«Military Quarter»: how the majority people’s deputies from Kharkiv worked in the first 3 months of the war | Center for Political Analysis «Observatory of Democracy»

«Military Quarter»: how the majority people’s deputies from Kharkiv worked in the first 3 months of the war

In the 2019 parliamentary elections, the Kharkiv region (as in previous campaigns in 2012 and 2014) was divided into 14 majority constituencies. 7 of them fell directly on the regional center. In the penultimate part of the monitoring of the political life of the region during the war, the Analytical Center «Observatory of Democracy» examines the work of 7 majoritarians who represent the heroic city of Kharkiv in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

Legislative activity of the deputies

The “electoral reset” which took place in 2019 led to the parliament 6 out of 7 new deputies from Kharkiv, for whom this IX convocation of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine became the first personal cadence. In addition to 6 “debutants” from the pro-presidential Servant of the People party, Oleksandr Feldman managed to get into parliament for the fifth time (as a self-nominated candidate).

Constituency Deputy Voting at sessions Bills initiated
Voted Didn`t vote Absent Total
168 Maria Mazentseva 132 79 1 212 20
169 Alexander Kunitsky 200 12 0 212 7
170 Andriy Odarchenko 109 31 72 212 1
171 Victoria Kinsburska 104 106 2 212 20
172 Yuri Zdebsky 174 38 0 212 19
173 Alexander Bakumov 212 0 0 212 61
174 Alexander Feldman 7 1 204 212 1

Source: the table is based on data from the website of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (voting statistics and registered bills – from February 24 to May 17, 2022). 

Oleksandr Bakumov, people’s deputy from the 173rd constituency (Osnovyansky and Slobidsky districts of Kharkiv), was most involved in the development of legislative initiatives. He is a co-initiator of 61 bills and resolutions (in the study period from February 24 to May 17) and took part in the voting on all 212 issues without exception at the plenary sessions of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. Interestingly, Bakumov, who is a member of the Rozumna Politika inter-factional association headed by the former Head of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Dmytro Razumkov, is the most active people’s deputy from Kharkiv. This moderate – oppositional group was perceived quite hostile in the Office of the President of Ukraine(at least before the war). On February 9, 2022, Bakumov and Razumkov managed to open the first local office of the Razumkov Team public organisation in Kharkiv, de facto making a public start to party building in the regions. However, after the start of the full-scale war, Bakumov disciplinedly voted simultaneously with the Servant of the People faction. Most of the bills Bakumov joined as a co-initiator concerned amendments to the Criminal Code (which seems quite organic, given the legal education of the people’s deputy and his previous job at the Kharkiv National University of Internal Affairs).

The people’s deputy from the 168th constituency (Shevchenkivskyi district) Maria Mezentseva was included in the list of initiators of bills and resolutions 20 times. Among them, in particular, were the appeals of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine to the UN, the Council of Europe, UNESCO, parliamentarians of both chambers of the United States and others. Mezentseva herself is the Head of the Ukrainian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), and this may explain her non-vote of 37% on the issues considered at the sessions of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, although the “Rada” system defined the deputy`s position as “didn`t vote”, not missing).

A similar level of legislative activity was demonstrated by the representative of the 171st constituency  (Nemyshlyansky district and part of the Industrial and Slobid districts) Victoria Kinzburska. 7 of the 20 legislative initiatives to which the deputy joined concerned amendments to the Tax Code (as those that contributed to the liberalization of the economy at the beginning of the war and the attempts to make a “rollback” of these rules in May). Kinzburska did not vote on 51% of the issues raised at plenary sessions, although she was not considered absent, according to electronic registration protocols.

Yuriy Zdebsky, a deputy from the 172nd constituency (part of the Industrial and Moscow districts), is one of the co-authors of 19 legislative initiatives. As a soldier by profession, the People’s Deputy was involved in initiative groups to develop many bills on Ukraine’s defense capabilities. In particular, Zdebsky co-authored amendments to the laws “On intelligence” (№7240-1), “On military duty and military service” (№7242), “On the Armed Forces of Ukraine” (№7379 – still under consideration). Quite often, Zdebsky’s surname on the list of subjects of legislative initiators accompanies quite resonant projects (not yet supported by parliament), which were publicly communicated by another Kharkiv people’s deputy Fedir Venislavsky (for example, №7271 on restricting the right of freedom of speech for servicemen or №7265 on criminal liability for non-return of conscripts to Ukraine after the declaration of martial law).

Oleksandr Kunytsky, people’s deputy from the 169th constituency (Kyiv district), joined 7 legislative initiatives, 5 of which concerned amendments to the Criminal Code. The deputy also co-authored a bill №7302-1 (not yet adopted by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine) on strengthening administrative liability for illegal wearing of military uniforms. Kunitsky took part in voting on almost all (200 out of 212) of the issues submitted to the plenary sessions of the Verkhovna Rada.

Instead, the “majoritarians” from the 170th  (Moscow district) and 174th (Novobavarsky and Kholodnogorsky districts) constituencies Andriy Odarchenko and Oleksandr Feldman showed the least activity in the legislative work of the parliament. Odarchenko voted on 51 percent of the questions and Feldman rarely appeared in parliament while he was staying in Kharkiv. During the study period, both people’s deputies had only one involvement in the groups of co-initiators of legal acts: Odarchenko supported the bill №7129 on the possibility of remote parliamentary sittings (not adopted), and Feldman supported the resolution №7276 on recognizing the fact of genocide commited by the Russian Federation in Ukraine.

Deputies’ everyday life and public activity 

Outside the parliamentary hall, Kharkiv’s “majoritarians” also placed different emphasis on their activities and public coverage, although was volunteering has become the main trend.

Source: the collage is composed of photo materials and video screenshots posted on the personal pages of people`s deputies on social networks, as well as on the website of the “Ukrainian Truth”.

Maria Mezentseva, as Ukraine’s representative to the PACE, was most active on the “diplomatic front”. During the three months of the war, the geography of her travels included Paris, Strasbourg, Vienna, Berlin, the Hague, Davos, Dublin and the Vatican. The deputy from the Shevchenkivskyi district of Kharkiv carefully reported on meetings with a wide range of world leaders, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Pope Francis on her Facebook page. At the same time, the deputy volunteered, replenishing the equipment of the Ukrainian military. For example, on May 23 Mezentseva announced about the transfer of a car to the defenders of Kharkiv region (thanks to the London organization “Never Surrender UK”), and on May 16 – about new drones, bulletproof vests and tactical headphones. In total, there are more than a dozen such reports on assistance to the military or civilians on the deputy’s website.

Oleksandr Kunitsky, people’s deputy from the Kyiv district of Kharkiv , has the largest audience on social networks among Kharkiv “majoritarians” (YouTube – 1.3 million, Facebook – 144 thousand, Instagram – 107 thousand subscribers). As it turned out in the first days of the war, most of the audience were either Russians or users loyal to Russia, who began to accuse the deputy of his “pro-Ukrainian position” in the comments. In early March, Kunitsky recorded several videos, emphasizing that he was in Kyiv and had not disappeared. And on March 11 the people’s deputy got into a scandal – he was detained by the law enforcement officers because of conducting video shooting at a checkpoint (however, it didn’t have significant consequences for the people’s deputy). During the Spring Kunitsky mostly shared other people’s video content of the destruction of various cities in Ukraine due to the Russian shelling on his pages. There was no mention of working with voters in his 169th constituency, visiting Kharkiv, or organizing humanitarian aid for the residents.

Instead, Oleksandr Feldman, a deputy from the 174th constituency, focused on humanitarian activities, launching the “Help a neighbor” program  from his own charitable foundation. Numerous videos in Feldman’s Fb account show an identical picture from different districts of Kharkiv, where the deputy personally distributes branded packages to help people standing in line. The second direction, about which the people’s deputy actively reported on social networks, is the removal of animals from the “Feldman Ecopark”,which was destroyed by Russian shelling (6 park employees and volunteers were killed during the evacuation during the whole period). At the same time, the only “majority deputy” in Kharkiv, who was not a member of the pro-presidential faction, was undergoing a political metamorphosis. According to Feldman, he wrote a statement to leave the Opposition Platform – For Life faction on the first day of the war (it was announced on March 15). Probably, the “signal” vote on a possible departure was Feldman’s support of the resolution of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on condemning Russia’s recognition of the independence of the so-called “Luhansk People`s Republic” and “Donetsk People`s Republic” on February 22. As a non-partisan, the people’s deputy did not appear at parliamentary sittings, focusing on volunteering in Kharkiv. However, he did not stay non-partisan for long as on May 22, Feldman joined the newly formed parliamentary group “Restoration of Ukraine”, co-chaired by his former assistant and now a billionaire, Kharkiv resident Igor Abramovich. It is noteworthy that deputy groups with this name were previously established in Kharkiv regional and city councils.

Source: The collage is composed of photo materials posted on the personal Facebook pages of Alexander Bakumov, Yuri Zdebsky, Victoria Kinzburska and Andrei Odarchenko.

Oleksandr Bakumov, a deputy from the 173rd constituency, combined his activity in the session hall of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine with quite frequent visits to Kharkiv, as he reported on his personal Facebook page. In humanitarian activities, in his own words, the deputy coordinated with the “Community of indifferent “Action”” public organisation. At the same time, he replied that “he helps independently where he can, and Kharkiv Regional State Administration and Kharkiv City Hall deal with the humanitarian goods that come to Kharkiv centrally” to one of the typical comments about the lack of specific assistance. On March 15, the people’s deputy posted a group photo of seven “servants of the people” from the Verkhovna Rada, adding the caption: “Representatives of Kharkiv region in parliament. It is a pity that not all the deputies representing Kharkiv region work with us”. This predictably caused a clarification of the relationship in the comments, where, in particular, representatives of Kharkiv volunteers emphasized that Maria Mezentseva and Victoria Kinzburska, who are absent from the photo, give the biggest help to Kharkiv. And on March 21 Bakumov announced that  he is creating an all-Ukrainian movement to document Russian war crimes “together with the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine, although the relevant website has links only to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine, but there is no mention of Bakumov.

Victoria Kinzburska, who was elected to the  parliament from the 171st constituency, was difficult to be classified as a public people’s deputy before the war, but in the last three months she has been most involved in active volunteering (most often working with the union of public organisations “Ukraine for heroes” and many well-known Kharkiv volunteers). The deputy’s personal Facebook page reminds more of a volunteer diary with occasional splashes of messages about supported bills or posts on current topics. For example, on May 8 the people’s deputy joined the “hype” criticism of the singer Taras Topolia (currently serving the Armed Forces of Ukraine), who ambiguously spoke about the patriotism of Kharkiv residents in the context of the language issue. “When I was running up the stairs to the shelter on Myronositskaya Street in Kharkiv at the moment when the caliber missile arrived, the last thing I could think about was that weKharkiv residents, would have to prove our pro-Ukrainian position to such a bad blogger with wrong conclusions”. This “politicized” post by Kinsburska is her most popular post during the “military quarter”, although it weakly reflects the direction of the average public activity of the deputy.

Just like Kinzburska, Yuri Zdebsky, a representative of the 172nd constituency, gave an opportunity to post the content of other users on his Facebook page, and due to the heterogeneity of his audience, it is not always clear what the deputy’s attitude to such “foreign” content is. As for the materials presented by Zdebsky himself, photos from the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine sitting hall predominate. Interestingly, in the photo from the parliament on March 16 there is a blue ribbon (There was a yellow ribbon on March 8), which marked the military and the representatives of the territorial defense, on the sleeve of the deputy. There is no publicly available information on whether the deputy, who is a military by profession, joined these structures or whether it was a tribute to “trend self-representation” or a joint initiative of the parliamentary committee on national security, which includes the people’s deputy. Instead, an unpleasant incident  for Zdebsky with the detention of his assistant, who was suspected of high treason for the systematic transfer of data on Ukraine’s defense capabilities to the Federal Security Service on March 2 appeared in the public domain. Zdebsky reacted publicly to this situation as in his own separate letter on March 6, he assured that his detained assistant and former comrade in military service did not have access to Ukraine’s military state secrets.

And the least public among Kharkiv majoritarians during the “military quarter” was Andrei Odarchenko, a representative of the 170th district, which was probably the most affected by the Russian shelling. The day before the war, on February 23, he was the only one among Kharkiv’s “servants of the people” to ignore the vote on sanctions against Russian State Duma deputies who admitted the independence of the so-called “Luhansk People`s Republic” / “Donetsk People`s Republic”. Odarchenko made his first public statement since the full-scale invasion on February 25, copying an attraction about behavior in a “military emergency” on his Facebook page. Two days later, the deputy recalled the numbers of his reception, and in general he shared three more letters three months later. The last of them is dated May 4 – the deputy thanked the Head of the Saltovka district administration and the Mayor of the Italian community of Chiavenna in Lombardy. Apparently, the accompanying photos show Italians in the background of a truck with humanitarian aid, as well as Ukrainian pensioners to whom this aid was intended. In one of the photos, Odarchenko is looking into the camera, posing on a bench with an elderly woman, a box with an Italian inscription and a packed loaf of bread.

Conclusions

The analysis of the activities of the “majoritarians” from Kharkiv, based on open resources (in particular, the website of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and personal resources of the deputies on social networks), showed different levels of performance of the immediate responsibilities and public activity by the deputies. In terms of legislative work, the representative of the 173rd constituency Oleksandr Bakumov, who did not miss a single voting of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine during the study period and joined the 61st legislative initiative has the best indicators. Majorities from the 170th and 174th constituencies Andriy Odarchenko and Oleksandr Feldman, who co-initiated the legislation only once, showed the least activity in the session hall. Feldman also rarely appeared at the sittings of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, and it is noteworthy that on May 31 (the last sitting of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, which was not chronologically included in our comparative study) Oleksandr Feldman was present at the session and actively voted as a part of the newly formed parliamentary group “Restoration of Ukraine” synchronously with the “Servant of the People”.

In addition to legislative activities, the responsibilities of the people`s deputies include working with voters (which is especially true for the “majoritarians” who represent specific constituencies in parliament). The humanitarian crisis, which affected the districts of Kharkiv with varying degrees of intensity, has raised the demand for assistance to residents, which they expected, in particular, from their deputies. The personal provision of such assistance or assistance to the voters of the district is not directly the responsibility of the people’s deputies, but during the war (unlike the pre-election context) it seems quite appropriate. In fact, the removal from the humanitarian problems of the constituency is not a direct non-fulfillment of parliamentary duties, but in terms of political responsibility, it will certainly have consequences in the form of fair questions from the voters about what their representative in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine did for the constituency during the war.

In this regard, the most extensive is the humanitarian activity of the deputy from the 174th constituency Alexander Feldman (which was not limited to the contours of the district). Deputies from 171st, 173rd and 168th constituencies Victoria Kinzburska, Oleksandr Bakumov and Maria Mezentseva also distinguished themselves with their active cooperation with volunteer organizations to help Kharkiv residents. Andriy Odarchenko, a representative of the 170th constituency, reported on such assistance once, and it is difficult to find any mention of their constituencies or general visits to Kharkiv during the war on the personal pages of Yuri Zdebsky (172nd constituency) and Oleksandr Kunitsky (169th constituency). It cannot be ruled out that the deputies did not advertise a part of their activities, although such a position is difficult to combine with, for example, Odarchenko’s “posing” with a loaf of bread on May 4 or the traditional publicist desire of Kunitsky, a blogger from Zaporizhzhya.(for whom, by the way, this desire led to a detention by the law enforcement officers because of video shooting on a checkpoint in March).