The occupiers complain that decentralisation has discredited their pseudo-republics. Interview with the head of the Novopskov municipality

Vadym Haiev talks about how his municipality lives under occupation and is waiting to be liberated from the invaders.

Text by: Dmytro Syniak


The Slobozhanschyna region derives its name from ‘slobodas’, villages exempt from taxes, i.e. ‘slobidni’ (free) villages. From the 17th century, the age of active settlement of the region, and to this day, the Ukrainian language has been dominant here. Neither the decrees of tsarist Russia nor 70 years of Soviet propaganda could change this. In fact, the power and unity of the pro-Ukrainian people prevented Russian troops from seizing these lands in 2014: in each village, locals showed armed ‘apalchentsy’ at the door. Residents of the Novopskov municipality tried to do the same in February this year, when Russian troops invaded them, but this time the occupiers were not going to listen to anyone. They simply opened fire on a large-scale rally under yellow and blue flags, resulting in four locals with injuries of varying severity. Now the village of Novopskov is in the deep Russian rear. Its head Vadym Haiev told Decentralization about the situation in the municipality. He left Novopskov in February, together with Ukrainian security forces, but he still keeps his ears to the ground.

How did the occupation of your municipality occur?

Our municipality borders on Russia, so it was captured very quickly. First, Russian troops took control of the road, then seized our police department and later the village council building. Around 10 March, the occupation ‘authorities’ held a meeting of collaborators, introducing a ‘new head of the district.’ Without going into the details of Ukraine’s administrative-territorial reform, the invaders simply restored the Soviet centralised administrative system, within the old districts. The Russians probably believe that the Soviet model is enough to manage the occupied territories. They are appointing the first people they came across as heads without any competition…

So there are some collaborators in the municipality…

It is not always a matter of voluntary collaboration. The occupiers come to the people at night and tell them to go to work the next day, or they would end up [imprisoned and tortured] in the ‘basement’. What is left for people to do? Another thing is that slave labour is the least productive, so we should not expect any noticeable results from it. However, it looks like the Russian orcs don’t care about the results. At the same time, the new occupation administration is a smokescreen that simply broadcasts the decisions of law enforcement agencies such as the FSB, the Prosecutor’s Office, the army and others, which are mainly concerned with intimidating people.

Do Russians commit crimes in your municipality?

I have information that they steal people’s personal belongings, cars. Healthcare facilities are being stripped of equipment, and interactive whiteboards are being taken out of educational institutions. The occupiers are also abducting local government officials, Anti-Terrorist Operation vets, servicemen, border guards and their relatives. Many are being harassed by threats against them and their families. Russians come to their homes, take away their phones, connect them to specific equipment and study what and where the person wrote, the content they posted.

Are there any laws in force in the occupied territories?

A man with a machine gun in a balaclava is the supreme law there. Entrepreneurs are re-registered, schools and kindergartens are reopened at gunpoint. The terror perpetrated by the Russians is reminiscent of the late 1930s. Russians hold ‘witch-hunts’, arrest people on the slightest suspicion. Often the suspect simply disappears, and no one can say what happened to them. Some are released after torture. I can say that for the occupiers, we are people from another planet. For example, they can’t even imagine going to a rally voluntarily, so they believe that someone is forcing our people to do so.

Do you mean that there were pro-Ukrainian rallies in the municipality?

Only two. The occupiers shot the second one: four people received gunshot wounds. The invaders simply opened fire on the crowded crowd. The decentralisation reform has greatly united the community, taught people to proactively build their own future. They are accustomed to being subjects rather than objects of decision-making, to actively participate in the public budget, to write and distribute petitions, to constantly turn to the head of the municipality to solve certain problems. The Russians, however, have brought back the Soviet practices: sit back and wait for your problems to be solved by the higher-ups. And, God forbid, you turn up there yourself… When our residents went to pro-Ukrainian rallies, they were convinced that they would be heard, that the new authorities would listen to their demands. This is the attitude they are used to. But the Russians did not even try to do so. Moreover, they did not have the authority to carry out any wishes of the people, because they simply carried out orders from Moscow.

Were you threatened?

They sent only one text message, back then, in late February. Here is it: “Vadym Viktorovich! Don’t let a humanitarian catastrophe happen! Think of your citizens and families! To discuss security guarantees, write to us using this link in Telegram. Don’t let the nationalists hide behind you!” I did not reply. It was then that I retreated with a detachment of our border guards and police. In general, our key figures with a strong pro-Ukrainian position managed to leave. Others are under intense pressure, and I do not fully understand its ultimate goal. Is it to intimidate pro-Ukrainian population or to make these people flee?

How long did the Novopskov Village Council work after the municipality had been occupied?

Until 10 March. And the services were provided in full. Now, however, the provision of basic services has become a huge problem. For example, how to register a newborn baby? Previously, it was enough to go to the Administrative Services Centre (we had arguable the best ASC in the Luhansk region!) or use the E-Maliatko (E-Baby) application. And now one of the parents must first enter the territory controlled by the Ukrainian government, then sue, demanding the issuance of a birth certificate. Because the ‘Ausweiss’ issued by the LPR is invalid.

Is it true that the war threw a wrench into many municipality initiatives?

We had so many plans! We were to open a gynaecological department at our hospital, repair roads to the village of Hanusivka and the Starobilska municipality, build sidewalks there and install street lighting in several villages. All these initiatives have now come to naught. The head of one of the municipalities of the Luhansk region told the occupiers, “We had such and such budget and such and such plans for this year. What can you offer our municipalities?” “Nothing!” they replied to her. “Now it’s your turn to endure everything that we at the LPR have endured for eight years. You have been developing here; everyone has seen what repairs you are doing, but you have discredited our young republic! Now there will be no such discrediting!”

Is it possible to bring humanitarian aid to the municipality?

No, it isn’t. The Russians do not let our vehicles through! Some entrepreneurs have started to bring food from Luhansk. In addition, most of our residents run their own farms or homesteads, so there is no humanitarian catastrophe in the municipality. For some, the occupiers pay some social assistance. In rubles, naturally. At the same time, Ukrainian pensions continue to be credited to bank cards. However, POS-terminals do not always work, and it is quite difficult to use this money.

The pages of the Novopskov municipality on social media used to be very active. Why are they frozen now? After all, you can continue to run them remotely.

We’d like to avoid endangering people. The occupiers do not need to see who is liking our Facebook posts. So we switched to targeted information assistance. If someone gave birth to a child, we write to parents what to do, how to get a birth certificate, social benefits and so on. Local government employees who work remotely receive up to two-thirds of their salaries, according to the law. But they work.

What is the sentiment among the people in the Novopskov municipality? Are they waiting for deoccupation?

We have had no cases of separatism. Our people speak Ukrainian, and the more remote the village, the purer the language of its inhabitants. We are very inspired by the optimistic predictions of Serhii Haidai, Head of the Luhansk Military Administration. After all, he knows much more than we do. And when he says that all the occupied territories will be liberated, we believe him. We have been waiting for this liberation for two months and are ready to wait as long as necessary. But we really want to return under the Ukrainian flag as soon as possible.

 

09.05.2022 - 10:58 | Views: 4693
The occupiers complain that decentralisation has discredited their pseudo-republics. Interview with the head of the Novopskov municipality

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