Emerg­ing com­mu­ni­ties:

How Donetsk Oblast re­ar­ranges it­self in the time of war

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Ye­lyza­veta Hon­charova, Bakhmut

De­cen­tral­i­sa­tion of Donetsk Oblast in the time of war

The process of trans­fer­ring real pow­ers to lo­cal gov­ern­ments has started across the coun­try, in­clud­ing in Donetsk Oblast. Three com­mu­ni­ties are al­ready op­er­at­ing there – Ly­man, Cherkaske and Zhovt­n­eve – for which elec­tions took place last year. Three more are be­ing founded now; polls there were sched­uled for mid-De­cem­ber. It is ex­pected that within a year 38 com­mu­ni­ties will be cre­ated with new rights and obli­ga­tions. How­ever, like al­most ev­ery­thing at the mo­ment in the Don­bas, these re­forms are be­ing im­ple­mented on a sort of mine­field. It needs to be crossed, but you never know whether some­thing will ex­plode un­der your boot, and whether you will sur­vive if it does...

Lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties are show­ing ini­tia­tive, but large changes can­not yet be felt: once again, re­forms are be­ing per­sis­tently im­posed from the top down. The head of the oblast Pavlo Zhe­brivskyi has al­ready tried both the car­rot and the stick. Dis­sat­is­fied with the speed of re­form in Donetsk Oblast towns and vil­lages, he be­gan to pub­li­cally threaten lo­cal au­thor­i­ties: he gave them a week to form plans and ap­point of­fi­cials re­spon­si­ble for de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion. He has hinted that he knows their­mo­tives, al­leg­ing that district and town heads are try­ing to hold on to their un­sta­ble po­si­tions and that busi­nesses do not want to lose the level of con­trol they are used to. Pre­sum­ably, this did not scare them too much, so Mr. Zhe­brivskyi started to travel around the oblast him­self and ex­plain the need for the for­ma­tion of new lo­cal gov­ern­ment units, which he im­me­di­ately wrote about on Facebook, where he re­cently cas­ti­gated those in power and busi­ness­men: “De­cen­tral­i­sa­tion in Donetsk Oblast is con­tin­u­ing. We are ac­tively pre­par­ing peo­ple for the for­ma­tion of united ter­ri­to­rial com­mu­ni­ties. I met ac­tivists in Kos­tiantynivka County to­day. Yes­ter­day, I had a sim­i­lar meet­ing in BakhmutCounty. Peo­ple re­ally need to be told about it, have it ex­plained and bro­ken down. There are many prob­lems. But we'll get it done.”

In­deed, there are too many prob­lems, but the most bizarre sit­u­a­tions can be found in the ma­jor cities of Donetsk Oblast: Kram­a­torsk, Slovyansk, Mar­i­upol and Bakhmut. De­cen­tral­i­sa­tion has stalled there, though the in­flu­ence of lo­cal non-gov­ern­men­tal and vol­un­teer or­gan­i­sa­tions is grow­ing. It turns out that com­munes have still not been formed not due to a short­age of ini­tia­tive. Bakhmut, for ex­am­ple, was re­fused as­so­ci­a­tion with other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and elec­tions due to the lack of an of­fi­cial de­ci­sion on chang­ing the boundaries of the city and county, com­pounded by an of­fi­cial's tech­ni­cal er­ror. So vot­ing was not even held there. In Kram­a­torsk, which was among the first to form a new ter­ri­to­rial as­so­ci­a­tion, a court in late 2015 over­turned the de­ci­sion to cre­ate thecom­mu­nity based on pro­ce­dural vi­o­la­tions, so the lo­cals elected their deputies and mayor un­der the old sys­tem. Are of­fi­cials re­ally lack­ing in the pro­fes­sion­al­ism to do ev­ery­thing le­gally or is it more the case that some peo­ple are very happy with the "com­mu­nity­less" sta­tus of towns and cities?

There are also more gen­eral causes of the slow­down: from sub­jec­tive ones, such as dis­trust in the gov­ern­ment or ap­a­thy be­cause of the war, to ob­jec­tive ones, such as the eco­nom­i­cally jus­ti­fied in­dus­trial con­glom­er­a­tions that are dif­fi­cult to re­shape. Shap­ing a new com­mu­nity is one thing for a few vil­lages in a ru­ral area, and another thing for towns and vil­lages in the in­dus­trial Don­bas Oblast, which has very spe­cific ad­min­is­tra­tive ar­range­ments. For ex­am­ple, Cha­siv Yar, which pre­vi­ously held the un­clear sta­tus of "satel­lite town", is vainly try­ing to be­come in­de­pen­dent by merg­ing with nearby vil­lages.

"We are now at a very dif­fi­cult stage in our devel­op­ment, which is linked to de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion. To cre­ate a com­mu­nity, we must be­come a county town. For al­most six months, this has been caus­ing a force ma­jeure sit­u­a­tion in all ar­eas: the trans­fer of fund­ing, premises and or­gan­i­sa­tions from the town to the county. We are ren­o­vat­ing the fu­ture hub school. The vil­lages cov­ered by the Ka­lynivka Ru­ral Coun­cil have al­ready been en­gaged in the as­so­ci­a­tion. Mean­while, the vil­lages that are now sub­or­di­nate to the Kos­tiantynivkaCoun­ty­won’t give their con­sent. The lead­er­ship of the county has the same at­ti­tude, want­ing to keep the vil­lages for it­self. Both the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and Cha­siv Yar ac­tivists have met with vil­lagers and ex­plained why we havesug­gested


form­ing a com­mu­nity to­gether. Un­for­tu­nately, peo­ple don't want to hear plans for joint ef­forts. In­stead, they want prom­ises that some­one is go­ing to come and make things bet­ter," says Cha­siv Yar mayor Olha Opanasenko.

And it re­ally is hard to make prom­ises in Cha­siv Yar. In neigh­bour­ing Soledar, which is home to sev­eral ma­jor em­ploy­ers, in­clud­ing Artem­sil (Ar­ty­omsol), a salt plant, eight vil­lage coun­cils have de­cided to merge and elected their deputies and mayor on De­cem­ber 18. By con­trast,Cha­siv Yar is a typ­i­cal case of a town where lo­cal bosses have no wish to change any­thing. The long-term mas­ter of Cha­siv Yar’s clay quarry, Va­len­tyn Lukyanov (fa­ther of in­fa­mous Party of Re­gions mem­ber Vla­dyslav Lukyanov) wages a con­stant war for his re­sources (which he in fact leases from the state) and blocks al­most all com­mu­nity ini­tia­tives. He ar­gues that, "This is all a clay pit, and there won't be a town here soon!" Clay is

ex­tracted day and night for ex­port and the once prof­itable fac­tory now barely func­tions, as even its pro­duc­tion premises were sac­ri­ficed for the quarry.

Can de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion be con­sid­ered a safety de­vice against own­ers that use state power for their own eco­nomic am­bi­tions? It is still too early to say, given the cur­rent ma­tu­rity stage of civil so­ci­ety, par­tic­u­larly in the Don­bas. In or­der to un­der­stand who to select as their com­mu­nity lead­ers and why, peo­ple need to feel the im­pact of their choices: once de­cen­tralised, com­mu­ni­ties will hardly be able to blame any­one from out­side for their lo­cal sit­u­a­tion. It is still nec­es­sary to cul­ti­vate re­spon­si­ble, ac­tive and qual­i­fied man­agers for lead­er­ship po­si­tions. This takes time. Is there time dur­ing war? Civic ac­tivists who work on Don­bas de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion do not see a prob­lem in the fact that the re­forms are tak­ing place now. They say that the war is push­ing peo­ple to be ac­tive and in­volved, so changes will take place quickly.

"Be­fore the Maidan and the war, I, for one, had no in­her­ent idea of where my home­land was. Be­cause I was born in the Soviet Union, which doesn't ex­ist any­more, and I didn't feel any­thing else. Now I know for sure that my home­land is Ukraine. So war is not only about pain, it's also a chance to bring peo­ple to­gether. In par­tic­u­lar, com­mu­ni­ties, which is what de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion is ba­si­cally about," says Oleh Kucherov, an ex­pert on de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion who works in Donetsk Oblast as part of the EU project Sup­port for Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Re­form in Ukraine.

Ac­cord­ing to Oleh, mis­takes are, un­for­tu­nately, in­evitable: for ex­am­ple, com­mu­ni­ties can emerge that are un­vi­able for what­ever rea­son, or lo­cal power bro­kers can be “crowned” to usurp power. Suc­cess is in­evitable – the coun­try does not have another op­tion. But only un­der cer­tain con­di­tions, Oleh says: "We need to bet­ter in­form dif­fer­ent seg­ments of the pop­u­la­tion, not just the ed­u­cated and ac­tive ci­ti­zens, so that there will be a crit­i­cal mass of those who un­der­stand why it is nec­es­sary to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for their lives into their own hands. At the mo­ment, it's the same as al­ways: civil ser­vants, teach­ers, doc­tors and li­brar­i­ans are in­vited to the var­i­ous train­ing ses­sions and meet­ings – in a word, pub­lic em­ploy­ees. Their main ques­tion is whether they will lose their jobs and whether there will be staff re­duc­tions. Mean­while, the fun­da­men­tal changes that de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion pro­vides for com­mu­ni­ties are left with­out the nec­es­sary at­ten­tion. It means not only more rights, but also more re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. If some­thing does not work out, it will no longer be pos­si­ble to blame ‘Kyiv which doesn't give us any­thing’, as peo­ple are used to be­ing told.”

We have man­aged to find one atyp­i­cal bot­tom-ini­tia­tive in Donetsk Oblast. Two vil­lage coun­cils in Zvanivka and Verkhniokamyanske re­fused to join a pro­posed com­mu­nity with the county cap­i­tal Siversk and de­cided to merge on their own. A de­pres­sive city with­out op­er­at­ing fac­to­ries, but with so­cial in­fra­struc­ture, and just about the wealth­i­estvil­lage coun­cils in the county could not find any com­mon ground. Af­ter a visit from the oblast head, the fu­ture com­mu­nity, which is home to many na­tives of Western Ukraine (re­set­tled in the post-WWII pe­riod) who do not want to lose their iden­tity, was given a year to draw up a clear and pre­cise devel­op­ment plan. It has not yet been de­cided how to deal with the prob­lem of in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal re­la­tions: only com­mu­ni­ties ap­proved by a Long-term Plan will switch over to this sys­tem. The cur­rent plan con­tains no men­tion of such a com­mu­nity. Per­haps the fi­nan­cial power of the as­so­ci­a­tion will be too low to de­velop the ter­ri­tory, although lo­cal au­thor­i­ties could, for in­stance, per­suade their fel­low vil­lagers to bring their live­stock busi­ness out of the "grey" econ­omy in or­der to fill the lo­cal trea­sury and en­sure mu­tual devel­op­ment. Nev­er­the­less, some changes are al­ready vis­i­ble. To­day, one of these coun­cils is led by a young lo­cal deputy, who is build­ing grandiose projects along­side vil­lage ac­tivists: from cre­at­ing a lo­cal pub­lic util­ity ser­vice provider and up­grad­ing the wa­ter sup­ply sys­tem to re­con­struct­ing the nurs­ery school. The main thing is that the po­ten­tial com­mu­nity’s plans do not talk about how much money they need to ask for, but how they can earn for the com­mon cause.

One other wide­spread mes­sage is that greater­power of com­mu­ni­ties to ad­dress their own is­sues may lead to the mu­ta­tion of de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion into a ma­lig­nant tu­mour of sep­a­ratism, es­pe­cially in the Don­bas. But the first ques­tion here is, did the "strong hand" of the pre­vi­ous au­thor­i­ties pre­vent sep­a­ratism in 2014, or did they thus cause it? Se­condly, when the lead­ers of towns and coun­ties are forced to go cap in hand to Kyiv (and prob­a­bly not empty-handed) in or­der to get fund­ing for schools or road main­te­nance, does this not it­self give rise to thoughts about secession? There­fore, although the de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion of the Don­bas still con­ceals many hid­den sur­prises, it is just start­ing to change peo­ple's at­ti­tudes to­wards their own ac­tivism and the au­thor­i­ties. It is hardly worth ex­pect­ing a pow­er­ful ex­plo­sion from it. At least for now.

Mo­ti­va­tion tours. Head of Oblast Pavlo Zhe­brivskyi trav­els to coun­ties, towns and vil­lages in Donetsk Oblast to ex­plain why de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion makes sense

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