AMANDA FERGUSON in Belfast City Hall

Thursday, June 1, 2023

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A Ukrainian women local government officials delegation is on a week long visit to Belfast.

Among them is 40-year-old Olha Pikula, the deputy of Mariupol City Council, Donetsk Oblast.

I spoke to Olha at Belfast City Hall where the group was accompanied by Professor Monica McWilliams.

Olga said: “We are going to have very many challenges which is why we came to Northern Ireland even though the conflicts, the wars, are very different. The conflicts have different roots but we understand the consequences are quite similar.”

The women have been learning more about post conflict economic challenges, and psychological and intergenerational trauma.

“25 years have passed since the (Good Friday Agreement) peace deal was signed here, but you can still feel the consequences of that conflict.

“It is useful to have this visit because we are raising questions which may have occurred in several years, so we are already getting ready for the moment when the war is finished. We are getting the expertise we need to restore our cities and deal with people who have trauma."

The Women’s Democracy Network (WDN) is a global initiative of @IRIGlobal with the goal to increase women’s political leadership.

WDN Women Peace and Security (WPS) Exchange encourages learning between Ukrainian municipal-level leaders and a variety of people and groups in Belfast including WAVE Trauma Centre, Belfast City Council, the IRC’s Professor Monica McWilliams, International Fund for Ireland’s Dr Avila Kilmurray, and Women’s Aid.

WDN empowers women around the world to participate in the political process, and equip them with the skills needed to assume greater leadership roles in government, political parties and civil society

Professor Monica McWilliams said: “It is so important for the women to prepare. When that ceasefire comes, and negotiations come, they are going to have to think very fast. It is great they are thinking of this. They have already drafted a Marshall Plan.”

Olha is emotional when she reflects on the scale of deaths and suffering in Ukraine, the number of missing people, and the challenges of pursuing truth.

“When you are in Ukraine it is every day under attack by missiles and drones, and when you are there you can’t get used to this trauma.

“When you are out, now sitting here, it is even more difficult, knowing everyone is in danger is really troubling.

“I get phone app notifications about attacks, and at night I don’t sleep.

“We are seeing really terrible scenes. It is really hard and you can never get used to it. It is not normal.”

Olha speaks about the need for peace for Ukraine and the wider world.

“We very much appreciate all of the support.

“When you are fighting, Ukraine is so much smaller than Russia but we fight for the truth, the civil values of the civilised world. Having so much support really helps.”

She is inspired by women, and gets comfort from planning for the future of Mariupol.
“We want to live in a normal, civilised, European, free, democratic Ukraine, where we can decide how we want to live.

“Thank God my husband is safe and sound, and my mother is safe and sound. It took four months to get her out of occupied Mariupol.

“We are already getting ready to rebuild Mariupol – Mariupol Reborn- in this long and difficult process for the future of my country.”

Olha is enjoying meeting Belfast people and seeing the city.

“I am a quite a sporty girl. Physical exercise relaxes you. I had a beautiful jog around Belfast. I love it. Fascinating people.

“I am motivated by women like Monica. They give you so much energy. “We have one life. Despite the fact we have such difficult conditions in Ukraine.

“We can’t influence this terrible situation, but we can influence what Ukraine is going to be after that.

“If you think too much about how difficult it is you can go crazy.

“I try to concentrate and focus on the nearest five, 10, 15 years, of rebuilding and revitalising Mariupol, and Ukraine. It gives you energy and power.

“If not us, active women, women leaders, who else?”

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