Euractiv | Ukraine’s battle for civic services as war rages

11 mars 2024

(This article was published by Xhoi Zajmi on on 8 March 2024)

Ukrainian municipalities battle locally to keep contact with citizens and ensure services continue, despite continuous shelling. Municipal representatives spoke with Euractiv, telling their civic story as Ukraine enters its third year since the Russian invasion.

Last winter, more than 50 per cent of Ukraine’s power infrastructure was reportedly damaged, resulting in power outages and contributing to shortages of food, heating, and water.

“In certain periods of the winter of 2022-2023, outages were frequent and long. The enemy constantly attacked power plants, forcing people to be left without electricity for days and sometimes weeks,” said Novomoskovsk Mayor Serhii Rieznik.

Semenivka Mayor Serhii Dedenko described a similar situation even this year.

“Currently, power outages are caused by shelling. Wherever possible, faults are repaired as quickly as possible, but there are villages that have been without electricity for several months.”

However, Dedenko spoke of a better level of preparedness, explaining that, “In terms of outages, this winter was easier than the previous one. We bought generators and fuel, and donors provided us with them, but, thank God, we did not need them.”

Keeping the lights on

Liudmyla Biriukova, mayor of Velyka Pysarivka, also supported this statement but mentioned some 500 out of the 10,000 inhabitants of her municipality have been without electricity since May 2023.

“I do not know how to deal with this. We wrote, called, met, talked, consulted, but everyone understands that it is impossible to go to a territory almost 500 metres from the border without risking one’s life.”

According to World Bank estimates, the Ukrainian energy sector has sustained $12 billion in damages over two years.

Despite extensive damages, including the destruction of residential buildings, and agricultural and industrial property, local authorities have continued to provide services to their citizens.

Reduced staffing

Administrative services in Velyka Pysarivka are provided in person and remotely. While almost 3,000 people have fled the municipality, also leading to reduced staff, Biriukova said there are plans to expand services.

“Despite the war, we are trying to add new administrative services so that the residents feel that they are not left alone with their problems.”

Meanwhile, Novomoskovsk residents are kept informed during emergencies through warning systems and social media that the municipality utilises. Rieznik said a contact centre is being established for further communication.

“All services work in a coordinated manner and continue to provide to the residents in full. We have already developed a number of practices that we are gradually implementing.”

In Semenivka, “Ambulances reach people, mail goes to villages, pensions are delivered and clerks work locally. If needed, we ask the military to provide security,” explained Dedenko.

However, difficulties remain.

“Our main problem is the lack of security. We personally cannot do anything to make people feel safe in the municipality. People are leaving, business is on the verge of destruction,” said Dedenko. “We hope for the state’s help because we definitely cannot cope on our own.”

City of refuge

Rieznik explained that the war has hit local self-government hard as the city became a refuge for internally displaced persons.

“At the end of 2023, we faced the withdrawal of military personal income tax from the local budget. Our resources are now running out and we have to look for opportunities to support the military,” he added.

“Our biggest problem is filling the budget,” added Biriukova. “A five-kilometre zone where there is virtually no land cultivated by agricultural enterprises means that we will not be able to pay a single tax, and we will also lose personal income tax on shares.”

On the second anniversary of the war, the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) reaffirmed its commitment to support the Ukrainian people and their local and regional elected representatives in their pursuit of victory, peace and reconstruction.

Asked about efforts to empower local and regional governments in Ukraine, President Gunn Marit Helgesen explained, “CEMR has been supporting municipalities through its PLATFORMA project since 2015. Since March 2021, CEMR and its members have also been implementing the Bridges of Trust project.”

Helgesen, who is also chairwoman of the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (KS), added, “We are very worried about our colleagues and all the citizens of Ukraine. The KS works actively to help Ukrainian municipalities, and to contribute to reconstruction and development in Ukraine. We condemn the war, which affects innocent civilians and which has led to so much suffering and destruction.”

Despite everything, authorities continue to work.

“Our task is to support life and make people want to stay. No matter how sad it may sound, we have learnt to live with the war and respond quickly to daily challenges,” concluded Rieznik.

*All the municipalities mentioned in the article are members of the Association of Ukrainian Cities (AUC), which advocates for the rights of Ukrainian municipalities.

[By Xhoi Zajmi I Edited by Brian Maguire]

S'inscrire à la newsletter