed a strong passion for promoting local democracy.

– As a lawyer, 11 years ago, I was invited to support the electoral process in the headquarters of a political party, and since then, local politics has fascinated me, says Ulyana Pak.

After becoming a mother, the speaker spent a significant amount of time in her neighborhood and noticed numerous issues with local infrastructure:

– I realized how inconvenient the footpaths were for moving with a stroller, the lack of landscaping in parks and squares, inconvenient and dangerous playgrounds, the lack of places in kindergartens and much more. I wanted to change that.

Drawing on her experience as a lawyer providing legal assistance to a political party and deputy faction in the city council, she decided to take action to improve the community. First, quite unsure if she could succeed in the elections, Ulyana has now been working as a local politician for eight years and is dedicated to making positive change on the societal level.

The war changed everything

Russia’s full-scale invasion and war of aggression against Ukraine has significantly impacted local democracy and presented a range of challenges for both politicians and citizens.

– After February 24, many things happened for the first time for us – rocket attacks on our cities, air alarms and shelters in basements, killings of innocent people… We began to learn to live in the conditions of war – to take care of the safety of our residents and support our army.

Ulyana says that the war had a significant negative impact on local governance, openness and transparency, leading to restrictions on access to public information and registers. For security reasons, the city council did not publicly announce its meetings or agenda for several months following the conflict, and meetings were not broadcast online.

Public procurement was simplified, and control over the city’s funds shifted from deputies to the executive committee of the city council, with the mayor effectively holding all the power. These changes represented a significant departure from the usual democratic processes and procedures of the city council, and Ulyana together with her colleagues wanted to put an end to it.

 – We, deputies, gathered the council by two thirds of its composition, she says. It was my idea to show our people that we did not run away, we were in the city with them ready to work on all issues.

As the head of the legality commission, Ulyana repeatedly raised the issue of publicity and transparency. Access to most documents has now been restored and journalists are able to broadcast the council meeting, which takes place according to the pre-war schedule.

The politician admits that it is thanks to ICLD Women Political Leadership Programme that she fully realized her potential as a change agent in local politics:

– The training programme helped me analyze my actions and realize the extent of my influence on the city’s development. I learned how to prepare and involve my colleagues in making decisions that align with my vision. With the support of the residents, we can advocate for important initiatives together. Now, I am more confident in my ability to create change, and I consider myself a competent local politician.

“Shelter friendly Lviv”

From May 2022 Ulyana Pak has been leading the project “Shelter friendly Lviv” in cooperation with the German NGO “SHL” and the Ukrainian NGOs “Alliance of Development” and “All-Ukrainian Democratic Forum”. The project provides activities to internally displaced people (IDPs) who relocated to Lviv due to the war, with a special focus on children, including sports, language clubs, art therapy, and tailoring courses.

– We wanted to help children who moved to new places because of the war to make friends and feel more at home. So we organized activities where they could play and communicate with local children.

Ulyana says that the interest in the activities was enormous and that at some points they worked with up to 1000 people who came from different parts of Ukraine, including Donetsk, Makiivka, Bakhmut, Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv, Kherson, and other places which suffered a lot during the past year.

– So I feel that I am in the right place because I have an opportunity to support other people. We are all Ukrainians, and we need to stand together to support each other and endure this awful war. Even if we speak different languages or have different histories, we now understand that we are a common nation, a strong nation, and a brave nation. We are all thinking about our victory, and every day when someone has a birthday, we wish for one thing only: our victory.

In conclusion, Ulyana emphasizes the importance of being a responsible leader, especially during times of war:

– A true leader must stand with their citizens, reassuring and supporting them no matter what happens. During war, it becomes possible to distinguish true values from secondary ones, and in such difficult times, people become the most valuable asset. And it is the people who give politician confidence and strength.

Through my experience, I have come to understand how amazing the Ukrainian people are. They risk their lives to protect others, stand together, volunteer constantly, and collect cosmic funds for the needs of the Ukrainian army. The greater the pressure, the stronger we become, and eventually, fear fades away.

ICLD Champions of Local Democracy

Gender or status does not matter, the important thing is that the person we are looking for has democratic values to live and inspire others. They may have gotten through difficult situations – but never backed down from the front lines of democracy, and they all have a personal story to tell. They have also been or are part of our operations. We present them in our series “Champions of Local Democracy”. Get inspired!