Challenges and resistance of Ukrainian communities
This article presents an analysis of the challenges faced by Ukrainian communities since the beginning of russian aggression and their solutions at the national and local levels. The analysis is based on an empirical study that was conducted among heads of Ukrainian communities, experts using a semi-structured in-depth interview during September-October 2022 (total number of interviews – 17).
On February 24, 2022, at about 5 a.m., russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Russian troops began shelling units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, crossed the northeastern borders, and launched missile strikes on airfields and weapons depots almost throughout Ukraine.
Since that time, every Ukrainian community, every resident of Ukraine has been carrying out heroic resistance to Russian aggression. Every citizen defends Ukraine on his front, despite the almost daily shelling of residential neighborhoods and infrastructure, missile attacks, which kills thousands of peaceful Ukrainians.
The war with russia has been going on for more than 8 years, starting with its annexation of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol in 2014 and their illegal incorporation into russia.
Since then, fierce fighting has continued in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and since February 2022, fighting has also unfolded in Kyiv region, Kharkiv, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Poltava, and Dnipropetrovsk regions.
In April 2022, the territory of Kyiv region was liberated from the russian invaders. As of November 2022, part of the communities of nine oblasts of Ukraine – Donetsk, Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhya, Kherson, Mykolaiv, Sumy, Chernihiv – are located in the areas of hostilities or are under temporary occupation, encirclement (blockade).
The full-scale invasion of russia forced many Ukrainians to leave their homes. According to the Ministry of Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine, about 7 million people are internally displaced persons. During October 2022, about 18,000 Ukrainians were evacuated from dangerous regions, temporarily occupied and de-occupied territories.
Evacuation rates are especially high on the eve of winter. Mandatory evacuation continues in some regions, in particular the Donetsk region. In total, about 1.1 million civilians were evacuated from this territory. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 4 million Ukrainians are in European countries for temporary protection.
The presence of such a large number of people who were forced to leave their homes depends on the lack of normal conditions for life.
According to the Kyiv School of Economics, as a result of infrastructure destruction due to the full-scale invasion of the russian federation, Ukraine has already lost more than 127 billion dollars (this is the total amount of direct documented losses to residential and non-residential real estate, other infrastructure of Ukraine as of September 2022).
The largest share in the total amount of losses belongs to the housing stock – 39.7%. As of September 2022, since the beginning of russia’s war against Ukraine, at least 616 administrative buildings, 978 medical facilities, including 24 private health care facilities, 1,270 schools, 786 kindergartens, 775 cultural facilities, 80 religious buildings, 149 tourism facilities, and 153 sports facilities, 2,910 retail outlets, 19 airports and civil airfields, 110 railway stations, 315 bridges and overpasses of state, local or communal importance, 10 thermal power plants are damaged, destroyed or captured.
The existing problems caused by russian aggression concern first and foremost every city, town, and village. It is these consolidated communities that primarily experience problems and are forced to respond to them, because the functioning of the state body is impossible without this.
Who are Ukrainian communities?
The decentralization reform, which began to be implemented in Ukraine in 2014 with the adoption of the Concept of Local Self-Government Reform at the legislative level, is one of the forms of democratic governance. After local elections in 2020, as of today, there are 1,469 communities in Ukraine, formed by merging villages, towns, and cities.
The legally established goal of decentralization is the optimization of regional development through quick response to citizens’ requests, solving local problems. This is due to the fact that all necessary services (medical, educational, social, administrative, etc.) are at the basic level – in the community.
Since the beginning of the decentralization reform, the administrative and territorial system has changed, that is, the number of districts has decreased (from 490 to 136), the names of some settlements, streets, etc. have changed.
With the beginning of the full-scale russian invasion to Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Ukrainian communities faced new challenges. On the first day of the full-scale invasion, Russian troops tried to launch an attack on Kyiv through small towns and villages in the north-eastern direction of Ukraine.
Therefore, the communities, together with the Armed Forces of Ukraine, from the very first day cooperated with their forces at the local level and fought to prevent the russian troops from reaching Kyiv. russia was not ready for such resistance from Ukrainians, because both military formations and civilians and volunteers joined the defense of their territories.
Therefore, Ukrainian communities are a small organism that has a global impact. And the role of every city, town, village is important during the russian war against Ukraine.
What challenges did the communities face?
The conducted empirical research made it possible to identify the main challenges for communities and methods of solving these challenges:
- The management structure of the regions has changed. Military administrations were established in the regions as temporary bodies during the martial law period, which coordinate martial law measures on the ground, budget distribution processes, provision of humanitarian aid, restoration of necessary infrastructure, and provision of basic services in territories affected by hostilities.
- Therefore, in connection with legislative changes at the management level, communities had to adapt to new conditions, closer interaction with state authorities, international partners.
- The horizontal management line has strengthened. Intermunicipal cooperation between communities became more active, and community associations became more institutionally capable. Communities jointly solve problems of local importance: infrastructure restoration, provision of services to internally displaced persons, provision of materials for the restoration of affected areas, etc.
- Such interaction is also manifested in helping neighboring communities. For example, the delivery drinking water from community from the rear to the communities where the infrastructure is destroyed and which is located in the blockade.
- International cooperation has strengthened. This concerns the direct cooperation of Ukrainian cities and towns with sister cities. Communication takes place directly between cities without the involvement of central authorities.
- Creation and staffing of resistance forces in communities. This concerns the formation of territorial defense, volunteer battalions. These communities were formed to protect cities, towns, and villages, and in the first days of the invasion of the russian federation, together with the forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, they prevented the enemy from advancing further through the territory of Ukraine.
- Prompt creation of volunteer headquarters. Volunteers provide all necessary assistance to both civilians and military personnel. They were active in providing territorial defense with everything necessary: food, medical supplies, body armor, etc. In addition, volunteers are involved in the delivery of humanitarian aid with their vehicles to war zones.
- Provision of necessary services to internally displaced persons. The presence of a large number of people who were forced to leave their homes depends on the lack of normal conditions for life. In this regard, processes of displacement of people affect both host communities and communities from which people leave.
- For the host communities, the challenge is primarily related to the fact that it is necessary to provide services not only to the residents of the communities, but also to internally displaced persons, which requires additional resources (financial, human, infrastructural) and coordination.
The outlined challenges and problems are solved promptly by all actors – both state authorities and local authorities, residents. It was thanks to the synergy of efforts that it was possible to repulse the enemy in the first days of a full-scale invasion.
Ukraine continues to fight for freedom and today, the issues of return of temporarily occupied territories, restoration of Ukrainian statehood in de-occupied territories, return of Ukrainians who were forcibly left abroad, and ensuring the viability of communities remain relevant for Ukrainian society.
The economic component, the influx of investors and external resources, the employment of the population, the availability of the necessary infrastructure, and the functioning of business also depend on this.
[Writer Tetiana Lukeria : She is a sociologist, research and policy analyst, member at International Sociological Association. Main scientific and research interests: decentralization, effective governance, political sociology – Editor, Mahabahu]
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