On November 18 and 19, 2023, the integration event within the project “STRONG TOGETHER-2. СИЛЬНІ РАЗОМ-2”, ID No. 2023.LV/UKR_KO/18, funded by the Latvian state budget’s programme “Cultural Orientation Courses and Inclusion Measures for Ukrainian Civilians”, took place. The event was organized by Daugavpils University Association for Lifelong Learning, Cultural, and Scientific Communication, “Intellect Park”. Ukrainian civilians, learning the Latvian language, familiarizing themselves with Latvian culture and society, and aiming to integrate into Latvian society, were invited to participate. Over the course of two days, Ukrainian civilians and Latvian citizens – representatives of the host community – collaborated in various informal activities, participated in excursions, and learned about successful examples of small business development in Latgale, gaining ideas for starting their own small businesses.
On the first day of the integration event, the participants of the project visited the recreation complex “Lejasmalas” in Auleja parish, Krāslava municipality. There, a discussion titled “Intercultural Communication and Regional Specifics in Latvia and Ukraine: Common Experience, Different Stories” was organized. The discussion focused on sharing experiences gained while living in Latvia and setting new goals for collaboration between Latvia and Ukraine. The discussion was led by the project manager Maija Burima and a Ukrainian civilian Iurii Liubovskyi, involving representatives from the host community and Ukrainian civilians. During the discussion, the participants gained insights into key aspects of intercultural communication, took part in training on building an inclusive society and cultural competence, and learned about various stereotypes related to foreigners present in Latvian society.
Following the discussion, Ukrainian civilians participated in the “Story Night” activity in various interest groups. They listened to stories from fishermen, hunters, mushroom and berry pickers, diverse tales from travellers, appetizing culinary stories from Latvian cuisine, and current stories from influencers and bloggers. In the “Latvian Crafts” workshop, Ukrainian civilians learned to make aromatic soaps, incorporating various medicinal and decorative plants found in Latvian nature. Under the guidance of educators, they also learned to create belts with Latvian ethnographic symbols woven into them and to make beeswax candles. In the “Latvian Games, Dances, and Plays” workshop, adults and children mastered Latvian folk-dance moves, discovered fascinating facts about Latvian national costumes and their history, and engaged in various games and plays, such as “Folk Ball”, “One Too Few, Two Too Many”, and “Adam Had Seven Sons”. During the workshops, the participants strengthened their knowledge of the Latvian language, familiarized themselves with Latvian national values and traditions, and laid the groundwork for collaboration with representatives of the host community. At the end of the evening, everyone had the opportunity to watch several films from Latvian cinema classics, followed by informal discussions about the films.
On the morning of the second day, in the “Idea Bank: Opportunities and Challenges in the Non-Governmental Sector” session, the participants gained the information about the opportunities for NGOs in Latvia, the legislation regulating NGO activities, starting a business, micro-enterprises, individual economic activities, and sources of funding. Subsequently, the participants of the excursion visited the organic farm “Juri”, where they had the opportunity to learn about the traditional cheese-making process, taste fresh milk from cows raised on the farm, taste various types of handcrafted cheese, and learn ways to establish their own organic farm to generate income.
The participants of the event visited Preiļi, where they explored the art gallery “Nester Custom”. Founded by the Preiļi-based family Aleksandrs and Alīna Nesteruk, the gallery specializes in restoring motor vehicles and transforming non-liquid spare parts into works of art. The Nesteruk family demonstrated how an original idea and determination can generate profit and attract visitors from across Latvia. The next destination was the “Doll Kingdom”, where the participants were introduced to a handcrafted doll collection created over several years by artist Jeļena Mihailova, also known as Vladlena. The museum is renowned not only in Latvia but also internationally, which provided Ukrainian civilians with valuable insights into the ways of internationalizing one’s business. Everyone had the opportunity to dress up in retro costumes, explore the exhibitions and the work of the creator, understand the basic principles of the creative industry in Latvia, and learn about ways to establish a successful small business.
Continuing, the project participants visited the pottery workshop “Jašas podi”. Under the guidance of master Kristīne Nicmane, Ukrainian civilians were introduced to the various processes and techniques of creating pottery from clay, porcelain, and gypsum. They also learned about the different functions of various utensils. Kristīne skillfully demonstrated the “birth” of a new vessel. Many participants admitted that they didn’t want to leave, as Kristīne’s charismatic approach made a creative atmosphere, and they could listen to her for hours.
On the way back home, the participants visited Aglona Bread Museum. During the culinary workshops, Ukrainian civilians were introduced to an ethnographic narrative about the history of rye bread. The hostess of the Bread Museum, Vija Kudiņa, shared stories about the bread baking process, beliefs, proverbs, customs, and the steps involved in bread making. The participants learned about the culinary heritage of Latgale, traditions of bread baking, associated beliefs, and acquired new vocabulary of the Latgalian language. Each participant had the opportunity to create their own loaf of bread. During lunch, the participants tasted dishes from the Latgalian gastronomic heritage, accompanied by traditional Latgalian music in the background.
After lunch, the project participants had the opportunity to visit the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Aglona, a significant Catholic religious centre visited not only by Latvian Catholics but also by believers from abroad.
En route to Riga, everyone had the chance to participate in a sweets-making workshop at the production facility of “Skrīveru saldumi” Ltd. After an introduction to the company, everyone watched a film about the production process, tasted special sweets, and engaged in making sweets themselves, working with toffee, marzipan, and the candy mass called “Gotiņa”.
In total, 40 participants took part in the integration event. During these two days, the project participants familiarized themselves with Latvia and Latgale’s cultural and historical heritage, enhanced their knowledge of the Latvian language, and formed an understanding of Latvia’s social structure, processes, communication models, and collaboration between Latvian and Ukrainian residents. Ukrainian civilians acknowledged that participating in integration events was an excellent opportunity to promote the integration of Ukrainian civilians into Latvian society, to learn about Latvian cultural and historical traditions and values, and discover opportunities to start small businesses.
The project is financially supported by the Society Integration Foundation from the allocated funds of the Latvian state budget.
Daugavpils University Association for Lifelong Learning, Cultural, and Scientific Communication, “Intellect Park” is responsible for the content of the project activities.