In addition to an in-person conversation with Ambassador Michael McFaul, Democracy Day at Stanford also featured a panel discussion on political transformation and civic engagement in Ukraine. The panel, moderated by Professor Volodymyr Kulyk, included Yuliya Ziskina of Razom for Ukraine, civil society leader Olha Aivazovska of OPORA Ukraine, and former Ukrainian Defense Minister Anatoliy Grytsenko.

The speakers provided insights into how Ukraine is confronting Russia’s ongoing full-scale invasion while upholding democratic values and institutions. Ms. Ziskina emphasized the need for reconstructing Ukrainian cities, towns, and infrastructure destroyed by Russian attacks. She proposed leveraging frozen Russian assets abroad, especially in the United States, to fund reconstruction. The REPO Act, now under review in the U.S. Congress, can unlock frozen funds and make them available to Ukraine.

Ms. Aivazovska and Mr. Grytsenko spoke about the remarkable political unity in Ukraine since the start of the war. They acknowledged the challenges of holding democratic elections during an active conflict. However, they both stressed that Ukrainian media, anti-corruption bodies, and other democratic institutions continue operating despite dangers, ensuring transparency and accountability. While elections may be delayed, democratic processes remain resilient, they said.

All panelists agreed on the need for steadfast international support to Ukraine. As the war drags on, defending Ukrainian sovereignty means defending democracy itself against authoritarian aggression. The discussion highlighted how civic engagement and political participation take on life-and-death meaning for Ukrainians today. This Democracy Day event provided insight into their resilience and determination to see freedom and self-determination prevail.

In Spring 2021, the Stanford’s Faculty Senate designated Election Day (the Tuesday after the first Monday of November) a non-instructional Democracy Day and a university-wide academic holiday. To recognize that civic engagement isn’t restricted to electoral participation, Democracy Day is held annually, even in years without federal American elections. Democracy Day is meant to encourage voting, participation, civic engagement, dialogue, community-building, and reflection on the role of public service in your life and the lives of others.

Sources: Democracy Day website.