When Ukrainians in amalgamated hromada are national minority. Interview with hromada head
Maria Nikorych, head of the Novoselytska AH in the Chernivtsi Oblast, tells about relations between Ukrainians and Moldovans, who constitute the majority in the hromada.
By Dmytro Synyak
Maria Nikorych, Moldavian by nationality, has been leading the hromada with a population of 23 thousand people, 60% of whom are Romanian-speaking Moldovans, for already a year. According to Mrs. Nikorych, her hromada amalgamated solely based on economic factors, and the ethnic factor was not considered at all in course of amalgamation.
Your native language is Romanian. How do you know Ukrainian so well?
- I did not study Ukrainian language either at school or in higher educational establishment – I graduated from Chisinau State University, where studies were conducted in Romanian and Russian. Then I worked for a long time as a teacher of philosophy and history at Novoselytsia Medical College until I came to work at Novoselytsia Rayon State Administration. In about 2000s there was a certain language breakdown in the country. When the head of the administration with whom I worked was fired, I left as well. Having returned to the college, I set myself the goal to thoroughly master the Ukrainian language. I still make mistakes while speaking Ukrainian, so if you hear some, please, tell me.
Opponents of ethnic hromadas’ formation say that, for example, Romanians will not care for Ukrainians so well as for Romanians.
- That's nonsense. Ask anyone in our hromada. We do not distinguish between nationalities. By 1997, Novoselytsia had had three schools: Ukrainian, Russian, and Moldovan. In my firm conviction, amalgamation should be based on common economic ties, roads, educational and medical institutions, but not nationality.
Today it is possible to hear that formation of polyethnic hromadas is a step towards separatism. He heard this in the Zakarpattia and Odesa Oblasts. And what do you think about it?
- I have recently attended the training in the Odesa Oblast and, in fact, I told about Bukovinian multicultural hromadas there. So, it seems to me that the national issue both in the Odesa and Zakarpattia Oblastsd is just an excuse not to amalgamate. But in fact, the thing is about something else, something subjective. There people have no grounds for any ethnic conflict, just like in our oblast.
Hungary does not miss the opportunity to help the Zakarpattia Hungarians, who sometimes frankly admit that Budapest cares for them better than Kyiv does. And some Hungarian politicians are already declaring “the need to return Zakarpattia”. What about Romanian attitude to Romanian speaking Moldovans?
- I do not feel any particular attitude from Romania to us. We do not receive any financial assistance, but we cooperate exclusively within the framework of the Ukraine-EU partnership ... Salary for teachers of Romanian speaking classes is paid by Ukraine. The state should provide national minorities with education in their native language, if these minorities have such a desire.
Yet not everything is always smooth in Bucharest-Kyiv relations. This is also evident in the statements made by the Romanian side regarding the recognition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and blocking of various important projects, such as construction of the Tyachiv Bridge over the Tysa River...
- Working at the local level, we do not feel any bias on the part of Romania. We have agreements on cooperation with several twin-cities on the other side of the border. Whatever one might say, we are united by a common history, traditions and culture.
What exactly has the hromadas received as a result of these projects?
- Due to participation in them, we have created and fully equipped several brigades of volunteers that effectively stem floods on the Prut River. For this, the European Union has allocated about EUR 1.2 million for 11 settlements of the Novoselytsia Rayon, three of which subsequently joined our hromada. Now, we conduct annual international rescue competitions, which gather specialists not only from all over Ukraine, but also from Moldova and Romania. Within the frames of the cross-border cooperation programmes we built 15 waste storage platforms, purchased 45 garbage containers and garbage trucks.
But you probably will not deny that many of your hromada residents have Romanian passports, to get which one has to pledge allegiance to Romania. Is not this the basis for the development of separatist movements?
- I do not have information on these passports and I do not see that our people would like to live in Romania or in Moldova. Anyone who wanted to go there, have already left, believe me. I am convinced that hromada residents receive these passports not at all because of their love to Romania, but only in order to have the right to work freely in the European Union. We have never had any ethnic conflicts or separatist statements, and Moldovan and Romanian flags appear only when the partners from these countries come to us.
Is the cooperation with Moldova as active?
- We now have two projects with Moldova within the framework of the Eastern Partnership Programme.
It is also known that Moldovan president Igor Dodon openly adheres to pro-Russian views. Besides, many Moldovans live on the territory of the unrecognised Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, which exists solely due to Russia’s support. Is it felt in communication with the Moldovan side?
- All Moldovan municipalities we cooperate with are pro-European. If they were not, then they would not be able to participate in European projects.
Ukraine is currently undergoing the decentralisation reform. Have such reforms been implemented in Romania and Moldova?
- It was carried out a long time ago in Romania, and in Moldova there was no such reform at all. The country still lives according to Soviet patterns.
According to the perspective plan, the Novoselytska AH should have become similar in size as half the Făleşti district. Why did you decide to reduce it?
- Since we believe that 40 thousand people in one hromada – this is too much. First, the Novoselytsia AH united seven settlements, last year two more joined. Now we have 23 thousand people – it is quite enough for effective work.
Why had Novoselytsia to form a hromada at all? After budget decentralisation, the city received a lot of tax revenues, which now need to be shared with the surrounding villages.
- Yes, but then the city council did not have control over its infrastructure, and above all over its educational institutions. And when we wanted, for example, to repair a certain school in the city, we had to transfer funds to the rayon budget. Now we do everything ourselves. The same thing with the roads.
Due to the reform you received …
- 440 hectares of land outside settlements, of which about 200 hectares were immediately allocated to more than 100 ATO participants residing in the AH. Several land plots were left for potential investors. We have recently launched the Department of Economics, the task of which is to seek investments and grants.
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