“My role is to be a catalyst, unlocking people’s potential”

It is not easy for anyone to become the head of a community aged 33. But if you have only lived in an area for a couple of years, the challenge can double. Local politicians tend to draw upon experience and reputation built up over many years, which newcomers lack. Yet such was the achievement of Oksana Dyadyunova who moved to Reshetyliv in central Ukraine in 2015, after being forced to flee the war in eastern Ukraine the previous year.

Energy personified Dyadyunova was also a newcomer to politics. Before leaving Alchevsk, a large industrial centre in Luhansk Oblast, she was an entrepreneur, running her own business selling children’s books and toys. The experience of war has shaped her, strengthening her patriotism and the resentment of feeling unable to influence the situation. And so a political career was born.

Politics and children’s literature have more in common than may appear. It was her interest in people’s stories that provided the key to her career in local government. As an outsider, she says people were understandably sceptical of her when she decided to run in 2016 for the post of deputy in the local community in Poltava Oblast. She went around her small town neighbourhood, knocking on doors, speaking to residents and listening to their concerns. They obviously appreciated her effort. When the time came for the election, she got most of the 88 cast votes.

A clear understanding of the potential benefits of decentralisation also helped. In her first year in Reshetyliv, she worked for a non-governmental organisation dedicated to helping the 7,000-people village achieve the status of town, which it now has, running public hearings and training workshops in the community. Aside from the increased status, a town would enable the community to access a raft of grant programmes from central government, allowing them among other things to build better sports facilities. For Dyadyunova, sport is paramount. Not only is it healthy. It gives people focus.

 

Unlocking people’s potential

 

Dyadyunova became acting head of the hromada in 2018, elected unanimously by her fellow deputies when the previous head of the hromada stood down for health reasons. Leadership comes naturally to her. She speaks with energy, dynamism and a kind of natural authority, but perhaps it is her definition of leadership that is most instructive. For years, government in Ukraine was run in a top-down fashion; yet Dyadyunova firmly believes in a bottom-up approach that puts residents first.

The decentralisation process works best when it comes to defining spending priorities, she believes. This view is also supported by Poltava Local Government Development Center of U-LEAD with Europe, which supports amalgamated hromadas not only in building their capacities to manage new responsibilities but also in making local politics more transparent for citizens. Sound financial management coupled with well-conceived project management is also a key issue for the range of support for employees and elected officials.

With a budget of UAH 90 million and a population of over 11,000, the hromada has significant power. “People who live in the community can make better decisions about how money should be spent there,” she says with conviction.

A local enterprise focused on embroidery, for which the area is known across Ukraine, employs about 100 people while a dairy company contributes substantially to the hromada’s coffers. For the future, additional revenues can come from land rental. For that purpose, the administration is hard at work on a detailed cadastre to map out the available land. Tourism is also high on her agenda – the woods and rivers embracing the hromada could attract more nature lovers as they develop cycling routes and walks.

It is part of her broader belief that people should be active. “As head of hromada I can take decisions with my team, but people themselves clean the beachy banks along the rivers as volunteers.” Her role, she believes, is to act as a catalyst, motivating people to do things for themselves – as she herself had done when she set up her children’s bookshop in Alchevsk.

As a result, Reshetylivska amalgamated hromada stands out for its innovation. When she was elected, there was no playground for her district. Now there are two and a third one is being built. They also set up a bus route to connect all the villages – some are about 20 kilometres away from the hospital, for example, which made it very difficult to access health care. Now they’re linked. They have also installed 12 video cameras around town that people can follow on their mobile phones. As a result, certain journeys – such as the walk back from the kindergarten – have become safer.

 

Women’s comparative advantage

 

Women are very well suited to local politics, she believes. “As mothers and guardians, women perceive other people’s problems as their own and work to help each other,” says this mother of two. This type of empathy is key: “In local politics, you are closer to the people and you can feel them constantly, which motivates you to solve their problems.”

On a daily basis, much of her work requires communication and negotiation – skills where women have a natural advantage, she believes. Just as women tend to build a consensus within the family, they also do the same in the community. But that doesn’t mean women are as well represented in local government as they should be. “I want to advise women to be more self-confident, and to engage more in what the community needs.”

This also includes increasing environmental awareness and more organised waste management. “In 2018 I visited Norway, it was so inspiring. Next year our plan is to move the waste management to the responsibility of municipal administration, increasing the current number of seven collection points across the hromada. I know it is a long way to go, but I know we can make it work here, too.”

She plans to run in the next elections, as she loves the job. “When I open my eyes in the morning,” she says, “I want to get to work.”

 

Reshetylivska Amalgamated Hromada at a glance

Oblast

Poltava

Size

174 km2

Population

11,154

First election

18 December 2018

Number of settlement councils

Two

U-LEAD support

Participation in 70 events since October 2017

 

U-LEAD with Europe

A multi-donor action of the European Union and its member states Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Poland and Sweden, U-LEAD works with all levels of government to support the implementation of regional policy and decentralization reforms in Ukraine. Working to ensure multilevel governance that is transparent, accountable and responsive to the needs of the population, U-LEAD is implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida).

 

Аuthor: Monica Ellena

is an award-winning journalist and editor who has worked for ABC News and Bloomberg News as well as contributed to leading and specialised publications like the Financial Times and Eurasianet. Since 2016 she edits the Chai Khana, an award-winning multimedia platform covering the South Caucasus with a focus on women and conflict. She has extensive experience on refugees and forced displacement in UN-led missions from Kosovo to Afghanistan and regularly conducts training for journalists on reporting ethics and gender, as well as conflict-sensitive reporting.

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Область:

Полтавська область

Громади:

Решетилівська міська об’єднана територіальна громада

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