IVLP Impact Awards Alumni Discussion Series: Community Support for Ukraine


Through the IVLP Impact Awards Initiative, recent alumni of the International Visitor Leadership Program administer community impact projects that bring the experiences of their exchange program home to their communities and promote innovative solutions to shared global challenges.

On Wednesday, February 14, 2024, Meridian International Center hosted a virtual panel of IVLP Impact Awardees who implemented projects focused on supporting the Ukrainian community inside and outside of Ukraine. The panel was moderated by Iuna Potomkina (Ukraine) and featured panelists Mykhaylo Palinchak (Ukraine), Tetiana Konovalenko (Ukraine) and Dr. Marta Metodieva (Bulgaria).

Some top takeaways from the discussion were:

1. The importance of solidarity and visibility in the Ukrainian context

Before the panelists were introduced Anne Coleman-Honn, Deputy Director at the Office of Eastern European Affairs at the Department of State, gave opening remarks. She framed the upcoming discussion by acknowledging the impending two-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and said, “...this is about storytelling...stories are just as mission critical as other kinds of assistance to Ukraine...we see how important it is for Ukrainian voices to be elevated and amplified, how important it is for Ukraine to be able to tell its own story and to share these in a way that shows how what's happening in Ukraine doesn't just matter for Ukraine, but matters for all of the countries of the world”

The panelists echoed Anne's sentiment and spoke about the diverse ways their projects are supporting the many needs of Ukrainians in the context of war, and the important role the rest of the world plays in maintaining focus and solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Mykhaylo talked about his project, which focused on documenting the effects of war on the Ukrainian people and landscapes, he explained that the project "gave me [the] opportunity to speak with completely different people: volunteers, soldiers that sometimes...are not highlighted enough from the media, because they are not breaking news...but this funding gave [me the] opportunity to speak with them. Iuna agreed and reflected that "what we can see [is] that the war sometimes is becoming about numbers and figures, and your project is showing us how it's important to tell the stories of the people, because the war is, firstly, about the people and the storytelling." Tetiana shared how her project, which educated Ukrainian youth about identifying and resisting disinformation served as a "shield against propaganda and disinformation" thereby strengthening the population and working to "defend the community in the information front." Marta acknowledged that she is the only panelist working outside of Ukraine, but who is nevertheless supporting Ukrainian refugee children who "are the greatest victims, [of war] and also...the ones who can find happiness." As Iuna put it, Marta's projects served as a bridge for children who have come to Bulgaria after fleeing Ukraine. Marta also talked about her projects as a way to "show [the] world, to show my community...that what is happening in Ukraine is absolutely unacceptable for anyone.

2. Project implementation in a challenging context

The fact that Iuna, Mykhaylo and Tetiana all conducted their projects in Ukraine, a country actively engaged in a war to defend itself, is a testament to the perseverance and conviction of these IVLP Impact Awardees. Tetiana spoke about being "happy that all project activities were implemented in spite of numerous challenges: air raid alarms during webinars and offline training; internet issues because of the war dangers for participants from the occupied territories." Mykhaylo also mentioned how he was connecting to the webinar from ten kilometers away from the frontline, because of his commitment to "continue documenting [the] ongoing full scale Russian invasion of Ukraine." Despite these and many other challenges posed by implementing projects in Ukraine, these three IVLP Impact Awardees were able to successfully achieve their project goals.

3. IVLP connections and ongoing collaboration

Tetiana participated in the IVLP project 21st Century ChangeMakers: Engaging Youth in the Battle Against Disinformation, organized by CRDF Global. In addition to the many connections she made as part of her IVLP project, Tetiana also shared "I had just left the occupied territory (because I'm from Melitopol and now it's occupied by Russian soldiers) but [IVLP] was something like fresh air for me: to see new places, to get acquainted with new people." Tetiana went on to elaborate about the meetings she attended at the Global Ties, Alabama office, the Pensacola, Florida Gulf Coast Diplomacy meetings and her home hospitality visit, saying it "made a great impact on me and inspired me to submit my project, for the IVLP Impact Award." 

Iuna took part in both a virtual and an in-person IVLP project, the first was the virtual Advocacy of Democratic Principles in 2021, organized by Cultural Vistas, and in 2022 she was a participant in the in-person iteration of the project, organized by Meridian. Like Tetiana, Iuna talked about how the trip was a bit shocking, due to the ongoing invasion of her country, but that I believe that the...amazingly involved people with whom we were meeting--that was the most inspiring part actually, of the whole program. She went on to mention the collaboration the exchange sparked, leading her to continue working with Oksana Kovalenko as they both embarked on their IVLP Impact Award projects.

Marta's project was virtual and organized by Meridian, titled Countering Holocaust Distortion and Denial: The Role of New and Traditional Media. She recalled her fellow participants as "a great group" but noted that due to the outbreak of war in Ukraine at the end of the project, the plans to collaborate in the future had to be curtailed as the participants from "European countr[ies], had to concentrate on what was happening in their places." Mykhaylo's project was A Global Moment in Time - Photojournalists Document the Challenges and Opportunities in the COVID Era, organized by World Learning. Mykhaylo remarked I think this is the best part of IVLP: to meet your fellow colleagues from all around the world...this leads to interesting cooperation projects. For example, right now with my colleagues from Germany, Poland, and Italy: we have a photography exhibition in Warsaw that will then travel to Italy in a month, and then to Germany, and we hope in the end it will come to Ukraine.” He went on to explain he is working on the exhibition project with fellow IVLP Impact Awardee Arianna Arcara.

4. Project sustainability amidst hope for resolution

Although Marta mentioned the difficulties of making "any long-term visions [or] projects" in the changing and volatile context of the war, she expressed that she can "see some future in this work with other refugee children, with other children from minority groups" in the future. Tetiana talked about the ongoing "cascading of knowledge" as "many of the participants are sharing their new experience [about media literacy] among their acquaintances, their community" which will lead to a sustained impact of the project going forward. Mykhaylo shared, I hope very much that [the] stories that I was able to collect, [about the things] that my fellow colleagues are doing every day in Ukraine will inspire future generation of Ukrainians to resilience." Iuna summed up the hopeful tone when she said, "I really believe that only the strength of [the] Ukrainian people is the main driver to the whole victory that is coming soon someday in our country.”

"No matter what, Ukrainians are fighting. On the front line, every day, every night, every minute, and journalists, photographers should document this braveness [in] this time that [is] crucially important for Ukraine, for Europe and for the whole world.” - Mykhaylo Palinchak  

If you have any questions, please reach out to the IVLP Impact Awards Team at IVLPImpactAwards@meridian.org.

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Project summary

IVLP Impact Awards Alumni Discussion Series: Community Support for Ukraine | February 2024
Countries: Ukraine, Bulgaria
Impact Areas: Cultural Diplomacy, Media and Journalism, Youth Leadership Development, Human and Civil Rights
Program Areas: Global Leadership