Category Archives: Civil society in Eastern Europe

Integrative Community Therapy

Integrative Community Therapy (ICT) is a social technique for dialogue and the conduction of self-help groups. Its wisdom lies in the sharing of helpful life experiences among participants as a resource for coping with difficult life situations. Four simple rules and a few principles guide the process, which usually consists of two parts. During the first part, which lasts around 90 minutes, there is neither discussion nor advice, but respectful listening to the other’s suffering and its acceptance without judgement. There is no need to find consensus or to agree on anything, and the group is not looking for solutions of someone’s problems. But everyone can take home whatever useful strategy comes up during the exchange.

ICT was developed by Brazilian psychiatrist, anthropologist and theologian Prof. Dr. Adalberto Barreto over a period of more than 30 years. It is scientifically proven that it has a preventive effect on physical and mental health, wellbeing and social cohesion. Today, in Brasil, it is part of the public health system with around 40’000 moderators trained. Currently, there are ICT groups in 28 countries on three continents.

“Nobody is so rich that he wouldn’t need anything, and nobody is so poor that he couldn’t give anything.”

Adalberto Barreto

 The goals of ICT include strengthening of personal autonomy, horizontal communication, social inclusion and respect for diversity. Sessions are conducted regularly, and participation is always free of charge. In continuous sessions, an atmosphere of confidence and compassion is created, in which participants experience on multiple sensory levels that they are not alone with their worries and that there are different ways of acting and being. The underlying idea is that pain and suffering often contain hidden „pearls“ and the potential of a higher future self.

During each ICT session, one topic is chosen for further elaboration among the topics brought up by participants themselves. The clear structure provides a space of confidence and proximity in which a feeling of connectedness and self-impact can emerge. Participants are free to either participate actively or just attend as silent witnesses – both has its value. ICT can be applied to open or closed groups in various contexts including community centres, schools, prisons, and with various target groups including general public, youth, parents of children with disability, elderly etc.

“Who only looks at the finger, does not see the star to which it points.”

Adalberto Barreto

More information:

Training of ICT moderators in Donetsk region

From 28 to 31 October 2019, the fifth round of basic training for moderators in Integrative Community Therapy (ICT) took place in Svjatogorsk, Ukraine. During the four days of the training, 12 participants from Donetsk and 10 from other regions of Ukraine shared their suffering, helpful life experiences, songs, poems, and wisdom. Participants appreciated the clarity of the ICT method and the quality and depth it creates, allowing for personal growth. Some participants started their own groups on the very next days  right after the training!

Supervision of ICT moderators in Luhansk region

From 25 to 27 October 2019, a three-day supervision training for ICT moderators from Luhansk region took place in Severodonetsk, Ukraine. The supervision did not only allow for finetuning moderation skills but also provided a space for personal trauma healing of participants. Prior to the supervison workshop, individual ICT groups were conducted in Severski and Scastje – two small towns in war plagued East Ukraine. Here are some impressions from the groups and the workshop:

Conflict, trauma and healing in Eastern Ukraine

In March/April 2018, agens with its Ukrainian partners conducted a survey on “Conflict, trauma and healing in Eastern Ukraine”. A series of face-to-face interviews were conducted with residents of Lysychansk, Severodonetsk and Scastje, and other locations of Luhansk Oblast including ORLO. Complementary, an online survey was conducted within the Ukrainian dialogue community, including residents of ORDO.

Download the survey results in English:  Presentation English

Download the additional slides: Additional slides English

Download the combined extended version: Extended version English

Tajikistan: Project design course for NGO leaders conducted

25 leaders of small and medium NGOs of Tajikistan active in the fields of social inclusion, health, environment, human rights and local economic development took part in the training on “Analysing social issues, project design and financing” in Khujand/Bahoriston from 6 – 10 November 2017. Participants – women and men from all regions of the country – included two persons with disability and many representatives of newly registered organizations. During the training, participants clarified their target groups and reflected on their talents and motivation. In five groups of similar interest, five different projects were elaborated jointly with community representatives. Main emphasis of the course was on problem and objective analysis leading to the logical intervention framework structure (logframe). Also, participants were introduced to cross-cutting issues such as gender and conflict sensitivity, and they exchanged views and experiences on sustainability. Different models of financing and self-financing were compared and information on potential sources shared. Finally, a set of recommendations to the international community on how to strengthen partnerships for development were assembled, essentially inviting donors to harmonize terminology, reduce language barriers and enhance simplicity, transparency and coordination.

Embracing the bitter reality in Eastern Ukraine

At the very moment when in Aleppo, men, women, and children are massacred by government troops, the war in the Ukrainian Donbas(s)[1] region continues. Unbelievable suffering by the civilian population and an overriding proportion of civilian victims are some of the sad parallels between the Syrian and Ukrainian conflicts. Another one is the role of other states in supporting the warring parties, and the failure of the international community to effectively prevent the bloodshed. In terms of the role of the Russian government, the current tragedy in Aleppo illustrates like nothing else its cynical practice to speak of one thing and do another. The Kremlin does its utmost to confound the attention of the international community from its geopolitical interventionism with the pretence of diplomacy. Simultaneously the international community is responsible for letting playing along with the game staged in the halls of New York, Brussels, or Geneva.

What does that mean in the context of Ukraine? On 5 September 2014, after extensive negotiations in Minsk, the representatives of Ukraine, Russia, and the self-declared „Donetsk People’s Republic“ (DPR) and „Lugansk People’s Republic“ (LPR), under the auspices of the OSCE, signed the Minsk protocol. Aside from ten further steps the protocol foresees an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of armed groups and military equipment from Ukraine. In spite of temporary positive signs visible on both sides, none of these essential conditions for peace have been realized up to date.

Nevertheless, both Moscow and Kyiv officially continue to emphasize that „there is no alternative to the Minsk agreements“. Why so? Not because they genuinely believe in the spirit and the substance of the accord concluded, but to please the international community, to provide to the outside world a picture of good will, and to keep on communicating. The conflicting parties keep up pretences of searching for a mutual solution, while on the ground contradictory facts are being made.

On 11 February 2015 in Minsk, the conflict parties concluded a second agreement called „package of measures“ to revive the 2014 protocol and end the war in Donbas(s). Measure 9 of the package foresees the restoration of the Ukrainian state border – as prior to the conflict (following local elections and a change of Constitution establishing a „special status of particular districts of Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts“). This means, in principle, that the ultimate goal of the Minsk agreements is the restoration of the „status quo ante“ in East Ukraine. This article considers that this goal is unrealistic and that letting go of the idea of re-integration of the self-declared republics into Ukraine is a necessary first step towards lasting peace in the region.

People in Donbas(s) are tired of war, but after two and a half years of military and economic blockade of the self-declared republics by Ukraine, the option of reuniting has withered away. A new de-facto border has been established. Today, there is merely one crossing point for pedestrians in Lugansk oblast, and four crossing points for cars and pedestrians in Donetsk oblast. People wanting to pass from one side to the other have to wait for hours or even days in the queues and bribe the soldiers at the checkpoints. In spite of attempts by Ukrainian authorities to simplify the procedure, controls have become more rigorous in recent months.

Map of the war in Donbass.svg

Map of Donbas(s) region.

In the cities and towns of DPR and LPR away from the front line, life is taking place with certain day-to-day normality. Shops and restaurants are open, people go to work, and children visit school. But in the „grey zone“ along the 500 km long front line, shelling, fighting, and survival in basements continues. On both sides of the war there are a huge number of combatants and civilians who continue to suffer from severe trauma, and appropriate treatment and support systems to address these traumata are basically inexistent.

During the past months and years, Russia strengthened its control over many aspects of life within the self-declared republics. The Ruble has replaced the Ukrainian Grivna as the sole currency in DPR and LPR. The time zone in the area has been changed from Kyiv (GMT+2) to Moscow (GMT+3) time. As ZDF and Die Zeit reported in September 2016, a data leak within the DPR administration revealed further evidence for a strict line of command from the Kremlin to the leaders of the self-declared republics. According to Ukraine Analysen[2], in October, field commander Arseni Pawlow, well-know as “Motorola”, was killed by an explosion in his apartment block in Donetsk. The murder comes in a series of unresolved deaths of former rebel commanders, who had enjoyed a high level of recognition and independence in the self-declared republics.

In the rest of Ukraine, people have little understanding for the suffering of those trapped in the limbo between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. As a recent study of the Rahmonov Centre[3] highlights, people’s positions towards the rebels are tougher, for instance regarding the question of amnesty, the further they live from the front lines. A good indicator for shifting attitudes in Ukraine is the attitude of local populations towards internally displaced peoples (IDP). While in the beginning of the conflict, IDPs from Donbas(s) were mostly welcomed in the rest of Ukraine, they now often face prejudices and open discrimination. For instance, being from Donetsk can be a sufficient reason for refusal when applying for an apartment in Kyiv or booking a holiday room in Odessa.

The regional circumstances combined with debates in the Verkhovna Rada[4] show that many Ukrainians, or at least the publicly noticeable parts of the political elite, have mentally already given up on Donbas(s). According to an adviser close to Ukraine’s Presidential Administration, the post-Maidan Ukrainian government has actually made a conscious choice to give up the parts of the country, which would obstruct reforms and a Western-oriented course of development. Some Ukrainian opinion leaders compare Donbas(s) with “rotten meat” or “a cancer” that needs to be cut off.

This brings us to the underlying issues of identity and self-identity which represent some of the key root causes of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. According to Von Bruno De Cordier, University of Gent, identification with the Soviet heritage as well as the Great Patriotic War (Second World War) and anti-fascism are two of six aspects of self-identity of the people in Donbas(s). Ukraine, on the other hand, in an attempt to cut clear from its past as one of the leading republics of the Soviet Union, officially defines itself “negatively” as “not Soviet” and “not Russian”. In the so-called “De-communization laws”, the Communist and the National-Socialist regimes are equally condemned as totalitarian, and the fighters for Ukrainian independence in the 20th century – the groups around nationalist leader Stepan Bandera – are glorified in spite of their collaboration with the Nazis in the massacre of 60’000 Poles in Western Ukraine.

The anti-Soviet self-definition and the use of historic figures for identity building express the current lack of an integrative national vision that is inclusive for all Ukrainian citizens. In combination with the existing lack of opportunities for economic and political participation, it is not surprising that many people in Donbas(s) feel better supported by Russia than by the political elite in Kyiv.

It can be concluded that currently there is no space for political rapprochement in Kyiv or in the self-declared republics “DPR” and “LPR”. Only a handful of people are actively working towards this end and their efforts lack public recognition and support, including from the international community. Thus, the full re-integration of the self-declared republics of Donbas(s) into Ukraine is not a realistic option for the future. But accepting the present situation, giving up resistance to what is and embracing the reality does not mean one cannot do anything about it. In contrary, it might open up minds and hearts and re-orient attitudes towards greater inclusiveness. In the long term this may lead to normalization of social relations and eventually peace in the region.


[1] The writing „Donbas(s)“ is chosen to demonstrate impartiality between the Ukrainian („Donbas“) and Russian („Donbass“) versions.
[2] Ukraine Analysen is a joint initiative of several Eastern Europe research institutions in Germany.
[3] The Rahmonov Centre is a Kyiv based think tank.
[4] Ukrainian Parliament.

Ukraine: Civil society discusses future strategy

On 24 and 25 November 2014, civil society and government representatives from different regions of Ukraine discussed their future strategy to promote citizen participation in decision-making. Main issues are enhancing the rules of procedure for consultations within the law-making process as well as establishing effective mechanisms of citizen-state interaction at national, regional and local levels. Also discussed were ways to support these processes through an information campaign as well as capacity building of civil society organizations and the public administration. The necessity to adopt a new law on public consultations was widely recognized by the participants.

During a high-level roundtable on 8 and 9 December 2014, the strategy shall be endorsed following broad consultation with Ukrainian civil society and transformed into a 3-year action plan in 2015. The draft strategy which is supported by the Council of Europe is open for comments until 4 December 2014 on the website of the Council of Europe office in Kiev.