Credit unions in Ukraine

Anna Cichoblazinska

The cooperative movement is developing in Ukraine. It was restored in 1992 thanks to the help of the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada, the USA and Australia. The Polish Savings and Credit Unions SKOK have made a big contribution to the development of our Eastern neighbour. Today the Ukrainian credit unions have two million members.
In the Lychakiv cemetery in Lviv, in the main lane, there is the Stefczyk family tomb, and the creator of the Galician credit unions Dr. Franciszek Stefczyk was buried there. Today his grave has been visited by Polish members of the Cooperative Savings and Credit Unions and by Ukrainians for whom Dr. Stefczyk is a model of cooperative movement that goes beyond all divisions.

Melting pot of nations

Very few people remember that in this melting pot of nations, which Galicia was in the second half of the 19th century, the Stefczyk credit unions joined together Poles and Ukrainians who used the credit unions to defend themselves against all-present usury ruining the poor, often underdeveloped Galician peasants and to support the development of small communities. The Polish and Ukrainian credit unions had a common headquarters in Lvov and its founder Dr. Stefczyk wrote letters to the Ukrainian credit unions in their own language and he wrote in Polish to the Polish credit unions. The collaboration between the Polish and Ukrainian credit unions was very good in the period between the wars. This situation changed in the post-war period when the territories of present Ukraine were pacified by the Soviet system, which did not tolerate any free, self-governing institutions.

They chose credit unions

Despite the expansion in the Eastern markets at the beginning of the 1990s the Ukrainians trusted the credit unions and not the commercial banks. It is also the big merit of the Polish credit unions that helped their neighbours create the programme and structures, and they help them train their personnel. The media speak about it very little but during the meetings of the representatives of the Ukrainian and Polish credit unions many cordial words are said about the Polish credit unions as models of solidarity and help to develop free market in Ukraine, which influences directly the building of citizen's society in our Eastern neighbours. Thanks to the help of the experts from the National Association of Cooperative Savings and Credit Unions the Ukrainian credit unions suffered less during the international crisis of the years 2008-2009. And although the effects of the crisis are still severe the Ukrainian credit unions did not lose their liquidity, and they restored their assets within a year. 'We have maintained relationships with the Ukrainian cooperative movement for 16 years. Almost 200 presidents of the Ukrainian credit unions were trained in our centre in Wladyslawowo. We implemented the Savings Protection Programme in them,' says Grzegorz Bierecki, President of the Polish National Association of Cooperative Savings and Credit Unions. 'We are members of the World Council of Credit Unions, in which the credit unions from Eastern Europe (apart from Ukraine the credit unions are also in Belarus, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia and Slovakia) keep together, creating a specific lobby. One should emphasise that the movement of the Ukrainian credit unions is one of the biggest in the world.'

Church Credit Union 'Anisia'

One of the significant credit unions in Ukraine is the Orthodox Credit Union 'Anisia' in Lviv. It was created in 1995 at the Consistory of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Its name was taken from the patroness of the parish St Anisia, a martyr from ca. 300 AD. The headquarters of the credit union, located in the former residence of the Catholic bishops, attract attention. The hosts are restoring the building, revealing its former beauty and the masterpieces of the Lviv architecture. The company has members from Lviv and the district. The credit union has 9 branches and 10,000 members. It embraces several structures: the National Association of Credit Unions, the Savings Protection Programme and the Ukrainian Central Credit Union. It collaborates with the Stefczyk Credit Union, the National Association SKOK, Credit Unions in Canada, the European Union institutions as well as the German and Dutch banks supporting the development of credit union associations. The importance of international collaboration was made evident during the recent world crisis when the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada gave 200 million hryvnia as the capital of the Ukrainian credit unions.
'We follow the code of development worked out by the Stefczyk Credit Unions: financial self-help, self-management and economic democracy of the credit unions,' says the President of the Parish Credit Union 'Anisia' Volodymir Sydorovsky. 'We collect deposits in Lviv and sell loans in the district where people are poor. Throughout years we have learnt a lot. The credit unions in Ukraine experienced four financial crises: the change of the national currency, the currency crisis, the 'orange' revolution and the world crisis in 2008. Money disappeared because of the activities of the loan pyramids that used the name of the credit unions. In Ukraine the legal norms for the credit unions were created only in 2001. Earlier they had acted as cooperatives but without any laws and regulations. Our credit union was registered as the first one. We experienced ourselves how much we needed our own trained personnel. We had people who did not have proper habits to work in credit unions. Through these years we have used the educational help of the Polish credit unions and today we are planning to create our own school of economics in Lviv that will train our workers. We would like very much to have Polish experts from the credit unions helping us. We owe so much to them.

International Year of Cooperatives

The United Nations proclaimed the year 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives, giving the cooperative movement a due place in economy and stressing its protective role in the period of the world crisis. Based on the fundamental principles of equality, self-help and cooperative self-control the credit unions show an increasing tendency despite the world crisis. And because of the members, the majority being not well-off people and the excluded, the credit unions should not be competitive for banks but the financial lobby is trying to change the regulations, limiting or simply hampering the development of credit unions. During the International Year of Cooperatives Poland will host representatives of credit unions from the whole world. In Gdansk there will be the congress of the International Council of Credit Union Associations. Today the credit unions are active in 97 countries, gathering 185 million people. Having numerous solutions the credit unions use in particular countries they always have in mind the good of their members and local communities.

"Niedziela" 30/2011

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: