Republished from LB.ua
Along with the patriotism and heroism of our people in the war with Russia, we are increasingly experiencing the positive consequences of decentralization. But why exactly this reform turned out to be so important in the context of war with Russia?
Decentralization has significantly boosted local self-governance. Now, it makes it possible for us to quite successfully repel the enemy in this war. In the course of the reform implementation, heads of local councils and local councilors became genuinely independent actors. This means that the scenario Russia used while invading Ukraine in 2014 will no longer work.
At that time, the occupiers thought that it would be enough to capture the key government bodies in the cities where the power was concentrated: oblast centers. In other words, the idea of the Russians was that to capture the key government bodies in Kharkiv would be equal to capturing the entire Kharkiv oblast. They follow the same logic now, but this time with a full-scale military invasion. This plan didn’t work then and it certainly won’t work now.
After decentralization, the state power and the power of local self-governance became scattered — in a good way. Now there are no regional “regents” who can “surrender” this or that oblast to the enemy. Every community in our country takes a clear pro-Ukrainian stance and is not going to give in to the occupiers. This was confirmed by the results of the national survey conducted by the Rating group. Therefore, even if an oblast center is captured, the Russians will not be automatically able to maintain control over the territories of all the communities.
The best illustration is the example of Kherson oblast, which, unfortunately, is currently almost entirely temporarily occupied, including its regional center, Kherson. Despite this, the Russians are unable to establish administrative control over the communities of the region. Local authorities made it clear to the invaders that no one is going to betray the Motherland. The same is true about the communities that are now feeling the full oppression of the occupation. Powerful waves of rallies are taking place throughout Kherson oblast. In Kherson, Henichesk, Novooleksiivka, Novotroitskyi, Kakhovka, Nova Kakhovka, and Skadovsk, dozens of villages and towns, citizens come out almost every day to tell the Russians that no one is waiting for them here.
The same is happening in other communities throughout Ukraine which suffered the military assault. Thus, to the request by the Russians to “surrender” to them the city of Irpin, Kyiv oblast, mayor Oleksandr Markushyn replied:
“I am surprised that these monsters still haven’t understood: Irpin does not surrender, Irpin is not for sale, Irpin fights! I make a public counteroffer to the occupiers to leave the territory of the Irpin community within 24 hours and preserve the lives and health of several thousand Russian conscripts.”
Mayors and local councilors are the real leaders of communities in Ukraine
Even before the full-scale war with Russia, the level of trust in local authorities among citizens was one of the highest among other institutions in our country. After February 24, this trust only strengthens since local authorities became even closer to the people.
Currently, heads of local councils and local councilors are real leaders in their communities. The occupiers understood this and that is why they started to kidnap and torture community leaders and local councilors to make them cooperate with the occupation regime.
However, even despite the threat to life and health, local officials are not going to capitulate or work for the occupiers. We well remember the kidnapping of the mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of Skadovsk, Oleksandr Yakovliev, the mayor of Dniprorudnyi, Yevhen Matveiev, and the murder of the village head of Gostomel, Yurii Prylypko. There are already several dozens of such cases, but they did not bring the desired result for the Russians: the method of Russian terror in Ukrainian communities does not work.
Of course, along with self-sacrificing and patriotic local politicians, there are those who are ready to betray their own citizens and Ukraine. For example, in the temporarily occupied Enerhodar, local MP from the Opposition Platform — For Life party, Andrii Shevchuk announced that he created a “city self-organization council” and declared himself its head. And in Melitopol, local MP from Opposition Block Halyna Danylchenko declared herself “mayor” and cooperated with the occupiers.
However, this should not be taken seriously. Such collaborators among politicians are an insignificant minority, and each of them will be severely punished by the state during the war or after it ends. Recently, MPs adopted a number of laws strengthening penalties for collaborationism. Now state treason is punished by from 10 to 12 years in prison.
Communities work for victory at the home front
Local governments demonstrate their spirit not only on the front line or on temporarily occupied territories, but also in communities far from combat zones. This is true about both small communities and communities of large cities. This covers everything from helping our Armed Forces to welcoming internally displaced persons (IDPs) into their communities.
For example, a small Voinylivsk village community of the Ivano-Frankivsk oblast has already welcomed 460 IDPs. Locals welcomed the newcomers warmly. All displaced persons are fed three times a day for free, received clothes, hygiene products, sweets, etc. To a question about where people are settled, the head of the community Mariana Masliak replied:
“People were settled in our medical school. We refurnished it to be more comfortable for living, that is, people now can sleep on beds, not on the floor. We provided mattresses, pillows, blankets, linen, a boiler with hot water, and installed a shower. Also, local residents take displaced people into their private houses, two-room apartments. Everyone was received very properly.”
On top of that, the whole community works to help both the IDPs and the Armed Forces. According to the head of the Voinylivsk community, “People are helping, finding everything necessary for the army and the displaced people. In the village, people bring what they can: milk, potatoes, invite to use their showers. And if there is some urgent need in a military unit or a territorial defense unit, for example, drugs, then we just give a call, and immediately meet this need, provide our guys with everything.”
In Volyn, where the situation is more tense due to the threat of an attack from Belarus in the north, local governments in a joint effort with the Armed Forces, the territorial defense units, and the police are preparing to repel a possible invasion. Yurii Bosniuk, secretary of the Liubeshiv village council, says the work of the local community changed drastically after Russia invaded the territory of Ukraine on a full scale. However, local authorities continue to work:
“Our community is near the state border. It is only 20 km from our village to the border. Of course, it is stressful, but we are ready to fight back. Everything has changed in our work. Our community, like all communities of Ukraine, reoriented its work to protect our Motherland. Accordingly, most of the decisions we make are of a defensive nature. We also adopted programs to support military units, allocated funds to improve our technical base.”
Despite the danger, Liubeshiv also welcomes displaced persons. Currently, the number of registered IDPs in the community is 325. Most of them are from Kyiv and Kharkiv oblasts. Some consider the community as a transit point before going abroad. Those who feel safe here — stay. According to the secretary of the local council, displaced people get as much help as possible:
“We looked through all vacant residential buildings in our community available to temporarily host IDPs. There were more than 500 such houses. So we were ready to host more people. We are currently trying to create comfortable living conditions so that people can live there. We are also preparing a project “mobile suitcase” to provide all the necessary services. Centers of administrative services are working. Shops, pharmacies, and hospitals are also working as usual.”
No one stays aside
The larger the community, the more responsibility local governments take. Of course, bigger communities have more capacity. That is why during the last month more than 125 thousand citizens passed through Khmelnytskyi. Currently, almost 26 thousand people chose this community as a long-term residence. People are accepted night and day, they are settled for free in educational establishments owned by the city council, volunteer centers, dormitories of educational establishments, hotels, etc.
Overall, in Khmelnytskyi, as well as in other communities, people are trying to create comfortable living conditions for IDPs and provide all the infrastructure they need. Thus, the deputy city head of Khmelnytskyi, Mykhailo Kryvak, tells that the key goals of the local government are to receive IDPs, provide them with free food, clothing, the necessary medical and psychological aid, and jobs. The community also created a headquarters to help displaced people, and residents and businesses actively participated in the creation of volunteer centers.
According to the deputy head of Khmelnytskyi, “The entire Khmelnytskyi community understands and sympathizes with people who fled the war. Almost every resident of the community donated money to charity funds. Many of them work in volunteer centers, help to prepare food for the military and displaced persons. For the Armed Forces of Ukraine and territorial defense, we collect humanitarian aid and provide all the assistance we can. Also, the Khmelnytskyi City Council is ready to join the state program to build new housing for IDPs.”
Why does local self-governance remain paramount in wartime?
Currently, some experts and MPs question whether local self-governance is viable under martial law. Some insist that local governments should be dissolved until the war ends, and MPs have already adopted draft bill #7153 (sponsored by the Servant of the People faction), which severely limits the powers of local governments. The argument in favor of such a decision is that it seems that local governments are not effective during wartime.
On the one hand, legislators granted the heads of communities not affected by active hostilities the right to make decisions at their own discretion. In particular, these may be decisions on changes to community budgets, creation of new executive bodies under the local council, management of communal property and communal enterprises, etc. Also, communities will be able to make decisions quickly since the Parliament suspended the effect of certain legal provisions that are in effect under martial law.
On the other hand, all decisions of local authorities are subject to constant supervision by military administrations. This means that community heads are now dependent on the heads of military administrations. Moreover, if a community head does not obediently carry out orders issued by the military administration, the local government is simply dispersed. New military administrations will replace local governments in such localities of the community.
Local governments are obviously not all-powerful. In order to win the war with Russia, all the authorities in our country must work together, in coordination, and in accordance with a plan. Undoubtedly, without direct interaction and cooperation with the state authorities, local governments cannot fight back against the enemy on their own. And they do not have such powers.
For this purpose, military command and military administrations at the level of raions and oblasts were formed after martial law was introduced. They replaced the pre-war raion and oblast state administrations. Their primary task at the moment is to manage defense issues, maintain public safety and order on the territory of the raions and oblasts of Ukraine.
In fact, local authorities cooperate with military administrations quite successfully. They execute the orders and perform the duties assigned to them and present a common front against the enemy. To illustrate that, here are the words of the secretary of the Liubeshiv village council, Yurii Bosniuk:
“We work in close cooperation with the military administration. Thank God, we have everything set up. The communication is excellent, we execute all its orders. It is a perfect situation: they hear us and we hear them. Accordingly, we organize and quickly execute all the orders concerning training, organizing, and ensuring the protection of our state.”
Therefore, the accusations that local governments are ineffective or inefficient are groundless. We all can see how well local authorities work in different communities. How they, together with citizens at the home front and at the frontline, resist imperial Russia. During a month of the full-scale war, local governments successfully passed the test and justified the trust given to them by citizens and state institutions.
It may seem that eight years of work of newly-created local governments is a lot. But in reality, this is only the beginning of the path to us becoming a strong and democratic state. We saw how fast local self-governance developed before the full-scale war, how it built up its financial capacity, and began effectively govern communities. This trend continues even in time of war. Therefore, we can only imagine how successful the further steps of the local self-governance will be after our common victory over the enemy.
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