When a small community thrives on strawberries fields and acumen

 

Dressed in a classic blue suit, Halyna Prus looks more like a business executive than a farmer. Yet this trained economist once ran a 700-hectare farm with her husband before entering local government. That combination of education, economics and experience makes this elegant 58-year-old a fitting leader for Smolyhivska, a hromada in Volyn Oblast, an agricultural region near the border with Poland.

Economists are usually quick to preach the virtues of economies of scale: the idea that larger organisations with greater production are able to reduce their costs. Indeed, that is why Prus encourages farmers in her hromada to form collectives – even though memories of the Soviet kolkhoz are still raw. But when it comes to forming hromadas, Prus believes that less is more – as Smolyhivska proves.

When the opportunity to amalgamate arose in 2015, the obvious option was to join a much larger grouping of villages centred around Torchyn, a nearby village of about 5,000 people with a stronger local council and economy. But Prus and others feared that Torchyn would dominate the proposed merger, and that smaller villages would get left behind. So they decided to form Smolyhivska hromada, which encompasses five villages and a total of 1,900 people, making it the smallest in the Volyn oblast.

“It was a thought-through process but the move was quick to bear fruit. The community now thrives,” she says. And it shows. A short walk around Smolyhiv highlighted the quality of the local public services. Many kindergartens in Western Europe would pale against the state-of-the-art facility where 40 children enjoy a large playground and a well-designed indoor space. The school is in the process of being rehabilitated.

 

 

Prus’ belief in new ideas and her determination to initiate change is reflected in her cooperation with Volyn Local Government Development Centre of U-LEAD with Europe. They share a blossoming relationship using every chance to further the skills of the new administration. For its citizens.

 

Strawberry fields forever

 

It is an impressive turn-around. For years, this was a community that people left to work elsewhere – but no longer, she says.

“The quality of life has improved over the last 15 years, accelerating since 2014 and now young people stay, because they want to stay. We’ve got good education, are close to the big city, and employment is no longer a struggle because people have learned to manage in their own land.”

 

 

Khorokhoryn, a smaller village of 700 people in the community is a case in point.

“In the late 1990s the village was dying: there were no opportunities, the land sat abandoned, and people left for Poland to work as agricultural labourers. Some of them realised that the weather and terrain conditions were similar, and so they brought saplings and shared them among the villagers. Today 70 percent of them grow strawberries and Peking cabbage. It is a seasonal choice: strawberries in late spring and summer, cabbage in autumn and winter.”

Alongside agriculture, Smolyhivska also hosts a Nestlè distribution centre, all of which leads to higher than average local tax revenues. In 2018, for example, the hromada’s budget reached UAH 19 million in 2018, and they had to return UAH 600,000 to the central government as part of the budget equalisation process.

 

Making local government strong

 

Those funds make Ms Prus’ role significant. But it wasn’t always so; indeed, before decentralization, men tended to snub the local administration, she notes. “There was a lot of frustration and little money as funds would just not reach villages, so their attitude was ‘what’s the point?’ Women would take on the challenge, just as they do it at home with households’ budgets.”

Even so, she felt limited by stereotypes in the early days. When she first ran for the position in 2002, the head of rayon level called for other men to take over. However, the previous head of the council was a man, and when he left the infrastructure was in a poor condition – as was the broader economy.

“Requirements for a man in this position are much less than for a woman,” she says. “It’s like a woman driving a car: when the man breaks the rule, it’s OK; but when a woman does, what else do you expect? When a woman is in politics, she has to prove her worth more than a man would in the same position. But when you prove it, the attitude changes, and the prejudice disappears.”

 

 

This softly-spoken woman is driven by vision and focus on what matters – her community. Hope alone however, is not enough, she says, just as luck alone is not sufficient without hard work. Little wonder, then, that in 2010 she was awarded “Person of the year of Volyn region” in the section “Justified hope of the year.”

 

Smolyhivska Amalgamated Hromada at a glance

Oblast

Volyn

Size

69 km2

Population

1,941

First election

25 October 2015

Number of settlements

Two

Regional initiative

Improvement of social services in AHs

U-LEAD support

Participation in 92 events since September 2017

 

U-LEAD paragraph:

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).

Tags:

hender

Область:

Волинська область

Громади:

Торчинська територіальна громада

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