Canada inspires Ukrainian starostas

On July 2-4, 2019 the Ukraine Reform Conference was held in Toronto, Canada. Founded by the Government of Ukraine in 2017, this yearly conference gathers representatives of Ukrainian and international governments, businesses, EU, NATO, G7 and civil society to discuss reforms in Ukraine, the reform of local self-government as well.

Ukrainian delegation was joined by heads of amalgamated communities from each oblast of Ukraine. Swiss-Ukrainian Decentralization support project DESPRO has invited starostas - representatives of a new position in Ukrainian local self-government.

Long-term impact of the Conference is still to be experienced, and currently the starostas share their impressions of the URC, Canada, and reflect on how some experiences can be helpful for their amalgamated communities.

“I was impressed by the Ministerial Day of the Conference. So many countries sincerely support Ukraine! It was nice to hear how every country calls itself a friend of Ukraine and shows support. It inspires and motivates to keep strengthening Ukraine”, - says Iryna Nedobuga, starosta of Blahovishchenka village of Komysh-Zoria ATC in Zaporizhzhia oblast.

Tamara Kirian, starosta of Pyrogy village of Hlobyne ATC in Poltava oblast, took part in the panel discussion “Decentralization in action”. She says that decentralization brought new opportunities to support communities and civil society in Ukraine:

“The reform helps create an effective model of governance at local level. It is supported by local authority, resources, and responsibility for making decisions. Yes, we still have to learn a lot. We are learning in the process. In learning we get support from international donor projects, like DESPRO, DOBRE, PLEDGE, U-LEAD and others. We convert the gained knowledge into development of local economy, provision of quality public services, renovation of infrastructure, and many other matters to which local self-government used to have no access”.

Preservation of local history and culture became the greatest point of interest for Ukrainian starostas. After the Conference, Ukrainian delegation visited Chatham-Kent, a municipality in Southwestern Ontario, where participants could learn more about local governance and development of territories in Canada.

“It’s so impressive how the locals care about their history. We saw many museums and spaces for historical reenactment theatre, where people volunteer in plays”, - says Olena Kinash, starosta of Vasylivka village of Solone ATC in Dnipropetrovsk oblast.

The best example of Canadians’ attention to historical buildings is Mary Webb Centre, established in a former church. The church was in ruin when the local activists bought it, renovated and opened an arts and culture centre.

“They opened a gallery on the 1st floor, and a concert hall on the 2nd. Because of great acoustics in this space, famous artists come here to perform. The Centre hosts various exhibitions and presentations, sells artworks of local artists. And the municipality gets taxes from these activities. And the Centre connects the elderly for common leisure time”, - says Iryna Negobuga.

Studying the historical context helped Chatham-Kent community to determine small business branches to develop. The long-forgotten wine-making tradition was restored, and now the municipality attracts 300 thousand tourists yearly. The interconnection of old tradition and modern technologies is not just a business opportunity, but also a basis for identity of the community.

Preservation and integration of history is an important aspect of speeding up decentralization in Ukraine. Studying one’s past results in determining unique features of a community, its market advantages. Thus, the amalgamated community will attract business and tourists, and the locals will have opportunities for self-fulfillment and will be proud of their home”, - says Tamara Kirian. After visiting Canada, she is ready to gather community members, scholars of local history and historians to implement projects of preservation and integration of local culture into wider cultural contexts, “because it enriches the modernity and creates basis for the future”, - the starosta adds.

The development of business also became a point of interest for starostas. Opportunities for business is extremely important for local self-government nowadays.

“I noticed, they grow a lot of corn here, than then is refined at the local factory. Many sorts of alcohols are produced. As a side product of this process, heat and carbon dioxide is produced. As a result, the factory had to pay additional taxes for carbon emissions. And then a genius solution was found! Across the road another enterprise was growing vegetables in greenhouses, which actually required heat and carbon dioxide. So the two enterprises made a cooperation agreement, and everybody wins – even the environment”, - Iryna Nedobuga adds.

What was also astonishing for Ukrainian starostas – the lands in Chatham-Kent are all privately owned.

“All land is private, all is paid taxes for. Taxes are, actually, a main source of income for the municipality. If the municipality has a plan to develop certain part of land, it has to buy it. Sometimes the municipality buys unattended land for market price, then implements infrastructure projects on it, and sells it for low price. That’s an interesting approach”, - says Iryna Nedobuga.

Starostas jointly agree that, beside useful experience, the visit to Canada confirmed that decentralization is definitely on the right way to build economically strong Ukraine.