The Ukrainian Center, established at the initiative of Olena Zelenska and Diana Nausėdienė, has been operating in Vilnius for over nine months now
The Ukrainian Center in Vilnius, established at the initiative and under the patronage of First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska and First Lady of Lithuania Diana Nausėdienė, has been operating for more than nine months now. Over this time, it has hosted more than 1,300 events for adults and children from Ukraine who have found temporary refuge in Lithuania.
According to Olena Zelenska, the Ukrainian Center, which operates on the basis of the Pedagogical Academy of Vytautas Magnus University, hosts various cultural events, training courses, speaking clubs (English, Lithuanian and Ukrainian), and creative workshops every day. There are also sports sections, and qualified specialists provide ongoing psychological assistance. More than 17 thousand people have visited the institution, which is a record even for Lithuanian cultural and educational institutions. The space is actively used by Ukrainians – anyone can implement their own project. For example, the Vilnius Saturday School operates on the basis of the center.
The Ukrainian Center has become the true heart of Ukraine in Lithuania. It has united the efforts of dozens of Lithuanian charitable and volunteer organizations, Ukrainian and Lithuanian cultural figures, lecturers, psychologists and craftsmen who provide daily assistance to temporarily displaced Ukrainian citizens. Diplomatic missions accredited in Lithuania and European cultural institutions pay special attention to the Center’s activities. For example, with the support of the Embassy of the State of Israel, a well-known Israeli artist of Ukrainian descent organized a creative workshop for children, the Ambassador of Japan to Lithuania personally conducts meditation sessions, Japanese calligraphy and origami lessons for Ukrainians, and the Polish Cultural Institute organized an exhibition of reproductions of Maria Prymachenko’s paintings. The center’s activities are supported by Lithuanian and foreign patrons and donors.
First Lady Diana Nausėdienė provides constant assistance to the center’s activities and development. With her support, two of Olena Zelenska’s projects have been implemented here: “Ukrainian Bookshelf” and “Books Without Borders”, which allow Ukrainian citizens to keep in touch with their homeland. Under the Books Without Borders project, in coordination with the Ukrainian Book Institute, more than 2,500 books for children of all ages were delivered to Lithuania.
In 2023, the center hosted a number of unique events:
February 23 – the event “Mes kartu – We are together” dedicated to the year of invincibility and unity in the fight against the aggressor. During the event, President of Lithuania Gitanas Nausėda and First Lady Dalia Nausėdienė addressed the citizens of Ukraine. A special moment for both Ukrainians and Lithuanians was a video message from First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska.
On March 9, the Great Kobzar’s birthday, the Ukrainian Center organized a gala concert “Creative Forces of Ukraine” that brought together Ukrainian talents from all over Lithuania. During the event, the winner of the Zapekli literary contest of teenage prose and poetry was awarded. The winner of the contest was Bohdan Yakovenko from Lviv, a 9th grade student of the Lyceum named after the Heroes of Kruty, whose story symbolizes the resilience, courage and determination of the entire Ukrainian people in the fight for their country and freedom. Bohdan Yakovenko’s father lived in Lithuania, but when the war broke out, he returned to defend Ukraine and was killed on the battlefield. His son Bohdan decided to follow his father’s example and continue the fight, so now he is studying at a specialized lyceum. The winner of the competition was personally congratulated by Diana Nausėdienė during the event.
“This is one of the many stories we know, the whole world knows, that demonstrate that Ukrainians are true heroes. People who will do anything to stop the brutal aggressor that threatens Ukraine and the entire democratic world. Bohdan Yakovenko cannot be with us today, so please deliver this award to him along with congratulations and best wishes from the entire Lithuanian people. Please tell him that we are and will be with Ukraine for as long as it takes – until victory,” the wife of the President of the Republic of Lithuania said.
In 2023, the center established a Young think tank, a platform for meetings between Ukrainian and Lithuanian schoolchildren and politicians, diplomats, and public figures from Lithuania and Ukraine. The visitors of the center have already had the opportunity to talk to Marius Vaščega, a representative of the European Commission in Lithuania, Linas Linkevičius, a well-known Lithuanian politician, Petro Beshta, Ambassador of Ukraine to Lithuania, Edmundas Jakilaitis, the initiator of the campaign to raise funds for radars for Ukraine, and others.
According to the development concept of the Ukrainian Center, in the long term it will serve as a platform for deepening cultural and humanitarian cooperation between the two countries, as well as for providing expert assistance to Ukraine on a wide range of issues, including preparation for EU membership.
The first step that launched a new phase of the Ukrainian Center’s activities was the forum “Implementation of the Peace Formula of President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy: Joint Actions of Ukraine and Lithuania on the Path to Lasting Peace” on February 24, 2023. Key attention was paid to two points of the Ukrainian Peace Formula: ensuring energy security and restoring justice.