Sometimes, one person can irreversibly change the course of events. And what if there are many people like that?

A two thousand-square meter building with heating that barely heats (8 degrees above zero in wintertime at the most) – that was the premise Yurii Baliuk received when three years ago, he came to Krasivka village in the Zhytomyr Oblast to work as a school principal.

Yurii’s work concerned not so much the academic matters as sorting out maintenance problems.

The new principal started with repairing the water tower and replacing windows, because heating a non-insulated building would’ve been a futile exercise.

The village received an excellent chance at developing and progressing with the start of decentralization. Therefore, the villagers welcomed this reform, understanding that it allows to change the situation based on the needs of locals.

Life began to span around the principal. Here’s what has been done so far:

  • a waste sorting system was launched;
  • wi-fi and high-speed Internet access were installed in the school;
  • the schoolchildren created a volunteer group engaged in environmental projects and activities;
  • the schoolchildren and the academic staff have prepared and approved the school’s three-year development plan;
  • the school premise, together with gym and the surrounding area, has been transformed from a place of study into a center for informal education;
  • an educational project in organic land cultivation and gardening for adults was launched;
  • Rukavychka (“Mitten”) amateur puppet theater was created;
  • tourist trails with elements of quest are being developed and implemented using modern technologies;
  • work continues on creating an own tourist agro-cluster.

Semenivka unified local community, which includes Krasivka village, has 4,726 residents. Recently, it was decided that the school in Krasivka must receive the status of hub school in the local education network.

Today, the school has 69 students but can accept much more. Therefore, the village council has resolved on admitting at least 200 children to the hub school.

“It is worth noting that not everyone in our community is head over heels about the idea of optimizing the education network”, Yurii says. “We’re working on it, meeting with people and trying to convince them. Our community is just a year and a half old. There are many things that we do for the first time. Therefore, we’re learning to make deals, to hear each other. We discuss all pros and cons. Thankfully, people are becoming more active. They are not indifferent”.

Active life continuously surrounds this school, and therefore, the nearest kindergarten attended by 25 children is also “doomed” to positive transformations.

There, an innovative solid-fuel boiler fired by chipped wood was installed thanks to financial support from the Kingdom of Norway and the local civic organization. From now on, heating of that kindergarten does not place a heavy burden upon the local budget. The project’s additional benefit was the creation of two jobs. For a small village, that’s a valuable thing.

The EU has been supporting decentralization reform in Ukraine since 2016 via U-LEAD with Europe program offering 102 million euros in the total amount of assistance for four years (2016-2020). This reform helps local communities develop and create better life for themselves.

International cooperation was established between schools in Semenivka community and in Poland’s Nowa Wodologa and Piegowice, allowing students to meet each other, share their experience and impressions, and befriend each other.

Yurii Baliuk’s area of responsibility and interests is not limited to the school and kindergarten. He actively participates in the community’s affairs, continues to learn, attends conferences, takes interest in experience of others, and is working together with like-minded persons on a strategic development plan for an agricultural cooperative.

Sometimes, the appearance of one person can irreversibly change the course of events. And what if there are many people like that?

By Zoya Kazanzhi, journalist, writer, communications advisor at E’COMM