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Pioneers of New Ukraine

The collapse of the Soviet UNI0N and the death of the Pioneers did not mean the end of youth organizations. Today, thousands of youngsters regularly meet to take part in numerous outdoor activities organised by Plast, a Ukrainian scouting movement with a long past and which has enjoyed growing popularity over the past decade.

Although very much a phenomena of post-Soviet Ukraine, the Plast scouting movement has a history stretching back almost 100 years. Predating the communist Pioneers, Plast was formed when these lands were still ruled by a tsar; in 1912, five years after the World Scout Movement. The man behind the movement was a professor, Oleksandr Tysovsky, who sought to help nurture physical strength, spiritual purity, and intellectual curiosity in a new generation of young Ukrainians. These were exciting times for those who dreamed of an independent Ukraine; the Ukrainian national movement was thriving throughout the country, with the socialists in particular making great gains through exploiting tensions between Russian landlords' and factory owners' Ukrainian workers. Tysovsky, much like the Soviets later, came to the conclusion that the future of Ukraine rested on youth, a youth which would be strong, vigorous and steeped in the country's cultural and historical heritage. His teachings had a profound effect on two students, Petro Franko, the son of the writer Ivan Franko, and Ivan Chamola, who founded the first Plast chapter in 1916 in Lviv. Membership soon swelled to around the 10,000 mark, with young men attracted to the organisation's blend of activity and nationalistic teaching which is demonstrated by the word 'Plast' itself, a derivative of 'plastun', a Cossack scout. The nationalistic character of the movement meant that many members actively sought an independent Ukraine, leading many to fight alongside Austro-Hungarian forces, as part of the Ukrainian Sichovi Striltsi detachment, against the army of Imperial Russia. These actions were not forgotten by the Soviets, who banned Plast in 1922. Plast chapters survived a little longer amongst those Ukrainian communities who found themselves living outside the Soviet UNI0N with diaspora communities in North America in particular raising their children in the Cossack scout tradition. The movement also had branches in Poland and Czechoslovakia, but these had all been closed by the onset of the Second World War. Plast activists amongst the Ukrainian diaspora took part in a number of World Jamborees of Independent Scout Formations, and many involved were optimistic that the reforms of perestroika would allow Plast to emerge from the underground and operate with a modicum of freedom. This belief was misguided however; since the 1920s the Soviet authorities had viewed any expression of Ukrainian nationalism as potentially fatal to the stability of the USSR. A 1989 Plast gathering resulted in beatings and arrests and it wasn't until Ukraine's independence that the movement finally began to openly meet and recruit.

Today, the Plast scouting movement has some 10,000 members operating out of 120 centres throughout Ukraine. Unsurprisingly Lviv, the home of the Plast movement and a hotbed of the Ukrainian national ideal, provides the most fertile ground for Plast, boasting 24 centres and 3000 'plastuns'. The patriotic bent of the movement can be detected from its emblem, a Ukrainian trident coupled with the fleur-de-lis of the World Organization of the Scout Movement, and the oath sworn by all members; 'On my honour I swear to do everything in my power to be faithful to God and Ukraine', this despite the fact that the organization declares itself to open to people of all faiths. The Plast community is split into four age groups named 'ulad'. The first ulad comprises children aged 7-11 with the boys referred to as Novak and Novachka for girls. Then come the Yunaki and Yunachki, who are aged 11-18 called Yunak and Yunachki followed by the Older Plastuns aged 18-30. The fourth grouping consists of the over-30s who are known as the Senior Plastuns. Each Plast group is made up of a number of 'Gurtok' or groups made up of 6-10 children and an elder leader who acts as mentor. Like scouting, campaigning and various outdoor pursuits play a central role in Plast activities with each member expected to 'build spiritual ties with the community, to work in a friendly environment, and appreciate the need for law, order and responsibility towards friends' fate'. On average each Plast member spends around 300 hours a year hiking, sailing, diving, rafting, and undertaking general do-gooding, in addition to learning more about Ukrainian history, culture and traditions. Like the Soviet Pioneers and Scouts around the world, plastuns are one group of young people who are certainly prepared.

chharda | 19.09.2006 11:26