Self-government on the front line
How the liberated parts of Donbas set up their territorial communities
The reforms of local government in Donetsk Oblast, despite military operations, are moving quite briskly, but not always productively: some cities and towns have merged into the new amalgamated territorial communities (ATCs), while others have not been given green light for various reasons. These include the reluctance of the rural population to unite with economically unstable towns, the inability to add settlements in which hostilities are continuing and the prospect of electing leaders for villages included in the new ATCs.
One of the pioneers of decentralisation in the Donbas and Ukraine overall was the Lyman community. This was an easy task: the 40 settlements governed by Petro Tsymydan since the post-merger election in November 2015 have been amalgamated since 1989. At that time, the county and its centre town participated in an experiment that concentrated all administrative functions in the town. As a result, the community only had to submit the documents in 2015 to set up an amalgamated territorial community and elect a head.
Lyman was one of the first places freed from the separatists. The town received substantial funds to restore infrastructure (including the overhaul of the local hospital to which part of the Donetsk Medical University was evacuated). Although Lyman was rather well prepared for the changes, expectations were very high. Nearly two years later, the first changes can be seen in the community. Officials report that in 2016 the Lyman Urban ATC received UAH 23.2 million in subsidies to build and develop social infrastructure, including the refurbishment of the Administrative Services Centre, the repair of water supply systems in villages and towns controlled by the Lyman Town Council, the renovation of a nursery school in Yarova and nine communal roads, and the purchase of specialised equipment for the local public utility company. The example of the community can quell the most common fears that schools will be closed after towns and villages merge: all existing schools were converted into Teaching and Learning Complexes, while a hub school has been established in the ATC centre town. In addition, at the end of 2016 Lyman opened the first Community Safety Centre in Ukraine, which is home to the State Emergency Service, ambulance and police. The regional budget contributed UAH 5.2 million to the project, and the head of the Donetsk Civil-Military Administration Pavlo Zhebrivskyi promised that such centres will be opened in each ATC of the region.
"I felt the changes through seemingly little things. For me as a displaced person, it was very inconvenient to go to social services in the town to solve the problems that arise almost constantly due to changes in legislation. After the community amalgamation, we have mobile consultations with specialists from different services on a regular timetable in each of the 12 village council areas. This is really convenient," says Maria, a mother of two children who moved to Lyman County from Horlivka, now in the occupied part of Donetsk Oblast.
Residents of the ATC that was established in December 2016 are still not entirely sure of the benefits or disadvantages. The Illinivka ATC brought together 9 village councils (25 settlements) in Kostiantynivka County with the centre in Illinivka. Other localities were not happy about this. Member of the Oleksandro-Kalynove Village Council Andriy Taraman shares his doubts: "You know, every village council has its own ambitions, but we were brought together and someone else was put in charge. Firstly, Illinivka is on the edge of the newly created territory. Secondly, one kilometre from the hub school established there now is another hub school in Kostiantynivka. In our school, which
THE REFORMS OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN DONETSK OBLAST, DESPITE MILITARY OPERATIONS, ARE MOVING QUITE BRISKLY, BUT NOT ALWAYS PRODUCTIVELY
is now a hub school, about 50% of the pupils are not from villages, but from the town. That means we have to pay for children from Kostiantynivka to study from our budget, while ours will have to travel through the entire county to get there. So I don't really understand why this is the case."
The young councillor, who was elected as a representative of the united community after demobilisation from the Armed Forces, told us about some positive changes: this year's budget already includes money for planning refurbishment of the Culture and Leisure Centre. This is very important, as his fellow villagers would like Oleksandro-Kalynove to become a cultural centre. A unique museum of Ukrainian culture and life has been created here and the village hosts the office of the Kleban Byk landscape park, which is located nearby. There are also plans to set up a Safety Centre in Oleksandro-Kalynove.