Special Project: Mayor of Chervonohrad: The most effective way to communicate with IDPs is the desire to help people
Exclusive interview with the head of the Chervonograd community, Andrii Zalivskyi, as part of the joint special project of the Interfax-Ukraine news agency and East Europe Foundation “Community Experience”. The objective is to show the best examples of adaptation and integration of forcibly displaced persons in order to increase the efficiency of the work of local self-government bodies.
Read more about effective interaction with IDPs in the free online course “Adaptation and integration of IDPs: experience and opportunities” on the educational “Zrozumilo!” platform.
How did you prepare your city for the great war? What short- and long-term action plans did you have and to what extent were they implemented?
Initially, we worked on protection of civilians - we prepared shelters for the residents of the community. Besides that, we actively cooperated with the territorial defense - we tried to fulfill the tasks set before us by the management of the TRO. In particular, the commander of the 103rd Territorial Defense Brigade came to us and we inspected the location where the TRO troops were supposed to be stationed. They also worked on the creation of voluntary civilian formations.
On February 21 , heads of communities were invited to the Security Forum in Kyiv regarding the matter of territorial defense. After returning from the capital, I understood that something would start soon, so we began the work immediately. I set three goals for myself: assistance to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, reception of people arriving from territories where hostilities continue, and protection of the civilian population.
Since you mentioned assistance to internally displaced persons, it would be relevant to clarify how many forcibly displaced people settled in Chervonohrad in over a year of the great war?
Over the past year, approximately 14,000 people were registered in our community. About 5 to 7 thousand live there permanently. However, this number constantly fluctuates, so it is difficult to give exact numbers. Most of the displaced people live in the private sector. However, since the first days of the full-scale invasion, we have converted nine places of compact accommodation - kindergartens, schools, a dormitory, a hospital. At the same time there were close to 900 people living in these facilities. There were casesof bedridden patients in need of medical assistance arriving in Lviv on ambulances straight from evacuation trains. We made the decision to place these people in the Sosnivska city hospital, where there was no working inpatient facility. Currently, 29 people with disabilities live there. Especially for them, an elevator is being installed in the hospital, and a large amount of special equipment has been purchased, as they must have proper living conditions.
I express my gratitude to our tireless helpers - the administrators of the communal institutions, in which the displaced people lived temporarily, because at that time, it was their shoulders on which a lot of responsibility fell.
How do you manage to establish communication with them?
First and foremost, one must have a wish to help people. Having that desire, you begin looking for opportunities. When you sense that people need your help, you will instinctively find a way to reach them. Yes, it doesn't always work ideally and sometimes we make mistakes, but we are constantly improving our ways of communication. From the first days, we created a humanitarian aid headquarters, in particular, we allocated a large building where all humanitarian aid from charitable organizations was collected and distributed. In fact, people still come there to receive aid.
Our volunteers met evacuation trains in Lviv and took many people to Chervonograd. Why did we do it? After talking with the military, who asked to accept as many people as possible (because it is very difficult to conduct military operations when the civilian population remains on the territory), we made the decision to accept everyone in need of shelter.
Chervonograd is a mining town, and the Donetsk region is a mining region, but we are related not only by industry, we also have close family ties, because many people from Donbas live in Chervonograd. We have partnering relations with the city of Myrnograd: we cooperate within the framework of the transformation of coal mining regions as pilot cities in the west and east of Ukraine. We have developed good relations with Pokrovsk. The mayor of the city, Ruslan Trebushkin, came to visit us and we observed the locations where people from Pokrovsk live. Accordingly, all these relations contributed to finding ways of communication.
In addition, we established close contact with a large number of public humanitarian organizations, which provided humanitarian aid, we addressed them in accordance with the needs of the people who came to us.
What practical recommendations could you give to other communities regarding communication with IDPs and relocated businesses?
As I already said earlier, the most important thing is the desire to help. Second, you must not be afraid of failure. And thirdly, to look for multiple ways to solve problems. Diversify. If one solution does not fit, this means that another one will.
At first, we received a lot of dissatisfied reviews about our city. As a result, we created a coordination council for IDPs, which included representatives of public organizations that moved to our community. Together we discussed critical points, and found ways to solve certain situations.
How do you learn about the needs of IDPs?
For us, the main sources of information about the needs of IDPs are, in particular, the managers of the institutions where internally displaced persons are staying. Secondly, social networks, in particular, we created a telegram channel where the IDPs communicated their needs, and thirdly, information from local mass media and the already mentioned coordination council, whose members are resettlers.
Among the primary needs of people who move from other territories, especially forcibly, are usually housing and work. How well do you manage to cover these needs?
Those who wanted to find a jobs, have found them. For those who want to live on social benefits, no job offers will satisfy them. Everyone finds what they are looking for.
Regarding housing. We have developed rules according to which, if a person has a property status higher than a certain level, then they cannot live in the places of common residence. If an internally displaced person has a low income, or a multi-child family, or elderly people, they can reside in shelters at their request.
I received criticism because other cities no longer accept people, and we, on the contrary, receive a lot of people, my response tio to them is that these are citizens of Ukraine. And if, God forbid, we ever find ourselves in such a situation, we would also like to be helped. Therefore, if we are Christians, if we are people of faith, then we should support people when they are in need. My creed in life is to always help people, so I didn't pay attention to criticism. We allocated funds from the budget, and I am grateful to the deputies that none of them once questioned why we do this.
Do you have plans to build permanent housing for displaced people?
We have submitted a request to the regional administration to receive two plots of land where housing could potentially be built. We also have a dormitory building - it is a nine-story building. Now we are searching for funds in order to accommodate a large number of people there. Experts estimate that $3 million USD would be needed to refurbish this dormitory. Two funds have shown interest in this project, but it is a requirement was that the building would be communally owned. Ownership has not yet been handed over to us.
How many children have moved in to your community?
There were several hundred at the beginning (of a full-scale invasion - IF-U). For the children who lived in communal housing, tablets were distributed for distance learning, provided by international humanitarian organizations. In addition, locations were set up in libraries, where older children could come to communicate, have free access to computers and be able to continue their studies at their institutions.
Do you create centers of cultural leisure for migrants? How can they be a part of the life of the Chervonograd community?
Concerts and master classes are regularly held in Chervonograd, we have close cooperation with local public organizations that organize various events. Migrants often attend various events, especially since tickets are free for them.
Were there no conflicts between local residents and migrants?
Of course, occasionally there were incidents when someone behaved inappropriately or provoked others, but usually everything was resolved.
What was the subject of the discussions?
Mobilization. Discussions arose about the fact that local men were being mobilized, and men who came to us from the east and the south were not subject to mobilization in one way or another. And it was probably the most difficult discussion, but somehow those situations were managed. Locals were also afraid that the new residents of Chervonohrad are ideologically not in favor of the Ukrainian state. But with efforts, in particular together with the Security Service, we responded to complaints - and the degree of tension decreased.
How many migrants are you accepting now?
Not many. Because mostly the housing stock is fully occupied, there are no vacant apartments. If someone moves out, this place is automatically filled.
The next block of questions will concern the cooperation of Chervonograd with partner communities. Did you have them before the full scale war? How did you start building partnerships back then and how is it going now?
Before the war, we had a partner city of Pyskovice (Poland). This is also a mining region. They were the first to extend a helping hand, delivering humanitarian aid immediately on February 25. Subsequently, we received humanitarian cargo from the Lithuanian city of Marijampole, and already in May of last year we developed a partnership agreement with this city.
Thanks to a former resident of Chervonograd - Mr. Volodymyr Skvortsov - we managed to sign a memorandum of cooperation with the German city of Oldenburg. This is a new partnership, but we received a large amount of humanitarian aid from there. Mr. Volodymyr, whom I mentioned, lived in Chervonohrad 20 years ago, and now lives in Oldenbrug. When the great war began, he decided to help Ukraine - he was engaged in a humanitarian mission, regularly visited us.With him, came five moer germans, who were not afraid, and brought us aid. There were 5-7 trucks in total. Now Volodymyr, along with his sister Olga, and together with other volunteers, have created their own public organization, which helps Ukraine.
It was with his support that you started cooperating with Oldenburg?
Yes, thanks to him. With his active position, he encouraged the Oldenburg City Council to help Ukraine: they have given us an ambulance and other necessities, and they plan to support us in the future.
How would you advise other communities to find partners and establish effective cooperation?
Perhaps the most effective way is to have personal contacts with people who have left your city or community. The best way to find a partner abroad is when the people who were once of your community, who live there communicate with the local governing authorities. From that you can build up the best contact and closer cooperation.
Which relocated enterprises were able to resume work in Chervonohrad?
Only one relocated factory enterprise moved to us - from the city of Rubizhny, Luhansk region. This is "AGK UKRAINE", which manufactures plastic containers for pharmacy, in particular for the company "Darnytsa". Now they are resuming production, setting up lines, creating conditions for alternative energy, production of solar panels. They promised to fulfil the contract they have with "Darnytsa" in the near future.
How does this affect, in particular, the increase in the number of jobs?
There won't be a large number of jobs at this particular enterprise, but we hope that thanks to our successful cooperation, the managers of this enterprise will recommend our community to their colleagues. They felt our interest, because the company was registered in just one day. In addition, we provided them with a letter of support for obtaining a grant from European funds.
Let's talk about security issues. How many shelters have been set up in Chervonograd today?
We have 66 anti-radiation fallout shelters and 18 buildings equivalent to them in educational institutions. We do not have bomb shelters as such.
Are they suitable for long-term sheltering of people?
We provided the shelters with bathrooms, drinking water, accordingly, from time to time we replenish supplies and check. At one time we bought a large number of starlinks and generators because we anticipated a difficult winter. Now a large part of the Starlinks has been handed over to the Armed Forces.
The interview of the head of the Chervonograd community, Andrii Zalivskyi, was prepared as part of a joint special project of the Interfax-Ukraine news agency and East Europe Foundation “Community Experience” (https://interfax.com.ua/news/general/919611.html), launched in support by the Stiykist’ Programme which is implemented by East Europe Foundation within a consortium of non-governmental organisations led by ERIM (Equal Rights and Independent Media, France) and funded by the European Union. Its purpose is to show the experience of Ukrainian communities in the adaptation and integration of forcibly displaced persons in order to increase the efficiency of the work of local self-government bodies. You can learn more about effective interaction with IDPs in the free online course "Adaptation and integration of IDPs: experience and opportunities" on the educational "Zrozumilo!" platform
The opinions and statements expressed in the material do not necessarily coincide with the views of the consortium partner organizations and the European Union.