Smoke free signals from Ukraine
Behind the Black Sea is Muslim Turkey, to the west is Catholic Europe and to the east is Orthodox Russia. At this historical crossroads, a young woman with an open face, long hair, modern glasses, a six-month pregnant belly, and gentle smile is standing on the beach of her native town Yevpatoria, a city located on the edge of the Crimea Peninsula in the south of the multicultural country called Ukraine. One thousand years ago ancient Greeks, Romans, Genoese, Mongols and Tatars left their footprints on this land.
These people brought their traditions and these traditions were not always healthy. For example, tobacco smoking. In Ukraine 50% of men are active smokers and 50% of secondhand smoke deaths occur among women.
Inna Miroshnychenko understood she was one who could change the situation and help women protect their right to a healthy environment. This is how she became the Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the “Smoke Free Crimea” Coalition, one of the most important regional programs on public health initiated by an NGO. Today the Coalition unites such prestigious organizations as the Ministry of Health, the Republican Oncology Center, and the Children's Clinical Hospital. But before this she had to go through the long road of disappointments and rebirth.
After Inna earned a diploma of a specialist on economics, she became involved with her mother in a new municipal environmental project. “My mother always was the best example of creativeness and leadership. Until now she inspires me with her energy and original approaches even to her daily duties,” shares Inna. The project aimed at improving the environment of her native city and was the first work place for Inna. She had to negotiate with local authorities. It was her first big challenge because almost all of them were “respectable” men who refused to see a colleague in a young lady.
In Ukraine the image of a woman is full of old clichés. It is a wife, a keeper of hearth, a nurse, a cook. A woman must determine her place and prove that she is an equal member of society.
Step by step, word by word Inna insisted on her vision and proposals. By offering persuasive ideas, finally she was accepted and heard.
However, the real conflict appeared unexpectedly, with her business partner. He was much older and stubbornly refused to accept strategies offered by Inna because she was a woman and young. He blocked her proposals. Sad and disappointed, Inna left the project. She worked in business and civil services but couldn’t get rid of her wish to bring positive shifts to the community.
If you are born as a leader you cannot avoid your destiny. She could not just watch what was happening, she wanted to participate and make changes. As a member of an environmental NGO, she wrote a proposal and received financial support for the tobacco control project in Crimea.
Her usual day begins with checking mail and clipping news on public health, tobacco control, and civil initiatives. She brings her daughter to the kindergarten and moves to the meeting with local authorities. Often she participates in talk shows and press conferences. She meets with her team to discuss plans for monitoring, street action, media releases, and budget planning.
Her team in the Organizing Committee consists of ten women. Inna says that women are more active in their rights’ protection. “We tell them that they have rights and give them tools to protect these rights. This is not only the right for smoke free air for you and your child. This is a common mechanism for protection of any human right. Ukrainian women should remember that they have equal rights with men. We were born not to serve men but to create alliance and bring harmony to this world,” Inna says.
Members of the Coalition hold many street actions, but every time they appeal to the same message: “Protect your rights! Don’t be silent! Legislation defends us, but the real protection begins when we don’t allow violations happen every day around us. Protect yourself and people around you. Speak and you will be heard!”
When you want to change the world in the beginning it seems impossible. Four years ago, when Inna started her tobacco control project, Ukraine took fourth place in the world for the percentage of smokers by assessment of the World Health Organization. In 2013, Ukraine was recognized as one of the leaders of tobacco control, moving from the shameful 4th place to 29th place in the percentage of smokers (from 37% to 21.8%).
“It’s a big honor to understand you are a part of these changes which save people’s lives. But I could not succeed alone. This victory is only because of the amazing team we have. Here, in Crimea, and all over Ukraine. This is the secret why so many people support us,” Inna shares.
One year ago, she was selected to participate in the annual Johns Hopkins School of Public Health Leadership Program in Global Tobacco Control (Baltimore, USA). The Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, one of the most famous fighters against tobacco, shook Inna’s hand and congratulated her high results of tobacco control in Ukraine.
Learning is a nonstop process, Inna believes: “Education helps to improve the quality of thinking.” Public education is a significant part in her work. “Smoking is not a tradition. It’s a smelling killer that takes 110,000 lives of Ukrainians annually. For us it was a big challenge, and after so many frustrations I can see situation changes. People more actively protect their rights now.”
Feeling the breeze on her face, Inna notices that the air is fresh and free of tobacco smoke and that the warm sand is clean. She takes the hand of her daughter, embraces her husband, and they walk into the sunset. Tomorrow will be another day and another battle. But today she deserves a minute to enjoy the results of her efforts.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.