I no longer beg for money for my community

As a trained teacher of mathematics, Tetyanaа Zharska was brought up to believe that every problem has a solution. To her, public administration requires the same mindset. The 59-year old sees all sorts of problems in the Velykomykhailivska amalgamated hromada she leads. From education infrastructure to employment, the job of local government, she believes, is to solve issues. 

 

 

Unemployment, rather the shortage of it, is a particular source of frustration. Like any good teacher, she hates it when people are not realising their potential.

Hailing from Chernikhiv she moved south, to Odesa Oblast, in 1981, fresh from teacher training college. On her first day of work, she was appointed director of the school in the village of Novoselivka. She took to it quickly, and so impressed the community members that she was elected chair of the village council five years after she arrived. She has been involved in local administration, up to the rayon level, since then.

 

No more begging

 

In 2015, when the decentralisation process began, as the chair of the town council in Velyka Mykhailivka, the centre of the proposed hromada, she took the lead. Yet even as she rose in the ranks of local self-government, her training as a teacher never left her.

“People didn’t understand the benefits of joining forces,” she explains, “they needed to know what it entails, they needed to be educated.” Some of the obstacles were significant: after all, she notes, “the local village heads didn’t like giving up power.”

With additional power came greater responsibility. The hromada comprises roughly 13,000 people spread over 25 villages, represented in eight village councils and one town council. The benefits of uniting surfaced soon. When the hromada was formed, the budget of the nine councils combined was UAH 7 million (€235,000). By the end of 2018, it had reached UAH 90 million (€ 3 million), of which roughly half are own revenues.

“And as more than half will remain in our territory I finally no longer have to beg for money to repair street lights or schools’ windows.”

Decentralisation, she maintains, allows citizens to choose how to live. “We own our life in our community now.”

Her vision of serving the community matches her political inclination. Zharska defines herself as a communist, but her communism is to be more practical than ideological.

 

 

“As a system, communism made lots of mistakes,” she admits in her office in Velyka Mykhailivka, the main town where roughly half of the hromada population live. “But at its roots is the idea to support people in communities, through the provision of education, health care, pensions.”

Her ideas pushed her out of office in 2000, before being re-elected in 2006. The focus on community in the decentralisation reform is precisely what drove her to stick to local self-government.

 

Spread the resources

 

Some villages have just a handful of residents (four in the smallest) but Zharska is well aware that her responsibility is to avoid diverting all spending in favour of the larger settlements – and as a mathematician, she worked out how to do so.

“Our hromada accounts the income of each village council individually. We have another account for expenditure. Thus, each village council can spend what its residents pay in taxes,” she explains.

Certain funds have to be pooled to maintain public institutions like the school, the kindergarten, and the house of culture. Then the village councils decide how to spend the remaining money, such as on road repairs, street lights, water supply or building repairs. It is a form of further decentralisation within the hromada. Others from across Ukraine are studying it to learn from their experience. She fought for daycare for children with special needs. It is due to open soon in the same village where she started her career, and it will be the first in the whole rayon.

Services and employment however need funds and investments are much needed. Agricultural activities may make up the lion’s share of economic activity – one enterprise owns about 2,000 hectares and employs 170 people – but Zharska is seeking investors for a brick factory, which could use the good quality of clay found in the area.

Although her experience is extensive, she is quick to keep up with the times. The hromada uses social media such as Facebook to communicate directly with citizens and publish its decisions online. “It is particularly good for engaging young people,” she says as she hangs up on one of the many calls she receives during the interview. “Older people like myself prefer calling or stalking in person,” she laughs.

 

 

Whatever method one may choose to engage with the population the better the hromada administration is prepared for its new responsibilities, the better it will score among citizens. Therefore, Zharka and her team were happy to benefit from a broad range of events, seminars, and exchange forums organized by Odesa Local Government Development Centre of U-LEAD with Europe.

On being a woman and a local politician she has a clear view. “It doesn’t matter, if you want you can. I personally never faced any limitation.”

Certainly, young women are increasingly choosing to get involved – out of 25 villages and one town council, 15 are led by women. At higher levels, the number dwindles as there are only three hromadas out of 32 in the oblast led by women.

Indeed, she thinks women would be even more involved in local self-government if they didn’t have household duties to fulfil. She doesn’t cook and doesn’t have time for housework, she says. Instead, local problems fill her time - but as the head of a hromada, she feels she can respond more quickly than in the past.

One pressing problem is dying villages. Her solution? Buy a bus and connect them – they will thrive.

 

Velykomykhailivska Amalgamated Hromada at a glance

Oblast

Odesa

Size

494 km2

Population

12,577

First election

25 October 2015

Number of settlement councils

Nine

U-LEAD support

Participation in 80 events since September 2017

 

U-LEAD paragraph:

U-LEAD is 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).

 

 

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Область:

Одеська область

Громади:

Великомихайлівська селищна об’єднана територіальна громада

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