Moving from Canada to a country only 25 years removed from Russian rule may sound daunting to some, but Kadie Ward only saw an opportunity she couldn’t turn down.
Ward moved to Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, which was the launch point for efforts to help the country’s citizens build stronger communities through local, national and international economic development.
Ward — who worked at the London Economic Development Corporation (LEDC) before launching her own community-building effort, Building Strong Cities — now works as a senior governance advisor for an international economic development program that is focused on helping Ukraine strengthen its economic future.
“We’re just in the beginning. The concept of local economic development is entire new here,” Ward said. “So we look at the knowledge gap, what the cities need to know, and then we create a program, work with Canadian experts, and myself, to deliver them.”
Once the program evolves over the next year or so, Ward said they will shift focus to doing actual economic development projects in cities across Ukraine.
That might mean starting an incubator, creating a support centre, it might mean helping city leaders come up with an industrial land use strategy.
Being part of such an enormous undertaking, its no surprise Ward describes her schedule as “hectic.”
After all, there are 16 cities across four Ukrainian provinces she is helping start programming in.
That means a lot of late night phone calls back to Canada (complicated by a seven-hour time difference) to find partners, working with them to create content, and then co-ordinating activities and travelling across the country to visit various sites and meet with civic leaders.
As busy as she is, it isn’t all work and no play.
She describes the culture in Kiev as thriving with opportunities to enjoy the national ballet, the opera, the symphony, along with numerous theatres and art galleries.
Kiev, also like the Forest City, also has a significant waterway, a historic downtown, many beautiful parks, and a thriving university community.
“It has a very young, energetic student vibe. When I lived in downtown London, it was the same kind of energy,” Ward said. “There are beautiful parks, lots of young people, great cafes. So, the amenities I had in London, I have here, which make it feel like home.”
Of course, something far removed from her London experience was her visit to the town of Pripyat and the nearby Chernobyl nuclear plant, which exploded in 1986.
The town was completely abandoned following what has been called the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
Today the reactor is still leaking radiation, although it’s now contained. But combined with the fact the entire community left, leaving behind all their possessions, Pripyat is something of a creepy spot to visit — legally or not.
“It’s pretty crazy there because in a 30-mile radius everything’s forbidden. A friend of mine has gone in anyway to pick mushrooms and they are just gigantic,” Ward recalls with a laugh. “I said, ‘You can’t eat that.’ He said, “No it’s fine.” I just laughed. I’ve been told to go back in the summer when the flowers are blooming because they say the colours are unreal. It’s crazy to think about what mankind has done.”
As for the Ukrainian people, she has found them to be “a very kind, humble,” in many ways reflective of Canadians.
The people are, for the most part, “very open, very kind, a lot of fun and very genuine,” but she is quick to add there is the shadow of war with Russia to deal with. That being said, she is amazed how that doesn’t change people’s outlook.
“In terms of the war, it’s happening, we can’t deny it. But there is a lot of optimism,” Ward said. “People realize they are fighting for their future, their economic independence from a country that dominated them for so long. You can sometimes feel the tension, but they are exceptionally proud of their culture, their resilience, and that really stands out to me.”