The interview was conducted by Iryna Dudka,
Regional Coordinator of PLEDDG Project in Poltava Oblast
– Recently I have come across a video, created by a local TV-radio company, proclaiming that “Kremenchuk is the best city”. After three minutes of watching it you come to realize that such an ambitious statement is absolutely valid, and that Kremenchuk indeed has this special talent to combine the rhythm of a modern industrial center with the harmony of the surrounding world. What efforts have been made to achieve such a result, as obviously it did not appear by itself?
– I could give a lot of examples of concerted efforts of different parts of the Kremenchuk community – local authorities, engaged and proactive residents, employees of municipal services. We are not waiting for “manna from heaven”, since we want to live in a civilized, comfortable, and safe city now, instead of waiting for our city to become such in the distant future. We always consider the needs and demands of different categories of Kremechuk’s population and try to do everything possible to make sure that Kremenchuk residents feel comfortable in their city from birth to old age.
We always look for the ways to engage and encourage city residents to cooperate with the city authorities. For example, this year traditional spring cleaning in the city got a new lease of life when it was turned into an all-city pomegranate toloka (a gathering of people for voluntary work for the benefit of the community). On the one hand, we continue old traditions – getting all residents together for communal work; on the other hand, we try to give it a new, modern meaning. We hear a lot about participation as citizen engagement. Though we mainly talk about participatory budgeting, there is also participatory management. And the notion “participation”, suggested by the French psychologist Lévy-Bruhl over a century ago, was key to researches of social relationships. France has vast experience of searching for the best model and the best correlation between representative and direct democracy.
– I have noticed creative billboards about toloka in interesting color reproduction put all over the city.
– Yes, we decided to add a new pomegranate color, which bears energy and strength in itself. Thousands of Kremenchuk residents came to the toloka to clean, plant, paint, including in pomegranate color, put everything in order, decorate. I myself joined in the toloka and enjoyed the process very much. The city we live in has to radiate optimism.
A pomegranate color can be found on our new municipal trolleybuses. Produced in Ukraine, the trolleybuses will be purchased with money from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. In December 2016, the utility enterprise “Kremenchuk Trolleybus Management” and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development signed an implementation agreement for the project “City Transport Rehabilitation in Kremenchuk”, the project totaling €8 million. Furthermore, a grant worth €2 million was given to the city by the Eastern Europe Energy Efficiency and Environment Partnership Fund. We are planning to fully upgrade our trolleybus fleet. 50 low-floor trolleybuses, including 10 autonomous vehicles, will start operating in the city. Also, we plan to restore the trolleybus system on the right bank of the city.
– As you already mentioned participatory budgeting, I would like to go into more detail and ask you what participatory budgeting means for the city?
– Participatory, or let’s use a more familiar term for us – public budget, is a relatively new thing for Kremenchuk. Nevertheless, after two years we are ready to share our experience with other cities. The international technical assistance project “Partnership for Local Economic Development and Democratic Governance” (PLEDDG) helped us make a successful start by securing the help of another international project that specializes in participatory budgeting – PAUCI. We got to the bottom of nuances and practices of participatory budgeting, and added a bit of our experience, having adapted international experience to suit our needs and conditions. In order to distribute resources of public budget equally, the city was divided into 11 sectors. In each sector a separate call for public projects was announced. This way there is no unjustified competition and inequality in the use of financial resources, and residents from each city district can concentrate on the development of a project that is needed for their particular district.
We can see that the projects submitted by city residents are becoming better with every announced call for projects. So, it makes sense to increase the amount of public budget. There are certainly positive outcomes of the implementation of various public initiatives through public budget, so every year we will be increasing municipal expenses associated with public budget. We started with public budget totaling 1 million UAH, and this year we are planning to triple the amount. Interestingly, the implemented public projects provide the basis for the creation of housing cooperatives. The tangible results of common efforts motivate city residents to continue working together to improve their districts.
– Can we say that our civil society, step by step, is moving away from paternalism towards self-governance?
– Yes, we are moving this way together. We learn to listen to each other, take different positions into account, respect other people’s opinions, count on ourselves, and not to be indifferent. Changing people’s mentality is the most difficult thing. But I see how, for example, young people react to current challenges, and it becomes obvious that we have great prospects ahead of us. Kremenchuk has a long history of a strong youth movement.
– You yourself also began your professional career with a youth organization?
– Yes, and even now I feel a certain connection with young people, especially now that the World Health Organization officially reviewed its standard age classifications so that every person under 44 years old is officially considered young.
Kremenchuk can be really proud of its approach to work with the youth of the city. Kremenchuk Youth Parliament has been active in the city for nearly 20 years already, being an advisory body for the City Council and uniting the most proactive young people in our city.
Our youth campaigns “Heart to heart”, “St Nikolas for kids”, a festival “Extreme zone”, and the International Youth Forum are well known throughout Ukraine. The implementation of the youth policy in Kremenchuk and partnership cooperation between the city council and youth non-governmental associations are considered to be among the best in Ukraine. This is proved by positive ratings assigned to us by the United Nations Population Fund in Ukraine. Kremenchuk is the only city where this international institution cooperates directly with local government, and our local youth policy is presented as an example to follow for other Ukrainian cities. Last year at a conference organized by Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Office of the United Nations Population Fund, a presentation on successful practices of implementation of youth policy at the local level based on Kremenchuk’s example was made.
Our city pays a lot of attention to the organization of meaningful leisure activities for young people. Pre-school educational establishments are funded from the city budget, so parents do not have to pay for classes. Only a small number of Ukrainian cities boast children’s and youth clubs that operate according to the place of residence principle. In Kremenchuk more than 30 children’s and youth clubs operate in every city district. More so, the Club of Young Sailors “Garde-marine” even has its own fleet!
– It is good to see that forward planning is again becoming the norm for us. However, force majeure often makes its corrections. The memory of this year’s winter, which was a great municipal challenge, is still fresh in our mind. Pictures of snowed-up roads in most Ukrainian cities didn’t leave social networks for many weeks in a row…How was Kremenchuk handling this winter’s challenge?
– Indeed, for a lot of cities this winter and late spring with its heavy snowfalls, and then melting of the snow, became a big challenge. Kremenchuk was no exception: it received its fair share of snow, not smaller than that of our neighbors, but thanks to joint efforts the city went through that difficult period without any collapses. When it was snowing heavily, we were busy removing snow from streets, driveways, patios, entrances to residential buildings with snow removal equipment. For that purpose, we used not only communal equipment but also the private one. A special tractor was assigned to each district to remove snow from yards. All communal services worked 24 hours, but most of the time we tried to work at night so that in the morning our residents had no difficulty getting to work, hospital, kindergarten etc.
Moreover, the winter brought popularity and recognition to Kremenchuk once again! Our New Year tree, installed in the central square, was voted the best in Ukraine! We decided to organize festivities in European fashion, so we applied a number of technical and organizational innovations. Kremenchuk’s residents liked our modern New Year tree, the way the central square was illuminated, the Christmas village.
– Speaking further about international assistance, the city has certain experience of cooperation with various international projects and international institutions. What goals do you set, and do you manage to achieve them?
– Let’s be honest, so far Ukraine has received considerably less support than Poland some years ago. This is the case if we take into account the financial aspect. But no money will be given to support local development until the society itself and authorities are ready to manage significant amounts of money allocated for the purpose of advancing local development. And here our aspirations to make changes are of crucial importance.
Kremenchuk has vast experience of working with international institutions. Since the beginning of this year the public utility enterprise “Kremenchuk Center for International Relations and City Economic Development “Kremenchuk Invest” hosted as many as 12 foreign delegations. Every such visit is then followed by long-term cooperation in the economic, cultural, and educational fields.
This year for the first time in Ukraine Kremenchuk will be hosting the Year of the Lithuanian Republic. This is an extremely important event, full of activities and bilateral contacts between representatives of business community and local government from Lithuania and Ukraine.
I would also like to talk about the project which I’ve mentioned already and which you represent in Poltava Oblast, that is PLEDDG Project, which is implemented in Ukraine by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and funded by Global Affairs Canada.
With the help from PLEDDG Project, in the last two years we developed and approved a strategy for city development until 2028 and plan for its implementation for the coming three years, conducted a strategic environmental assessment, developed and approved the Export Promotion Program for City of Kremenchuk, introduced public budget and Open City Platform.
In fact, these basic documents and instruments of democratic development constitute a road map for the city, help conduct an audit of our own resources, as well as shape our development agenda. With our aspirations growing, we will always be in need of money. But it is realistic to try and define the important, achievable activities that are our first priority for the successful development of our city.
With the financial grant from PLEDDG Project, in line with the Project’s democratic governance component, we purchased equipment for the International Information Center and equipment for a local administrative center (TSNAP) worth 400 000 UAH.
By the way, Kremenchuk’s TSNAP is among the top three administrative centers in our country. Kremenchuk was the second city in Ukraine to start issuing biometric passports through a TSNAP and the first to exempt certain categories of population from administrative fees for the issuance of a passport in the form of an ID card.
Also, PLEDDG Project will allocate over 1.5 million UAH in support of small and medium business development. One of the projects under this component, which is about getting Kremenchuk-made goods to foreign markets, is reaching its final stage of approval.
Apart from that, Kremenchuk benefits a lot from training sessions that we are receiving as part of PLEDDG Project, as well as from participating in PLEDDG-organized study tours to other countries. Representatives from our city several times took part in study tours to Poland. We would love to go on a study tour to Canada as well, as it will be quite a different example of democratic development and new experience.
In a couple of days Kremenchuk will be hosting an international business forum “International Cooperation: Building the Future Together”. We expect a lot of guests: the Forum will be really international, as it is supported by the Embassies of Canada, Lithuania and Poland to Ukraine. Representatives of these three countries, as well as of Bulgaria, are to take part in the Forum. PLEDDG Project supports our city not only through financial grants but also provides organizational support to the city.
As you can see, the list is pretty long! So international assistance of such kind is extremely important for us.
Decentralization reform is well underway in Ukraine. This reform can be successful only provided local authorities are held accountable. Experts from Transparency International Ukraine and Political Education Institute assigned transparency ratings to 100 major Ukrainian cities under the project “Building Transparent Cities”. Kremenchuk is among the top 10 most transparent cities by 91 indicators in thirteen spheres. The financial and budget spheres, public procurement, housing and municipal services policy, education, social services, communication with residents etc. were the criteria. It is a positive evaluation of our work and proof that we have chosen the right way to achieve Kremenchuk’s development.