March 20, 2017
Over the past twenty-two years, the Ukrainian Parliamentary Internship program has introduced more than 1,500 university-age men and women to the legislative process by employing them in committees and departments of the Verkhovna Rada. The program gives young professionals practical experience with the parliament’s institutions and procedures by allowing them to participate in legislative work.

But the program may be in jeopardy. Funded since its inception by USAID as part of a larger Rada initiative run by the East Europe Foundation (EEF), the internship program may lose its support next year if the Rada doesn’t include it in the budget. If EEF and the Interns’ League, the NGO that directly administers it, cannot find replacement funding, the program may not continue.

That would be unfortunate.

“The Rada intern program is one of the most important [programs] to prepare young people for serving the nation,” said MP Hanna Hopko, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“We need more of these young professionals to transform the country further,” said MP Svitlana Zalishchuk.

The six-month program introduces young people to the policymaking process and channels some of Ukraine’s most qualified university students and recent graduates into government. This year, sixty interns—selected from a pool of 460 applicants—are currently working in legislative offices while simultaneously attending courses on topics like policy analysis and rules of procedure. After they finish, roughly 30 percent of interns go on to work in government.

“We call the program a social elevator,” says Maria Savina, executive director of the Interns’ League and an alumna of the program. It helps “youth from different regions who don’t have any contacts in the government or in the Verkhovna Rada. They get a chance to build their career and to build a new Ukraine.”

That’s certainly the case with Mariana and Zoriana Semehen, twins from the western Ukrainian town of Berezhany who worked on the Committee on State Building and Local Self-Government in 2012-13. They agree that the internships changed their lives.

“For me, growing up in a provincial city of western Ukraine with deep cultural traditions and conservative mindset, a chance to move to Kyiv was exciting, although challenging,” said Zoriana. “I was lucky to receive professional guidance and support from my mentor and colleagues at the committee.”

Mariana’s experience was similar. “I worked side-by-side with the committee secretariat on responding to citizens’ queries and organizing the committee’s events. I was treated like a valued part of the team, no matter how complex or trivial my responsibilities were,” she said. “But what impressed me most were the weekly meetings between the interns and the renowned politicians and civic activists. That was really a transformative experience, as many of those national leaders have become role models for me.”

Both went into government after their internships; today, they work as consultants on the same committee where they interned—and they both serve as mentors to young interns.

“Those eight months of interning at the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine...awoke my interest in evidence-based public policy,” said Mariana.

Zoriana added, “I strengthened my determination to implement further reforms in Ukraine. I have thrown myself into learning how the policy process works and how to build a more transparent and consultative legislative process.”

This year’s interns hail from nineteen of Ukraine’s regions, as well as Sevastopol and Crimea. They include a young man who is a medic and has launched his own health-related startup, as well as Nadiia Sukha, a journalism student who is working in the Rada’s information department.

“I'm a journalist and I know well that the public and mass media don't understand how the Verkhovna Rada works,” said Sukha.

After her internship, she hopes to eventually become an investigative journalist. “And I think that knowing policy from inside will help me,” she said.

While the interns serve their terms, the Rada HR Department and the Interns’ League are busy searching for funding to keep the program going as well as managing without donor support. Ideally, the Rada itself will run and fund the program, said Savina, the executive director. In May, when the parliament releases its 2018 budget request, she’ll find out whether it plans to.

“Without it, we will have to delay the program,” Savina said.

Amanda Abrams is a freelance writer based in Durham, NC.

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