Lviv’s garbage pile-up reeks of politics, mismanagement
This summer the aroma from Lviv’s famous coffee houses is mixed with a much less pleasant smell: garbage.
That’s because for many months, Ukraine’s unofficial western capital, which has a population of more than 700,000 people, has been drowning in waste after its only landfill shut down.
While the city center, popular with tourists, remains clean, residential neighborhoods are dotted by piles of waste. In some places, the waste hasn’t been picked up for weeks because there’s nowhere to take it to.
One such pile is close to the house of Liudmila Bartko, a 48-year-old living on Kastelivka Street in the northwest part of the city. The waste exudes a sickening stink, attracting rats and flies.
“When I was taking out my garbage today I was terrified,” Bartko told the Kyiv Post on June 28. “The trash is all black with flies, they’re everywhere. And the summer heat is upon us.”
The city has had big problems dealing with its waste since its only, massively overfilled landfill had to shut down after a deadly fire in May 2016. Three people were killed when a mountainous heap of trash collapsed during the fire.
Landfills in other cities mostly refused to accept Lviv’s trash, with the local authorities saying they are overfilled too. As a result, heaps of waste have been left on the streets for weeks, rotting and stinking.
However, in late June utility services, working around-the-clock, started to clean up piles of trash all over the city. The reason was that Lviv City Administration on June 23 voted to transfer control over the disposal of domestic solid waste to Lviv Oblast State Administration. The landfills in Lviv Oblast then finally agreed to accept Lviv’s trash.
Many say that the real reason of the crisis was not overfilled dumps, but political games.
Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi claims that the government has been ordering other cities to refuse to take Lviv’s trash in order to put political pressure on himself and his political party Samopomich, which has 26 seats in parliament and has declared itself to be in opposition to the government.
Government officials, in their turn, accuse the mayor, who has headed the city for 11 years, of long-running mismanagement that has led to environmental disaster.
Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman is the biggest critic of Sadovyi, condemning him for mismanaging the waste issue.
During a Cabinet of Ministers meeting on June 14, Groysman apologized to the people of Lviv “for the fact that for the last 11 years Sadovyi hasn’t done his job properly.”
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko during the meeting of National Security Council on March 15 also blamed Sadovyi.
“Sadovyi filled one of the most beautiful, European cities of Ukraine with garbage,” the president said.
Local politicians also blame Sadovyi for the city’s waste problems. One such critic is Lviv City Council member Ihor Zinkevych.
Zinkevych, who’s been monitoring the waste problem closely, recalls that Sadovyi promised to shut down the problematic Hrybovytske landfill, the city’s only waste site, back in 2004 when he was launching his first mayoral campaign. When he got elected in 2006, the promise remained unfulfilled.
The landfill was only shut down 10 years later, in 2016, due to the deadly fire.
According to Sadovyi’s deputy, Andriy Moskalenko, Lviv City Administration has been working on the waste problem since 2009. They cooperated with the World Bank and European Investment Bank to build a garbage recycling plant, which would be the first such plant in Ukraine.
But they have yet to get anywhere with it, because “the initiative required too much time and paperwork,” according to Moskalenko.
Meanwhile, Lviv continued to use its only, already overfilled landfill. Moskalenko says the city authorities had no choice.
“If we closed the landfill in 2008– 2009, we would have had to send Lviv’s garbage to dumps that were in as bad a condition as the one we intended to close,” says Moskalenko, adding that the absence of a garbage recycling plant is a national, not regional problem.
Sadovyi still claims that the real reason for the city’s suffering is dirty politics. He insists that top Ukrainian officials, including Poroshenko and Groysman, imposed a “trash blockade” on Lviv, preventing the city from transporting its garbage elsewhere, to put pressure on Sadovyi’s Samopomich party.
Samopomich used to be in the ruling coalition with Poroshenko’s party and People’s Front party until quitting it in early 2016 and going into opposition, depriving the governing coalition of much needed votes. Samopomich lawmakers have since often been among the toughest critics of the president and the government.
According to Sadovyi, he received 229 refusals in his 495 appeals to regional and local authorities to allow Lviv’s garbage in their landfills. Copies of these refusals have been published on the Lviv City Council website.
Lviv finally began to clean up its garbage on June 23 when utility services started to remove the piles of trash all over the city.
By July 4, about 4,550 tons, or 70 percent of the excess garbage had been transferred to landfills around Lviv region.
The progress followed the ruling by the city authorities to hand the control over domestic waste disposal to Lviv Oblast Administration, which is subordinate to the central authorities in Kyiv.
Oleh Synyutka, head of Lviv Oblast Administration, claims that local landfills refused to accept Lviv’s garbage because Sadovyi “didn’t communicate properly” with the authorities in other cities.
Synyutka accuses Sadovyi of failing to communicate with local activists in the cities that he asked to accept the waste, so when the 10-ton garbage trucks arrived, the activists started blocking entrances to the dumps.
“People deserve an explanation for why they should accept Lviv’s garbage,” says Synyutka.
He says he personally talked to heads of city administrations, activists, politicians in 10 different cities to persuade them to take in the garbage.
However, Sadovyi managed to negotiate delivery of Lviv’s garbage with authorities of several cities, too. For instance, Novoyavorivsk dump in Lviv Oblast accepts 40 tons of domestic solid waste from Lviv daily.
Still, the garbage crisis has stained Sadovyi’s reputation.
While last year Sadovyi polled third among potential presidential candidates, according to a survey by the Rating Sociology Group, by this year he had dropped to eighth place.
Political analyst Vitaliy Bala says the situation for Sadovyi unfolded “in a very ghastly way.” Before the garbage crisis, Lviv’s mayor had had a much better chance in the presidential election scheduled for 2019, as his party promoted itself as a new type of a modern political force.
“For Sadovyi and his party, the whole situation is not a knockout, but a very serious political knockdown,” Bala said.
Waste collectors pick up trash on a street in Lviv on June 27. The city has been struggling with waste overflow after its only landfill had to shut down in 2016. The garbage was often left on the streets for many weeks. (Volodymyr Petrov)
Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi gives an interview in Lviv on June 27. Sadovyi has taken a lot of criticism for the city’s garbage crisis. The mayor says his political foes created the problem. (Courtesy of Lviv City Council)