Village head, Senior Sergeant Artur Shevtsov. Interview with the head of the Vakulove municipality
Artur Shevtsov defends Ukraine in the Donbas region, keeps his finger on the pulse of his municipality and builds plans for the development of Vakulove after the Victory of Ukraine.
Text by: Dmytro Syniak
We spoke with Mr Shevtsov on November 15. Just before we started, the media had reported on three Russian missile strikes against Kyiv. And shortly after we had finished the interview, there was information about two missiles landing in Poland. Between these events, Senior Sergeant Artur Shevtsov spoke about how he, as part of the Ukrainian army, fights Russian terror and how the reform of local self-government helps to protect the independence of Ukraine. Artur Shevtsov’s case is special because before the war, he headed the Vakulove municipality, one of the most successful in Ukraine, the first one ever to be registered. And since the people of Vakulove had more time compared to all the others, they arguably got the most out of the reform. The villages of the municipality received street lighting, drinking water, playgrounds and sports grounds, etc. The Vakulove municipality even purchased new scooters for its starostas and paramedics. Once the war began, Artur Shevtsov volunteered for the front, ending up in the ranks of the Dnipro-1 Battalion of the National Guard of Ukraine. Although as an official of the local government, he was exempted from the draft, he still decided to enlist. Decentralization talked to the heroic head of the municipality during the lull in his area.
You must be the only head of a municipality who volunteered for the front lines.
Actually, there are two of us! In the first days of the war, my friend Oleh Horbatiuk, Head of the Rukshyn municipality of the Chernivtsi region, also took up arms. I made a decision to volunteer on March 7. I felt that I had to defend MY COUNTRY, MY FAMILY and everything dear to me. At the time, the enemy advanced rapidly, and no one knew where they would be stopped, at what point. In the end, the front line stopped somewhere 80 km from us. The neighbouring municipalities of Nikopol, Apostolove and Zelenodolsk were being shelled. As a man and a head of my municipality, I had to be an example for my family and for my people. So I believe I made the right choice. I have been in the war zone since April 29. My call sign is Starshyna [Ukrainian for Sergeant]; my military rank is Senior Sergeant. My company fought in Rubizhne, near Sievierodonetsk, Shchurove, Yampil, Lyman, Zarichne, Terny. As part of the Sloviansk Regiment, it also recaptured Volokhiv Yar, Balakliya, Shevchenkove, Kupiansk, Izium from the Russians and defended Sloviansk and the Bakhmut direction — the Maiorska Railway Station.
You were a very proactive head of the municipality, constantly attending workshops, initiating various development projects and receiving grants. Who did you leave in charge of Vakulove and other villages?
The acting head is currently the secretary of the village council. I left the municipality with a light heart, because the closely-knit team of the executive committee I had been working with for 6 years did a lot of good things, and I had confidence that they would manage without me. They have already achieved a lot. For example, the Vakulove municipality is the only one in the entire Dnipropetrovsk region that received charitable assistance from UNICEF. With the 50,000 euros received from this institution, we bought food, household appliances and other necessities to ensure food security. We paid special attention to families with children. It’s a pity that the projects launched before the war fell through, but what can you do? If it weren’t for the war, we would already have solar panels, an asphalt plant and even a municipal farm! The war threw a wrench into all that. Now our only goal is to win and survive. I’m sure you understand that the revenues to the budget have dropped, and the harvests are poor. And we don’t have any large, budget revenue generating companies. We used to receive our main income from the agricultural sector.
You have set an excellent example, both for the residents of your municipality and the entire local self-government of Ukraine. Has anyone been inspired by it?
Leading by example is very important. The President of Ukraine recently came to the liberated Kherson, showing that he was not afraid of anything, that he was with the people. This is very inspiring. The same applies to the municipality. If its head is at the front, the residents adjust their mindset accordingly. Five of my fellow villagers joined me in the ranks of the Dnipro-1 Battalion. And now the number of people from our municipality, who took up arms to defend Ukraine, is approaching two hundred. Among them are two starostas — one current and the other from the previous convocation — as well as several deputies of the village council. But at the same time, in March, opposition politicians spread the rumours that instead of being at the front lines, I was on a beach vacation abroad. They are welcome to go on such a “beach vacation”!
Some people are now being demobilised due to chronic diseases, as well as because they have three or more children. At the beginning of the war, they went on despite all this, but now the situation at the front is not critical. Don’t you want to take advantage of this opportunity and return to your municipality?
I have three children, albeit already grown up, and all of them are involved in the defence of our Motherland in one way or another. But I believe that it is too early for me to return. After all, not only Russians are suffering losses right now, but we do as well. Moreover, experienced fighters have to morally support young people, because some people have breakdowns after fierce battles. How, say, should a twenty-year-old boy feel after witnessing his friend, the one he had been talking to just a moment ago, being torn to pieces? Not everyone is able to handle their mental state after something like this. Therefore, fighters who have been at the front for a long time cannot just leave their units. They should be an example to recruits.
You have been one of the biggest supporters of the decentralisation reform. What significance do you think this reform has for the Ukrainian resistance?
I have always considered OUR decentralisation reform to be one of the most effective. Where it was fully implemented, it is now easier for people to live and defend themselves from the Russian invasion. And although the path to the unification of the Vakulove municipality was not easy, now people feel that they made the right choice seven years ago. Because during all this time, we have systematically built our vision for the future, the one we saw back in 2014. Two years ago we opened an outpatient clinic, and now it is a tremendous lifesaver for our people, even considering the power outages and transportation problems. What would people do if this clinic did not exist? And Administrative Service Centres! How would people now, in wartime, get certificates in various district bodies otherwise? Many things that the decentralisation reform brought about are now bringing our victory closer. And I believe that thanks to these things, after the war, Ukraine will recover extremely quickly.
Did your local self-government background help you in the war somehow?
It comes in handy in communicating with the local population of the frontline villages. For example, once we had to billet soldiers near Sloviansk. I talked to the local self-government of that municipality, and after that, we accommodated our boys without any problems. We now call these people from time to time and will hopefully cooperate after the victory. People from the Donbas are different from those in the Dnipropetrovsk region, not to mention the central and western regions of Ukraine. Many are under the influence of Russian propaganda. And here there are ruins everywhere, there are villages that have been completely destroyed. And yet local self-government works here too, promotes the Ukrainian idea, unites people. Although I lived not so far from Donbas, I never knew that they had such good roads here. A true showcase of Ukrainian infrastructure! I also really liked Kramatorsk, which I had never been to before: a small, wonderful, green city.
Is there pro-Russian sentiment in your municipality?
Heavens, no! In fact, I believe that such sentiments stem from local self-government failures. Meanwhile, this is an extremely important direction. Now my boys are coming home from short-term leave and say that sometimes they don’t understand what’s going on. Able men there lounge in restaurants, doing zilch to help the army, and the soldiers are told, “This is your choice!”. It is good when women and children are saved from war, but what about men? Where does this “Your choice” come from? If you don’t serve, you should help financially, volunteer. In this regard, I am proud of my municipality. In addition to work, the women from the executive committee also manage to cook and hand over humanitarian aid. My municipality includes the Zhovtneve starosta district headed by Inna Saranchuk, who used to be my deputy for a long time. In this village, people are always delivering all kinds of goodies to the front lines, weaving camouflage nets, making candles. Well done! At such moments, I feel that it was not for nothing that we once reaffirmed that Ukraine was united, that it was our state, and that is how we raised our children. We took them to Europe at the expense of donor organisation, showed them Amsterdam and Berlin, organised various competitions for them. At one time, I held free classes in the schools of our villages on the extracurricular subject titled Art of Living in a Community. And later, the children explained to their parents that garbage should be collected separately, that you shouldn’t throw a bottle out of a car window, and so on. Now grown up, these children are fighting for us. It turns out that we raised them correctly.
Does the Vakulove municipality still remember you?
They remember me all right! They are calling all the time, asking how I am, thanking me for the humanitarian aid they receive from various foundations, as well as for other things that my team implements. I tell them not to call too much, because, firstly, we don’t always have a phone signal here, and secondly, people in the rear now have to save the charge of their phones. Our girls also send us various preserves and other food from time to time. However, the Vakulove municipality primarily helps those units that directly defend it, fighting the enemy in the Kherson region, rather than Dnipro-1. The front line is very close to Vakulove. I know that our women bring various goodies to the soldiers there, pies, blankets, warm clothes and children’s drawings. By the way, it feels very nice to receive drawings. They touch my heart and soul... And it is not so easy to get to the Donbas, where I am currently fighting, from my municipality. It’s far. The Kherson front is another matter.
Do you keep up with the updates from your municipality? Do your subordinates often turn to you for advice?
I am always in touch with the executive committee, case manager, secretary and other employees. That is, I am fully aware of everything that is happening in Vakulove and other villages. We don’t talk often, maybe once a month, but that’s enough. Because when the machine is well-oiled, it runs smoothly.
Do you miss office work?
I miss communication with colleagues in the decentralisation department, with like-minded people committed to the development of the local self-government. I’m already thinking about the post-war development prospects for our municipality. We have a strategic plan, and we will update it after the war. Of course, I would like to communicate more with colleagues from Kyiv, with associations of municipalities, from foreign colleagues, but this will have to wait.
How do residents of liberated towns and villages greet the Ukrainian army?
I remember one old man who brought us a pot of borscht just when we had to advance to the position. “Boys, please have a bite! We’ve been waiting for you!” he said, almost crying. And then, when we drove through the Kharkiv region on tanks during that glorious breakthrough, people on our way were on their knees. Some women were sobbing. We couldn’t hold back our tears either. Afterwards, we literally danced, celebrating the liberation of the Kharkiv region. We had several such celebrations: when the Moskva was sunk, when the Lyman was taken, when the Kharkiv region was liberated, when the Crimean bridge was blown up. Our latest celebration is the capture of Kherson. We were happy like little kids.
There is probably no shortage of adventures at the front. Tell us about some of them.
The Russians simply dropped a mine on the back of one of the soldiers of my unit from a drone. Can you imagine? It hit him right in the back! And — failed to explode. If it had exploded, this soldier would surely have died, and many more would have been injured. This guy’s nickname is Kit [Ukrainian for cat]. “Kit, how many more lives do you have left?” we jokingly asked him after that. Then there was that time, at the beginning of summer, when we came to receive ammunition. It so happened that we left 5 hours later, because we were under fire, so we had to stay the night. And in the morning, the Russians destroyed the entire military facility where we were supposed to spend the night. Four missiles hit it.
Your rank is Senior Sergeant, and your call sign means Sergeant, but I heard that you are actually a Colonel. How can this be possible?
It’s simple. I used to worked in the tax inspectorate as the head of the district unit, and I am an Adviser to the Tax Service of the 1st rank. This rank is equivalent to the military rank of Colonel. But this does not mean that a taxman has the right to lead the regiment. At the battle front, I am a Senior Sergeant.
What is your message to the employees of the local self-government of Ukraine?
I would like to remind them of the words of Taras Shevchenko, “Keep fighting — you are sure to win!”. I am proud of the Ukrainian local self-government, because I know how difficult it is for people now. Taxes to the municipal budget have been halved, there is almost no work, blackouts, everyone is anxious, loved ones die, become disabled, ties with relatives who live in Russia have been severed. But despite everything, services are provided, municipalities keep running, there is no collapse anywhere. I would like to appeal to all employees of the local self-government of Ukraine, and especially to my friends and colleagues from the Association of Amalgamated Territorial Communities, in particular, the Rural Development sectoral platform. Get ready! After the victory, it will be a huge construction time! We will build a new country, the country of our dreams, our fairy tale country where happy people live.
Громади:Вакулівська територіальна громада
Пресцентр ініціативи "Децентралізація"
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