Start with yourself: how Irshansk community puts the town in order

The community of Irshansk, a small town in the Zhytomyr Oblast decided to turn a neglected lake into a recreation park. One day, a large community action was announced. Only 200 people showed up, out of the 7,500 residents, although the problem this action was going to address concerned everyone.

So, these 200 people worked from dawn till dusk, cleaning litter, installing benches and boards with the rules of behavior around the lake, building a sandbox for small kids, painting the little bridge spanning the lake…

Today, the whole town can go on outings by the lakeshore.

That’s just one example of joint efforts taken by people who, instead of blaming local authorities and the government, took the matter of landscaping and improving the area where they live into their own hands.

All began with the unwillingness of the town’s activists to put up with the surge of crime in Irshansk.

This is a small town standing by the Irsha River, from which the town’s name is derived. The name of the river itself is attributed to the deposits of ilmenite in it, which give the water a rusty color (irzha, Ukrainian for “rust”). There is another version of the name’s origin: the pagan god Khors whom the local population of the Drevlians worshiped.

This place has beautiful nature, interesting history and hardworking people.

When it became clear that the problem of crime must be somehow curbed, the people of Irshansk established the civic organization Active Irshansk with Ruslana Primasuk, an HR Department engineer at Irshansk Mining and Beneficiation Plant, at the helm.

And now, everything was set in motion. They applied to the city authorities, set on installing street illumination in the town, began pushing the cops into action, installed video surveillance cameras.

The result wasn’t slow to appear, and today, everyone agrees that the town became safer. Moreover, it didn’t take years but quite a short time. The activists and city authorities began to work together, and that was important.

Not everything’s ideal, to be sure, but the trend is quite hopeful.

And then, the activists switched attention to social and cultural projects.

It was when they took upon general clearing of the park area by the lake.

In the meantime, Ruslana and her comrades untiringly keep coming up with new cultural projects: outdoor cinema, book cabinet by the lakeshore, photo dryer, festival for children with special needs, yoga marathon and many other interesting and important events.

This year, for example, Irshansk played host to the second festival of talented people called FreeDOM Fest Irshansk. The festival was announced as a territory of freedom and self-expression. The activists built a platform for creativity in all spheres and areas, where everyone had a chance to prove themselves in a totally different role. There, you could create, invent unconventional things, interact – in a word, knock yourself out.

Ruslana Primasuk, the inspirer of all these things, says: “I believe that we have to start with ourselves. Don’t complain and don’t wait for someone else to take care of your life. It’s only us who will do it. Everyone must assume responsibility for what’s going on in their town or village. And of course, we have to unite. Together, people can work wonders”.

By the way, a new administrative service center was opened in Irshansk, and a hospital and a gymnasium school were renovated. These, larger projects received support, as part of decentralization, from U-LEAD with Europe program. The total amount of assistance to Ukraine is 102 million euros for four years (2016-2020). This reform helps local communities develop and create better life for themselves, and it makes sense to take advantage of it.

Ruslana Primasuk says that the most difficult thing is to come up with ideas. And once an idea is conceived, there is a team of like-minded persons who will help make it come true: “I am grateful to all members of our community involved in our actions and deeds. We do a lot of important things for the community, and therefore, for ourselves. And we are really proud of our achievements”.

People have to ensure quality and comfort of life themselves. All begins with desire. With grouping non-indifferent people around leaders who assume responsibility. With realization that life should be built not just for children and grandchildren and for some distant future but also for ourselves and right now.

I personally like the examples when collective energy is capable of moving mountains. It’s truly inspiring.

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