Special project. Mayor of Drohobych: 90% of IDPs need permanent housing, because they have nowhere to return
An exclusive interview of the mayor of Drohobych, Taras Kuchma, within the joint special project of Information Agency Interfax Ukraine and East Europe Foundation “Community Experience” (Dosvid hromad). Its purpose is to show the most outstanding examples of adaptation and integration of internally displaced persons in order to improve the efficiency 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 “Zrozumilo!” online educational platform.
Author: Oleksandr Trokhymchuk
Before the full-scale invasion, over 75,000 people lived in Drohobych. How has the population of your city and community changed in over a year of the full-scale invasion? How many IDPs have you accepted in total?
In the united territorial community, there are 125,000 residents. That is, in besides Drohobych, the community also includes the city of Stebnyk and 32 villages, totalling in approximately 125,000 inhabitants. After 2014, the first significant resettlement took place here. They were Crimean Tatars - about 300-400 people.
Soon after the onset of full-scale aggression... Drohobych is near the border (90 km from the border with Poland - IF-U), and a lot of people went to Poland, leaving from established residences. And it was a great stress not only for them, but also for us, because we could not understand what was happening. A lot of people, especially from Kyiv, from the Kyiv region, Zhytomyr, and Sumy regions, came to us, and we had to help them somehow. And this concerned not only food and the need give them shelter somewhere, but the most important thing was to calm people down psychologically. Because many of them came with just what they were wearing, that is, in fact, with nothing.
From the start of the full-scale invasion, we have had about 20,000 officially registered persons (of IDPs - IF-U). But this figure can be easily multiplied by three, because many people came to us for only two or three days, and they did not want to register. Currently, there are approximately 16,000 migrants in the community, out of which, according to our calculations, about 30% will remain with us permanently. Because they have noplace to return. These are former Mariupol residents, Luhansk residents, Donetsk residents, there are people from Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions – there are approximately 6-7 thousand of them.
What problems did you have to face initially?
We could not immediately register everyone and provide normal housing. At the block posts at the entrance, we handed out leaflets so that people knew where to go for housing, where to get food, where to go for psychological help. We had posts for psychological relief and separately - for gathering information. Because there were many nuances. For example, a mentally ill person cannot be accommodated together with everyone else, and a bedridden person cannot be accommodated on the ninth floor.
Does your community still accept migrants?
Now, they mostly come to us from other regions. For example, some who initially stayed in the Ivano-Frankivsk region, upon learning about Drohobych, moved to our community. There are people who have found work and housing with us, and have invited their relatives and friends to come to them.
And if at first more people came to us, for example, from Kyiv, Irpen, Gostomel, now we accept more from Bakhmut, Slavyansk, Zaporizhzhia.
It is important to note that they are all very different. For ourselves, we typically divided them into two groups - temporarily displaced persons fleeing from immediate danger and internally displaced persons fleeing from war, who often have nothing left: their houses have been bombed, their lives destroyed. And the second group is a psychologically completely different type of people who behave in a completely different way and astruggle to adapt in a new environment. For example, we had people from Mariupol: they had owned businesses, they had families, apartments there, but suddenly, in one minute, everything was gone. And such people need support, they need the belief that they are needed. Not to mention those who were handicapped - left without an eye, without an arm or some other physical disabilities caused by war and combat operations. But at the same time, we do not humiliate people with pity.
If you narrow down the data, do you have an idea of how many people moved to you, specifically fleeing the war?
In a percentage correlation, I would say approximately 40% are those who are fleeing from immediate danger, though their cities are not under occupation, the people are just afraid because they are being bombed. and about 60% are thoseare people that have no where to return, even if their settlements have already been de-occupied, about 10% of those sre people who have already returned from abroad.
Upon arriving in a new area, and especially from different regions and under today's difficult conditions, a person must adapt to life in the community. How do you establish communication with new residents?
First of all, we are all one nation and we suffer together. Because there were a lot of those who pass around blame, and claim that “because of you they are bombing us.” So we have clearly defined red lines that cannot be crossed: neither we owe you anything, nor you owe us anything. Such was my first communication, that took down one of the barriers.
Secondly, we immediately created many courses for studying the Ukrainian language. But these were courses that not only teach the language, but also the history of the city. I have personally conducted tours so that people who came to us were able to understand that this is a city with a great history, which has lived and existed for about a thousand years, has its own traditions and was one of the richest in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
And, you know, this pride for the city and love for it, it is passed on to others. So many Kharkiv residents who settled here, have become true patriots of Drohobychyna. Because if they miss their Kharkiv, people here love their city just as much. And this common feeling of love for one's native land, for one's small homeland, became the second thing that removed barriers.
The next points are, after all, housing, food provision and care, which at the same time was rationed. Because we understand very well: if you give too much to people, all at once, it will not be useful.
In the vast majority, 99% of the displaced people who fled from war and danger, they have adapted to our traditions. For example, they are the first to join joint groups. So, it's not the locals who first come to clean the parks, but the settlers. And it was inspiring. It is nice when people from Severodonetsk take care of the monument to Stepan Bandera.
We just need for time to smooth out all the nuances that are in our one nation, which for thousands of years has been under pressure to make divide.
You mentioned the language courses that were organized in the Drohobych community for IDPs. Have you not been reproached for allegedly dividing society in this way?
I will try to answer a little philosophically. You see, language is like faith. And if religion divides, faith in God unites. It is the same with language - it is not a religion, but faith - faith in one's nation. So language unites.
We all don't learn English to be divided, correct? We study it in order to unite with the world.
We can talk however we want in everyday life - this is our right. I, for example, can speak with a dialect. My grandmother spoke Lemki. In the family, we had our own style of naming objects, it was rather specific. But this is in my house, in my home. When I came to school, I tried to speak the literary language that I was taught there. It is very important. Language is a unifying factor, as it should be.
People who understand this actively sign up for courses and try to communicate in Ukrainian. And society supports this. But when someone principally tries to force everyone to speak "in normal human language", it gets irritating.
In general, I would not like to divide Ukrainians into Ukrainian-speaking and Russian-speaking. Completely! Because Ukrainians are all Ukrainian speakers. Only due to certain circumstances, people may come from regions where Ukrainian libraries and schoolshave been destroyed for the past 300 years.
And what cases of communication with forced migrants do you consider to be the most successful in Drohobych region? How has communication with IDPs changed?
First of all, as I have already mentioned, when entering the city, at checkpoints, internally displaced persons received leaflets with information on housing, food, psychological assistance, etc. The informational packets also contained contact info for managing persons. We also set up a 24/7 call center. This provided very good communication, through which we learned about the needs of the people who came to us. In addition, we have a special site where all information is provided.
How has everything changed now? I would say that now there is even more communication. That is, when we learn about people's needs, we immediately provide information on our website. For example, if humanitarian aid has arrived and we immediately look over what we have, and make an announcement that there is aid for families with children up to nine years old. We have all the phones - and we inform people.
Currently communication takes place according to the win-win principle, that is, communication in person. Initially, we learned about everything over the phone and through the website, now our social workers dealing with internally displaced persons are familiar with most of them personally: they know about every need. And this is very important.
We try to do everything so that the displaced people do not withdraw into themselves. Therefore, we do not create enclaves for them, but settle them throughout the city, dispersed among community, so that people can adapt normally. We try to make them feel needed, that they are not temporary visitors here, but equal citizens of Drohobych just as we are.
People who are forced to move from other territories, primarily face two urgent needs - finding housing and work. How do you overcome these challenges?
We conducted a survey, and according to the results, 90% of all displaced persons said that they are not in need of temporary housing (they are able to rent), but instead they need a permanent roof over their heads, because they have nowhere to return.
Then we decided that we would convert an unfinished building into either dormitories or regular apartments. We finished a 52-apartment building, that is, we converted our dormitory for it, and accommodated more than 50 people there.
At the same time, we started construction on capital apartment buildings. This is rapid construction method according to the Canadian system. And, unfortunately, here we faced a situation where the state did not give us the opportunity to pay it. And we built that house in almost two months, but due to the fact that we could not allocate funds from the budget, it slowed down - and we began to look for sponsors who would help fund to complete the construction. In this we were successful.
Next, we will construct another apartment building, because people have nowhere to live, and temporary housing does not appeal to them. It is important and even beneficial to attract them to staying with us, because we really need the highly qualified personnel who came. These are doctors, engineers, narrow-profile specialists in labor professions, welders, and millers. They support the economy.
It is clear that it will not be possible to provide everyone with permanent housing in a short period of time. That is why we have a system of categorization, where, for example, housing is obtained by points: if it is a large family or if people have some other factors, and then according to this scale they form the first queue for housing. I think that in a year or two, Drohobych will provide housing for all IDPs who need it.
In addition, for the specialists who came to us together with the relocated business, the owners of the factories themselves are ready to build housing. We are only required to provide the land.
Since we have already mentioned the relocated business, can you name such enterprises in Drohobych?
I can't talk about it now. Let's put it like this: the war will end, and we will talk about our entire relocated business. I can only talk about the coffee shops that some proprietors have opened. But not more than that, because those relocated enterprises make our economy and they are very important for the government.
How did the relocated business make an impact on the economic situation in the Drohobych community?
First of all, it is the formation of new jobs. And the most important thing is opening our eyes to the fact that we actually have many vacancies, but unfortunately, there are very few people who could fill them. Because, unfortunately, there are no specialists in working professions. And our education does not prepare them. We produce a lot of lawyers, businessmen, managers, waiters, but specialists in such professions, which are extremely necessary now, are uncommon. Therefore, we have to adjust our professional education to completely different rails.
Secondly, we saw that our region needs to give people the opportunity to earn money themselves at those relocated enterprises.
Thirdly, we saw how high the production culture was in those factories. For example, I am impressed by one particular factory from Kharkiv.
All this affects the economy. I am sure that it will flourish thanks to the production culture at the relocated factories.
Let's return to the topic of employment of forced migrants. To what extent is this question closed for you today?
Approximately 30% of all migrants are employed here. These are those people who were unemployed or did not have their own business. In concrete numbers, we managed to employ 161 people. The rest of the people have found work for themselves: they open their own small businesses.
And to summarize this part of the conversation, what do you think are the most significant successes in terms of adaptation and integration of forcibly displaced persons achieved by the Drohobych community?
We built work with internally displaced persons on understanding and acceptance - this is very crucial. We have formed conditions for education for absolutely all children. In particular, all kindergartens were opened for migrants.
We have quite stable and systematic communication, that is, we study the needs of those people who came to us. We also do everything possible to adapt the displaced persons to cultural life in our city.
And, as I mentioned earlier, we continue doing everything to keep them with us, especially those specialists that we desperately need.
It is clear that the great war changed a great deal in aspects such as partnership between communities. How did you set up partnerships before the full-scale invasion and how did the direction of the partnership change after February 24, 2022?
We had a lot of international experience. We had many sister cities in different countries of the world. These are America, Spain, France, Poland (especially), Lithuania, Latvia, Germany, and Italy. And if it weren't for international partners, things would be extremely difficult for us.
First of all, before the war, we had a cultural and economic exchange, we implemented joint projects, especially with the German and Polish sides, in particular, we had good partnership relations with Krakow and Bytom. But the war constructed some serious adjustments.
I am extremely grateful, especially to the Poles, when in the first days of the war, February 24-25, we already received humanitarian aid. In the very first days of the war, I turned to my friends - the mayors of other cities - with a plea for help. I won't name them separately now, but practically everyone responded, and the humanitarian aid immediately just poured in, we collected it in Przemysl and from there we arranged routes to Drohobych, and then further distributed the aid throughout Ukraine.
As for internal partnership, it is primarily our two sister cities - Nova Kakhovka and Izyum. Nova Kakhovka has been a sister city for a long time, and we had good joint projects, exchanges, a powerful union of the east and west of Ukraine. And during the course of the war, Izyum became our sister city, whom we still help. Unfortunately, we cannot support Nova Kakhovka directly, because the city is currently under occupation.
We have a large joint project with entrepreneurs from Izyum and Kharkiv region. We established the Park of the Invincibles: in memory of the 475 people that were tortured in the Izyum forest, we planted oaks. This is the kind of joint cooperation that unites us and makes us strong together.
Share your life hacks, how to find partnerships and establish effective cooperation?
First, it is necessary to become an interesting city for a partner. You have to show that you are not just interested in finding a partner, but in cooperation. You see, very often partners perceive Ukraine as an incognito state, that no one knows anything about. But when they come and see a city with traditions, developed infrastructure, and most importantly - with European openness, then they want to do business. And when they also feel that they can learn something from us, and we do not shy away from learning from them, then cooperation is established.
For example, the German side learned from us communication with communities, document management, Smart City work, and in return we learned from them about work organization, school curriculum, and medicine. Also, German farmers began to take an interest in us. As for the Polish side, for example, we had close relations with the Kraków water supply. Where is Krakow, and where is Drohobych, right? It would seem, the weight categories are not the same, but we are interesting to each other, and this makes us attractive, and these partnerships develop.
Let's move on to the next block of questions - the security topic. In your annual report, you noted that work on the construction of protective structures was actively carried out in the community. Can you clarify how many shelters are already functioning and how many are being set up in the city now?
There are 24 defensive structures, 52 shelters and 1,495 basements, which we converted into defensive structures. That is, we tried to provide shelters in all parts of the city, and even villages, so that if the need ever arose, people would have somewhere to hide.
And to what extent are these buildings adapted for a long stay?
We have eight such shelters, which have everything we need: food supplies, water, and equipped toilets. One can stay there for relatively a long time.
In one of your interviews, you noted that the Teroborona (Homeland defense) and volunteer units in Drohobych "are trained in what to do in the event of hostilities." How did you prepare for the invasion?
As a military man, I knew that sooner or later it would happen, so we were preparing long before the full-scale invasion. We were forming tactical medicine, practicing combat operations in the city, and had groups to combat saboteurs. Drohobych residents are now on the front line in very large numbers, and I am proud of each of them, because when commanders call me and say that they are the best trained soldiers, I am very proud to hear it.
The interview with the mayor of Drohobych, Taras Kuchma, 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.