Tending to Strays — and Civil Society — in Central Ukraine

While discussions of the development of civil society in Eastern Europe often emphasize its importance to democratization and the rule of law, an on-the-grounds view from Kropyvnytskyi, Ukraine demonstrates how civil society addresses everyday problems as well.

City Council Building in Kropyvnytskyi

Kropyvnytskyi, a regional capital in central Ukraine formerly known as Kirovohrad, has seen a number of political demonstrations in the last year, most notably in response to the Ukrainian government’s decision to rename the city. Nevertheless, when asked about prominent NGOs in their city, respondents from Kropyvnytskyi most commonly identified BIM, a local animal rights group.

Billboard Protesting the Name Change of Kropyvnytskyi

Founded in 2008, BIM works to provide medical treatment, sterilization, and ultimately homes for stray animals in a region that has become notorious both for its large population of stray cats and dogs and for heavy-handed attempts to eradicate them.

Residents interviewed spoke positively of BIM’s efforts. “It’s nice to see that there aren’t many stray dogs and cats in a city as large as ours,” a 20 year-old sales assistant remarked.

Market in Cheremushki Neighborhood Kropyvnytskyi

Still, BIM’s experiences reflect the challenges of maintaining a volunteer organization in a volatile environment. BIM’s organizers reported being short on funds in 2014 — Ukraine’s declining economy put increasing stress on donors as well as the municipal government, while volunteer efforts throughout the city were directed towards supporting the Ukrainian army in the Donbas. Nevertheless, BIM serves as an example of how civil society serves to strengthen governance and address the practical needs of local residents in countries struggling to develop their governmental capacity.