Kharkiv Observer spent a day with the scouts in the unique Plast (Ukrainian Scout organization) Rescue Camp sited in Vatutine village, 35 kilometers from Kharkiv.
We met young Plast members in their morning first aid class at 10 a.m. Their daily routine includes physical training, rescue lectures and practice, parades and prayers during the day, games, creative activities and discussions.
In this unusual summer camp, hosted by the Training Center of the Rescue State Service for Emergency Situations, the scouts play spies, “demine” territory, support each other and maintain discipline and they all like it. Here they get “incentive” instead of “punishment” if they break any regulations: for example, they can be put on a watch in case they were late for a class. As for the reward, that might be an additional climbing drill.
After first aid class, we watched a game where a trained rescue dog found an “injured” person under some “ruins”. Later there was a cableway crossing over the ravine, a climbing class followed by dinner with songs and praising God for food. And all this took place in Ukrainian.
“Plast is the only organization which teaches children moral code and introduces spiritual development together with education,” explains Olena Sherzhukova, volunteer and one of two Kharkiv Plast co-founders. “Other educational organizations, sports clubs or art courses also help develop physical skills and provide education, but they do not include cultivating base life and moral values, imparting love for your own country.”
That is the reason why the tutors, or instructors, work only with small groups of 8 to 10 as the scouts need all their attention and time, Sherzhukova says.
The three tutors themselves are very young and one of them, 17-year-old Viktoria Horina, used to be a Plast Scout herself. She took part in organizing the first summer camp in 2015. The parents, who are sending their children to the camp, are mostly Ukrainian patriots who trust the camp organizers. However, they do not have right to interfere in the camp life or even to visit their children.
And the main emphasis here is on the scouts’ ability to foster themselves and each other. Self-discipline, mutual aid, and responsibility for their actions are key subjects to learn here.
Currently, the second two-week camp session called “kolo” (circle in Ukrainian) is in progress; it will finish on Saturday, July 8, and the new session will start the next day. Among 30 children aged 12-17, there are Kharkivites, children of ATO (Anti-terroristic operation) combatants and also children from families from Donetsk region: Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, and Mariupol.
The Training Center of the Rescue State Service, which has provided children with accommodation, the classes, the training ground with a cableway, a lake, and other facilities, is the biggest and the most modernized in Ukraine. Its trainers are the professional rescuers and specialist experts to teach the basic rules of survival and aid in emergency situations.
As soon as the Center premises have the central heating, the camp organizers hope they will be able to continue their Plast methodology educating course even in the winter, and the center will work all year round to become the advanced post of patriotic education for the whole Eastern part of Ukraine.
In the afternoon the scouts present us a little concert. They dance, recite their own poems in Ukrainian, sing and play the guitar. Most of the children are looking forward to the night gathering at the bonfire called “vatra” in the nearest forest. This entertaining inspires them more than spending time in social networks or playing computer games – the common fun at home.
“Children here have changed incredibly after just a few days together. They have become more concentrated, friendly and positive. Just look into their eyes, aren’t they amazing?” says another Kharkiv Plast co-founder Iryna Markevich.
They are indeed we agree.
Text, photo: Olena Sokolynska