NED Honors Ukrainian Civil Society’s Fight for a Free, Democratic Ukraine

The 2022 NED Democracy Award recognizes the courageous effort of Ukrainian civil society. Pictured from left: Journalist Anne Applebaum, Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Nataliya Gumenyuk of Public Interest Journalism Lab, Daria Kaleniuk of Anti-Corruption Action Center, Oleksandra Matviychuk of Center for Civil Liberties, Anna Bondarenko of Ukrainian Volunteer Service, and NED Chair Kenneth Wollack

On June 8, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) presented the 2022 Democracy Award to Ukrainian civil society organizations on the frontlines of a powerful citizen movement to defend Ukraine: Anti-Corruption Action Center (AntAC), Center for Civil Liberties (CCL), Public Interest Journalism Lab (PIJL), and Ukrainian Volunteer Service (UVS). The event included remarks from Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova, Senator Jim Risch (R-ID), Ambassador Melanne Verveer, and NED Chair Kenneth Wollack, as well as a conversation with the awardees moderated by leading journalist and NED Board member Anne Applebaum. [Read more about the Democracy Awards here.] 

“Every year, the NED Board of Directors uses the Democracy Award to highlight the accomplishments and the courage of democratic activists who are involved in some of the most important political movements of our time,” said Kenneth Wollack, chair of the NED Board. “The will of the Ukrainian people to protect their nation, their freedoms, and the democratic values and institutions they have been building for decadesthey are an inspiration to the entire world.” 

Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova gave a keynote address at the 2022 Democracy Award.

NED President and CEO Damon Wilson congratulated the awardees and emphasized NED’s continued commitment its more than 100 partner organizations in Ukraine. “We honor those who represent this generation’s successful fight for liberty, and I want to thank all of our partners for their spirit, their courage, and commitment to a democratic Ukraine,” said Wilson. “The women you will meet tonight and the larger communities they represent are part of why Ukraine can win, reintegrate its occupied people, and rebuild a stronger democracy.” 

In her remarks, Ambassador Markarova underscored that the civic activism of the four honorees has strengthened Ukraine from within: I would like to start with thanking all of youDaria, Anna, Nataliya, Oleksandrafor your hard work,” said Markarova. For your hard fight for democracy, for freedom of press, against the corruption, for human values and human dignity in so many areas in Ukraine, but also how during the past 105 days, you have changed everything you do and took it to another level and fought together with our brave defenders.” 

The honorees joined a panel discussion, moderated by journalist Anne Applebaum, before the presentation of the 2022 Democracy Award.

In the discussion with The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum, the four honorees shared their experiences before and after the full-scale invasion, including mobilizing volunteers across the country, documenting war crimes and stories of ordinary Ukrainians during the war, and advocating for Ukraine internationally. [Watch the panel discussion with the honorees here.] 

Oleksandra Matviychuk, head of the CCL, spoke about the importance of documenting thousands of cases of war crimes against civilians in order to ensure accountability and rule of law after the victory. “In this war with Russia, Ukraine is fighting for our democratic choice, and we are paying a very high price for it,” she said. “Russia attempts to break Ukraine’s resistance and occupy the country by what I call the immense pain of the civilian population.” [Watch this video to learn more about CCL’s work.] 

Anna Bondarenko, founder and chief executive officer of UVS, told stories of ordinary Ukrainians volunteering to help people in need. “I personally believe that democracy is built not by reading books or newspapers, democracy is built by practicing it,” said Bondarenko. “What we’re seeing right now in Ukraine, those thousands of people volunteering, they are learning democracy by doing..”  [Watch this video to learn more about UVS’ work.] 

Senator Jim Risch (R-ID) spoke about Ukraine’s fight for freedom.

The NED Democracy Award, a small statuette modeled after the iconic Goddess of Democracy statue constructed by Chinese students in 1989 in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, was presented to awardees by Senator Jim Risch and NED Board member Ambassador Melanne Verveer.  

“This is a struggle for freedom,” said Risch. “When this is over, what’s happened here will become a part of the fabric of Ukraine. The freedoms that the Ukrainians have obtained for themselves are going to be woven into that fabric, never to be given up.” 

Ambassador Verveer commended the extraordinary commitment and courage of Ukrainian civil society. “Ukraine’s secret weapon against Russia has been its civil society,” she said. “And the role that these awardees and their organizations will be playing in the years to come will be even more important as Ukraine recovers, rebuilds, and revitalizes its democracy after victory.” 

Nataliya Gumenyuk, co-founder of PIJL, accepted her award on behalf of all independent journalists in Ukraine. “We discussed a lot about the crisis of the journalism today, and now we recording the war crimes and it’s very dark,” she said. “But I think that the darkest is before dawn.” [Watch this video to learn more about PIJL’s work.] 

After receiving her award, Co-founder and Executive Director of AntAC Daria Kaleniuk, called for a moment of silence to honor Ukrainians who have lost their lives in the war. She also asked for continued international solidarity: “I also want to thank to kind hearts of American people, because our victory in Ukraine depends on support of every single American who believes in dignity, in freedom, in humanity” . [Watch this video to learn more about AntAC’s work] 

Senator Jim Risch and Ambassador Melanne Verveer present the Democracy Award statuettes to the 2022 honorees. Top left: Amb. Verveer and Daria Kaleniuk of Anti-Corruption Action Center. Top right: Senator Risch and Oleksandra Matviychuk of the Center for Civil Liberties. Bottom left: Senator Risch and Nataliya Gumenyuk of Public Interest Journalism Lab. Bottom right: Amb. Verveer and Anna Bondarenko of Ukrainian Volunteer Service.