Generation UA: Young Ukrainians are driving the resistance to Russia’s war

When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, analysts around the globe predicted the country would fall in a matter of days. Almost six months later, the people of Ukraine remain united in their resistance to Putin’s war, with Ukrainian youth very much at the forefront.

The remarkable resilience of the Ukrainian nation has shocked and impressed many observers around the world. But those of us who live and work in Ukraine are not nearly so surprised. As the conflict approaches the six-month mark, it is important to understand that a war designed to crush Ukrainian independence has in fact resulted in a stronger, unifying Ukrainian identity centered on the principles of freedom and democracy. This is best exemplified by the mood among young Ukrainians.

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Russia’s war is not the first time Ukraine’s emerging post-Soviet generation has risen to the challenge of resisting a return to authoritarianism. In 2004, when widespread voter fraud in the country’s presidential election seemed poised to undo independent Ukraine’s hard-fought freedoms and fledgling democratic values, young Ukrainians were among the leading organizers of the Orange Revolution.

Ten years later, Ukrainian youth once again rose to the occasion, but this time as leaders of the Euromaidan Revolution following the Ukrainian government’s Kremlin-backed decision to reject an Association Agreement with the European Union. As the Russian Federation now seeks to rob Ukraine of its sovereignty, we are once again witnessing Ukrainian youth at the center of the fight for the future of their country.

This younger generation of Ukrainians born following the collapse of the USSR is leading positive change on multiple fronts including the military and civil society. Many thousands are currently serving in the Ukrainian Armed Forces. As the war rages around them, young Ukrainians are also volunteering in large numbers to distribute humanitarian aid through digital platforms like SpivDiia that match people’s needs with resources from businesses and private individuals. 

Young Ukrainians in government are designing cutting-edge solutions to meet emergency wartime needs. Young journalists are risking their lives to provide accurate information and document Russian war crimes. Many of these journalists have recently been recognized for their professional accomplishments, including Ukrainska Pravda Chief Editor Sevgil Hayretdın Qızı Musaieva, who was named this year by Time Magazine as one of the world’s top 100 most influential people.

Another example is Mykhailo Fedorov. The 31-year-old Minister of Digital Transformation and Ukraine’s youngest cabinet member has rallied the Ukrainian IT community and lobbied international tech companies to support Ukraine in the digital hybrid war against Russia. He is also behind the wartime adaptation of a government app that is providing social benefits to millions of internally displaced people who lost their jobs as a result of the war. Deputy Minister of Health Mariia Karchevych is another high-profile government official under 35 who is coordinating the flow of humanitarian aid throughout the country.

In addition to supporting the country’s wartime needs, young Ukrainians are also on the frontlines of the fight against Russian propaganda. From the very first days of the invasion, numerous professional and grassroots initiatives have emerged to expose the Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns.

In the months and years to come, youth will remain on the Ukrainian frontlines, both literally and figuratively. They will need to play an integral part in Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction, helping to shape important initiatives such as youth-friendly mental health services and educational efforts to address wartime interruptions in learning.

As the world marks International Youth Day on August 12, it is important that we recognize the contributions of young Ukrainians in government and civil society as well as in the military. And as national and international stakeholders look to rebuild Ukraine, it is also crucial that we continue supporting, listening to, and engaging this younger generation to make sure they remain at the heart of the post-war recovery process.

Ukraine’s resilient response to Russian aggression highlights the country’s commitment to democratic values and active citizen participation. It reflects a remarkable readiness to take personal responsibility for the future of the country. Amid the horrific destruction of the Russian invasion, young Ukrainians are playing a crucial role in consolidating an even stronger sense of national identity. This victory is as strategically important as any military success for the future of Ukraine’s statehood.

Mehri Druckman is IREX’s Country Director for Ukraine and Chief of Party for the USAID funded Ukraine National Identity Through Youth (UNITY) program. SpivDiia is an IREX grantee.

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The views expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Atlantic Council, its staff, or its supporters.

The Eurasia Center’s mission is to enhance transatlantic cooperation in promoting stability, democratic values and prosperity in Eurasia, from Eastern Europe and Turkey in the West to the Caucasus, Russia and Central Asia in the East.

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Image: A young Ukrainian lady pictured during a protest in support of Ukrainian soldiers who were tortured by the Russian military. (Photo by Aleksandr Gusev/SOPA Images/Sipa USA)