“Where once was a flourishing municipality, there are ruins.” Interview with the head of the Snihurivka municipality
Inna Boyko told us about the situation in Snihurivka and nearby villages, about the destruction, collaborators, the budget and prospects for restoring economic potential.
Text by: Dmytro Syniak
A small town in the Bashtan district of the Mykolaiv region, Snihurivka is a powerful railway hub. On March 1, waves of invading troops rolled in. By March 19, the Russians occupied the town, but their advance stalled. Considering the strategic importance of Snihurivka — it shields the road to Kherson — the Russians spared no effort to hold it. For more than seven months, it became a front-line town, experiencing all the “benefits” of the Russian occupation: torture chambers, looting, terror. On their part, the invaders, as they are wont to do, liberated the townspeople from electricity, gas, running water and heating. However, on November 10, the 131st Reconnaissance Battalion of the Armed Forces of Ukraine finally pushed the Russians out of Snihurivka. Mobile phone reception was back on November 13, and the running water supply was restored on the 14th. However, the town and surrounding villages still face numerous problems. Inna Boyko, Head of the Snihurivka municipality, told Decentralization about this.
What is the general aftermath of the Russian occupation?
Many villages, as well as the city of Sniрurivka itself, suffered significant destruction due to devastating shelling. There is not a single undamaged settlement in the entire municipality, and the village of Bezimenne has been completely destroyed, down to the last house. Administrative buildings, schools, kindergartens were destroyed. In particular, two of our 14 schools are now piles of bricks. The degree of destruction is different everywhere: in some places, only the windows are broken, and others are reduced to rubble. The total scope of the damage is still unknown, because we can’t reach everywhere due to a high number of land mines around. The Russians also looted our municipality, stealing 10 school buses, 6 ambulances and other equipment. Before the war, we had graders, garbage trucks, tractors and snow ploughs. Now all this is either gone or burned.
How did the Russians behave in Snihurivka and nearby villages?
As they did everywhere — brazenly and cruelly. They looted empty apartments in broad daylight and put up a hunt for the ATO veterans and those who joined the Territorial Defence. To be honest, it’s just sickening. Ruscists, barbarians! When people tell me what happened here, I can’t hold my tears. Maybe I’ll talk about it a little later, but now I can’t, sorry. This is too painful a topic for me and for all our residents.
When Izium was liberated, mass burials of civilians were found there. Have you found any of these?
Not yet. Although I know that people were buried in their own gardens, because the Russians for some reason did not allow burying the dead and deceased in the cemeteries. I also know of many people who died from torture and shelling. After all, right until the liberation of the Right Bank of the Kherson region, our municipality was in fact close to the front lines. So I believe we may find many more graves when mine clearance teams demine our entire territory. Now, however, I would like to avoid disclosing any numbers. This should be first done by the military administration.
Were the employees of the city council affected by the actions of the Russian invaders?
Fortunately, they weren’t. Most of them worked with me in the early days of the occupation, trying to help people. But later, just like me, they were forced to leave. Several employees of the city council agreed to cooperate with the occupiers, and we immediately severed labour relations with them. My team evacuated from the municipality on March 28, 10 days after it had been occupied. That is, they lived under occupation for ten days and experienced it first-hand. For the first 5 days after the Russian orcs entered Snihurivka, I hid. But they found and arrested me — they took me under escort, at machine gun point. For a whole month, I tried to do something for the people without collaborating with the Russians, but then I realised that I would not be able to do anything without involving them. That’s why I left. I did not want to cooperate with them, and they did not want me to work independently.
What was saved?
The situation in health care is probably the best. Our nurses who remained at the hospital managed to prevent some of the medical equipment from being looted, although the Russians did take away part of it. The doctors were all evacuated, so there were no wounded Russians in our hospital. At least I don’t have any information about it.
How many teachers remained under the occupation? And how many of them taught Ukrainian children to sing the Russian national anthem?
About 240 teachers left. Of the 60 teachers who stayed under occupation, only 15 expressed a desire to cooperate with the Russians. The rest refused. We fired the collaborators as soon as we found out about such cooperation.
How do Snihurika schools work now?
Just like during quarantine, that is online. The region provided all of them with laptops, and they all work with the children remotely. We started setting up this online work as early as May 10. We held city council sessions and executive committee meetings like this as well. So now this system works like a well-oiled machine. Educators receive salaries on time. Those who remained in the occupied territory and did not cooperate with the occupiers received 2/3 of their official salary and all others were paid 100%.
The media recently reported that a high-ranking collaborator was detained in Snihurivka. Who is she and how many collaborators were there in general?
If the security forces did not name her, I will not do it either. Although every local knows this person. She was part of the Russian-appointed administration, that is, you can say that she kept the same position during the occupation that she held under the Ukrainian authorities. This woman tried to recruit those she was on good terms with. She travelled around, urging people to cooperate. Now, most of those whom she did convince were forced to flee to the occupied territories of the Kherson region and Crimea or to Russia. Most of our collaborators are people who are at least 50-55 years old. It is difficult for me to say why they chose to cooperate with the enemy. I believe that some of them were Russian sleeper agents, and others simply believed Russian propaganda.
|Ukrainian military after the liberation of Snihurivka||Detention of a high-ranking female collaborator in Snihurivka|
How many people are there in Snihurivka now?
We can guess their number based on the amount of humanitarian aid we distribute. About 4,000 people applied for it in Snihurivka itself, and about 5,000 more did in the villages of the municipality. And before the war, our municipality had a population of almost 22,000 in 22 settlements: 8 village councils and the town. However, we observe that now many people are returning to their homes to take warm things, documents, etc. I must also note that we cannot reach everywhere as the Russians mined everything. For example, the military will not allow us to enter the village of Tamaryne which faced significant destruction for a while yet, even to deliver humanitarian aid.
It was reported in the news that the power is already back in Snihurivka. What about heating and gas?
There has been no centralised heating in Snihurivka for twenty years, private houses mostly have electric heating. And we started introducing gas only in 2017-2018. This process sped up when we united into a municipality at the end of 2018. Gas is already back in most of the town buildings that were gasified before the war. Some districts of the town are getting power back. Before that, electricity in the town was only from diesel generators. Running water is also back, if only every other day. However, the situation is improving all the time. Internet connection in Snihurivka is available thanks to Starlinks. The situation in the villages is much more complicated, but we are waiting for diesel generators from various charitable foundations. As soon as we get these generators, we immediately distribute them among the villages. Many have their own wells there, so when there is no power, there is no water.
Your municipality is agriculture-oriented. Do farmers plan to resume their work?
They do, but this requires clearing fields from land mines. It is too late to sow now, so farmers are preparing for spring. In general, we have lost so much because of the Russians that it makes me want to cry. This year, for example, we planned to build a new bridge, the third one here. Instead, we lost the two that we already had: the invaders blew them up. One bridge was of regional importance, and the other was local. The Russian orcs destroyed our main budget revenue generating company, a tomato factory. Agribusinesses were unable to harvest crops, which means they did not pay local taxes. Because of this, our budget targets are met only by 30%. Before the war, we started building parks and squares and replacing pavement tiles, we overhauled several schools, providing them with everything necessary. We planned to build a stadium... It is so painful to talk about it now: where once was a flourishing municipality, there are ruins. Why all of this? What have we done to these Russians? Why did they destroy our welfare and kill our children?
What other challenges do you face now as the head of the municipality?
Providing residents with humanitarian aid and construction materials for repairs. Very few shops have opened back, but people need food and personal hygiene products. And houses damaged by shelling must be repaired. After all, winter is coming, and roofs and windows must be repaired. We are also tirelessly drawing up valuation reports, which we will later hand over to the government so that people can receive decent compensation for lost housing. Applying for financial aid and subsidies is a whole other issue as well. However, it is very difficult for us to work because many of our employees are abroad or in other cities and towns of Ukraine. There is a catastrophic shortage of workforce.
Did the decentralisation reform have an impact on organising resistance to the occupiers and the rate of recovery of the municipality after liberation, in your opinion?
It had a tremendous impact! I have always said that the decentralisation reform is the most successful and necessary modern reform. It allowed our municipality to start flourishing. But now we have to start all over again. However, thanks to the decentralisation reform, we’re in a much better position and don’t have to do it from scratch. After all, we know how to write projects, successfully apply for grants, and participate in loan programmes. We have certain connections and an understanding of how to attract funds. But we simply have not had time to do all of it yet. We need at least some of the workers to return to work. However, the military still allows very few people even to Snihurivka.
Do you have a place to work? Has the building of the city council remained intact?
It is not just not intact but faced serious damage. In addition to all office equipment, almost all documents remained under the rubble. Therefore, we are currently working in the old building of the city council. It houses other institutions that are now forced to squeeze us in. We are still working using our office appliances. Our teachers were given laptops, but we were not. Because unlike us, the teachers had an educational subvention for this, that is, money from the Ministry of Education.
When will life fully return to the Snihurivka municipality?
In the spring, I think. By that time, all the mines will be cleared, power will be back, and the military will lift strict restrictions on movement. Farmers will start spring field work. The tomato plant will launch again. Its owner and director recently visited and promised to resume production. And once businesses open, people will come back. We will rebuild everything very quickly together. If only these horrors ended sooner. I dearly hope that the victory of Ukraine is near.
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