Nataliia Yaroshenko has been active in civil society since 2015. Her early years of activism were mostly focused on supporting cultural events, such as the Sumy Rock Fest, but then she experienced the ‘Active Citizen’ programme of the British Council in Ukraine and turned her attention to mobilizing youngsters to collaborate on community development projects.
As a result of this activism Nataliia became the Coordinator of the ‘School of City Ambassadors’ in her home city of Sumy in Ukraine. But this isn’t her only ambassadorial connection as in 2021 she also joined the ranks of the Young European Ambassadors programme.
In being awarded a 2021 Civil Society Fellowship, Nataliia was ready to further her journey of finding creative methods for having young people engage in environmental issue, when the Russians invaded Ukraine and her world turned upside down. But Nataliia was not perturbed. She recognized the need to stimulate a dialogue about the impact of war on the environment and her Fellowship shifted its emphasis to become the ‘enWAR_mental’ initiative.
Nataliia’s Fellowship has had a strong focus on combining creative talents with scientific evidence and documentation. She has mobilized a team to research, design, and create comic strips that raise awareness to the environmental damage of war. “Such graphics are not only a great way to engage with young people, but they also help to make the difficult topic more digestible”.
She also produced short videos featuring young activists from other countries previously impacted by war, such as Kosovo and Georgia, and other posts on the enWAR_mental Instagram pages. A competition for younger students across Ukraine resulted in more than 50 posters being created and submitted to enWAR_mental, demonstrating a range of perspectives of how young people see the war impacting on their local environment. All the visuals on Instagram have helped to grow enWAR_mental’s followers. “Just last week we saw that we attracted views from about 1,500 new visitors and we see the rise in searches around #environment#war.”
Nataliia is convinced that the combination of science and creativity is the key to enWAR_mental’s success. “We are an initiative which has given tools, in the form of comic strips and videos, to our communities of young people and they are now using them to snowball the advocacy efforts”.
Nataliia also reflected on the personal impact of her Fellowship: “it has helped me through a very traumatic time and the volunteers who have helped me have grown in confidence. Together we are going to continue the work of enWAR_mental”
Nataliia Yaroshenko is one of the Fellows of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Fellowship programme funded by the European Union. Its main objective is to support civil society activists or civically minded people from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine who demonstrate a deep commitment to leading positive social change in their communities. The Eastern Partnership Civil Society Fellowship programme has been running since 2017 and today the Fellowship alumni has 147 Fellows from across the six countries of the Eastern Partnership. Details about the Fellows and their Fellowship projects can be found here.