Iron Bear City. Reportage
A story on how culture and history are transformed into cultural and historical capital in the Sosnytska AH of the Chernihiv Oblast.
by Dmytro Synyak
Honey and Cossack glory
The theater begins with a cloakroom, and Sosnytsa starts with a bear. With a large metal bear that climbs onto a pine tree for honey. That was an approved coat of arms then still a relatively large city received in 1782, after the tsarist government eliminated the autonomous system on the Left Bank of Ukraine. However, the modern Sosnytsia sculptor decided to hang Cossack attributes around the metal, skillfully made fence: a bow with arrows, a spear, a saddle and a shield with an image of a trident.
The iron bear, symbol of Sosnytsia, was created by local blacksmith Vitaliy Onyshchenko on the initiative of the city council
“Sosnytsia is very fortunate to have this artist, whose name is Vitaliy Onyshchenko, - says Andrii Portnyi, head of the Sosnytska AH. “This man is a very popular master of artistic forging, whose works are spread throughout Europe.”
Serious talks of the guests of the Sosnytska AH
Then, the guests of the Sosnytska hromada proceed with a continuous chatter, from which only some phrases are heards.
- What a wonderful “plastic hunt” campaign was introduced in Sosnytsia! I can’t believe the children could pick up 300 kg of plastic near the streams and roadsides that had been collected there for years. This is relevant to all of us…
- Now, the main skeptics of the reform are, in fact, village heads, who have been sitting in their posts for 20 years and want nothing at all. There are enough of them in the Chernihiv Oblast.
- Wow! I would join your AH as starosta. Agreed?
…The guests say goodbye to Andrii Portnyi and board the minibus that takes them to the next point – Mena city, the administrative centre of the Menska AH.
(From left to right) Oleksandr Lymar, deputy head of the Nekhvoroshchanska AH of the Poltava Oblast on the activities of the executive bodies of the council; Andrii Portnyi, head of the Sosnytska AH; Diana Barynova, Director of Kharkiv Local Government Development Centre; Iryna Kudryk, Director of the Chernihiv Local Government Development Centre.
Forests and bridges
Every hromada I visited impressed me with something special. The Sosnytska AH of the Chernihiv Oblast was remembered first of all for its forest.
Chernihiv Oblast suffers the most from depopulation. The exchange of experience takes place just under the advertisement of the search for employees to dismantle old buildings
In 1926, nearly 2 million people lived in the Chernihiv Oblast. Since then, the population of the oblast has been steadily decreasing to about 1 million people.
- You can hardly find any job in our oblast, try as you might, that's why people are running away from here,” says Andrii Portnyi, head of the Sosnytska AH. “In my hromada there is a village that was once large and glorious, and now has only eight inhabitants. Just eight! The agroholdings that rent our most fertile lands provide almost no jobs: their machinery goes across the country from north to south and vice versa, doing the necessary agricultural work. And we only get broken roads from that. And investors do not want to hear about our AH. First, we do not have a railway. And secondly, we are located only 65 km from the Russian border: I would not risk myself to build factories here. Well, and most importantly, there is no one here to work at these factories: 311 square kilometres and 17 villages have only 10.6 thousand residents, 7 thousand of whom live in Sosnytsia.
Andrii Portnyi is one of those imitative people who are fully engaged in work. It gives him a clear pleasure to settle the AH affairs from morning till night, to control, agree, ask, and demand.
The bridge is being repaired by the hromada utility enterprise
Andrii Portnyi is near the bridge over the Ubid River, which is being repaired at hromada’s expense
“We had guests from other hromadas, and their budgets amount to UAH 150-200 million,” complains Andrii Portnyi. “This year we have only UAH 65 million, of which UAH 25 million are our own revenues. This money is enough to repair this bridge, for example...”
“What should you do then?” I ask.
“So what should we do?” repeats Andrii Portnyi. “Look for treasures. You know, in Soviet times, 2 treasures of Roman coins that date back to the 2nd century were found near Sosnytsia. But they were taken away to Moscow long time ago...”
Ukrainian New York, the capital of the Sosnytsia Regiment
We are slowly walking down the Sosnytsia streets in a company of Andrii Tkach, head of the Economic Development, Trade and Investment Department of the Sosnytska AH.
“One of the local journalists called this settlement as Ukrainian New York: since it is the only settlement in Ukraine, all streets of which are strictly parallel and perpendicular,” says Andrii Tkach.
Music School named after Sosnytsia native conductor Mark Poltoratsky, one of the finest examples of ancient local architecture
“In the middle of the nineteenth century, peat was actively extracted here, there were 2 brick factories, a brewery and a sawmill in Sosnytsia, and many artisanal workshops,” continues Andrii Tkach. “Now there is no trace left of them.”
Sosnytsia settlement council
PIT from RSA
Mr Portnyi turns into an alleyway with an old abandoned house, which is one of quite a few in Sosnytsia.
Sosnytsia ordinary huts have their unique identity
“Our budget is mostly formed by the PIT, which comes from the budget sector,” says the hromada head. “There are still an excise tax and a land tax, but their inflow is very little in sum. After all, there is a lot of land under the forests in the Chernihiv Oblast.”
A street of an ancient Sosnytsia
An old house with a windmill
Sosnytsia is an ideal place for scooters and bicycles
- The re-registration of local budget institutions adds up to the reduction of schools,” continues Andrii Portnyi. “Chernihivgas”, “Chernihivoblenergo”, “Ukrtelecom” and others use our infrastructure, but pay taxes to Chernihiv.
How the tourism project was born
The Sosnytska AH was formed on "one rayon - one hromada" principle. However, it only managed to unite only 6 village councils out of 18.
Mr Portnyi says he is pleased to invite all village heads to access, but no one has responded so far.
“Of our 16 villages, the street lighting network was only in Zahrebelne, but we were able to manage it. Last year, we spent 1.7 million, switching on 95 lights in the AH. But much more funds are needed to bring a local infrastructure to normal state.”
“Well, maybe tourism will help?” I ask timidly. “You also have the Dovzhenko Museum, you have places of Cossack glory, people find Roman treasures here, Anna Kern lived here for 11 years…”
“This is true, and 28,000 tourists come to the Dovzhenko museum annually,” agrees Mr Portnyi. “It is a large number, but so far we have received almost nothing of it. So we set ourselves two goals. The first is to make tourists dine here; the second is to make them stay for night in the AH. True, there is nowhere to stay for a night. But we have a land plot for the hotel. If only we had an investor…”
It seems to me that I am present at the birth of a grand tourist project, which, as it turns out, requires so little…
The full version is available in Ukrainian – please click HERE
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