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

«Military Quarter»: how people’s deputies elected on party lists from Kharkiv region worked in the first 3 months of the war

Kharkiv region is represented by 22 people’s deputies in the Verkhovna Rada of the IX convocation. 14 “majoritarians” formally have a stronger connection with the region, while deputies elected on party lists are often overlooked by journalists and researchers. In this (fifth) part of the monitoring of the political life of Kharkiv region during the war, the Observatory of Democracy Analytical Center acquaints the public with the activities of people’s deputies elected on party lists who can be considered the representatives of the Kharkiv region.

Legislative activity of the deputies

Unlike majority deputies, people’s deputies elected on party lists have no formal connection with territories or regions, represent the interests of the entire people of Ukraine and are politically accountable to their parties, which in certain circumstances may initiate a revocation procedure. At the same time, the actual connection with the regions is still present – often these deputies are the members of the governing bodies of the regional branches of the party and have political influence in the relevant territories and in their local councils.

In the following monitoring study, the criteria for selecting deputies are data on their city of residence, which were provided to the Central Election Commission in 2019. Among the 8 deputies from Kharkiv region, 6 were on the list of “Servant of the People”, and another – from the “Batkivshchyna” and “Opposition Platform-For Life”. The source base for monitoring is open data from the Verkhovna Rada’s website, as well as public resources of people’s deputies on social networks (both personal and party pages, which cover the activities of the people’s deputy).

List Deputy Voting at sessions Bills initiated
Voted Didn`t vote Absent Total
№14

“Opposition Platform-For Life”

Igor Abramovich 0 0 212 212 0
№60

“Servant of the People”

Oleg Bondarenko 190 21 1 212 39
№88

“Servant of the People”

Fedor Venislavsky 197 15 0 212 20
№16

“Batkivshchyna”

Vitaly Danilov 191 21 0 212 1
№53

“Servant of the People”

Mykola Kirichenko 107 105 0 212 2
№94

“Servant of the People”

Anna Kolisnyk 177 35 0 212 6
№28

“Servant of the People”

Pavlo Sushko 171 40 1 212 6
№98

“Servant of the People”

Pavlo Yakymenko 154 57 1 212 2

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

It should be noted that 7 out of 8 deputies remained in Ukraine after the start of the full-scale war and continued to participate in parliamentary sittings. The only exception is Ihor Abramovich, who was elected from the “Opposition platform-For Life” lists and  has never voted or initiated bills since February 24.

Given that 6 people’s deputies are representatives of the “mono-majority”, it is not surprising that by their votes Kharkiv people’s deputies support the initiatives of their fellow party members. Vitaliy Danilov, a member of the Batkivshchyna faction, also votes in solidarity with the “servants of the people”. If before the start of the full-scale war his attendance of the sessions of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine was 58%, since February 24 he has not missed a single sitting, and his voting rate (mostly in support of pro-government initiatives) is second only to Fedor Venislavsky.

With regard to the parameter “initiated bills”, it should be noted that it is not entirely correct to consider it as a direct “authorship of legislative acts.” Most of the laws passed by the parliament in the section “subject of legislative initiative” contain dozens of names of co-authors, but the comparison of these indicators still helps to form a general impression of the legislative activity of people’s deputies.

Oleg Bondarenko (39) and Fedor Venislavsky (20) have the highest number of hits in the group of initiators of bills among Kharkiv deputies elected on party lists. Bondarenko is the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Committee on Environmental Policy and Nature Management, but this is not particularly evident in the subject of bills in which he is a co-initiator. Bondarenko’s only “environmental” bill is №7144 (“On amendments to certain legislative acts of Ukraine concerning environmental activities and civil protection for the period of martial law). But for the most part, the deputy joins “trendy” political initiatives, such as laws to speed up the ban on “pro-Russian” parties or to support volunteering.

In turn, Fedor Venislavsky is one of the “brain centers” of the presidential team in legal matters – we can assume that his participation in “legislative initiatives” is much more important than that of ordinary co-initiators, although formally it is impossible to be distinguished. Venislavsky was also the initiator (and public speaker) of a number of resonant bills that, due to public pressure, never became laws (for example, criminal liability for conscripts who did not return to Ukraine after the declaration of martial law).

Oleg Bondarenko and another Kharkiv lawyer Anna Kolisnyk co-authored another resonant and yet unsupported draft law №7311 (“On amendments to the Tax Code of Ukraine and other laws of Ukraine on certain taxes and fees during martial law”). The project, co-authored by Danylo Hetmantsev, proposes the abolition of Value added tax, excise and customs duties on vehicles, as well as an increase from 1.5% to 3% of the military tax. In total, Kolisnyk has 6 legislative initiatives in the last three months which is the same number as the Head of the Kharkiv regional organization of the “Servant of the People” Pavlo Sushko.

At the same time, some of the bills initiated in recent weeks are of special significance for Kharkiv. Thus, on May 12, the parliament passed the Law “On amendments to some laws of  Ukraine on priority measures to reform urban development” №7282  , which introduces a special kind of urban development programs for comprehensive restoration of areas affected by Russian aggression. Kharkiv people’s deputy Pavlo Yakymenko was one of the co-initiators of the Law.

Not “green” businessmen 

Source: The collage is composed of photo materials posted on the websites of “Objective”, “Kharkiv News” and “Radio Svoboda” media groups.

Despite the “disappearance” from the session hall, the 14th number on the list of  the “Opposition Platform-For Life” Igor Abramovich is called one of the most influential people’s deputies in the political process in Kharkiv. According to media reports, the 37-year-old businessman from Kharkiv is among the Top 25 richest people’s deputies of this convocation and has a joint gas business with Vitaliy Khomutynnik.

Abramovich began his political career as a deputy of the Zhovtnevy District Council (2006-2010) and at the same time as an assistant to another Kharkiv people’s deputy, Oleksandr Feldman ( who was back then a deputy of “Batkivshchyna”). In 2019, Abramovich was elected to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on the lists of the “Opposition Platform-For Life”, and the following year he strengthened his subjectivity in Kharkiv politics due to the influence on some of the newly elected deputies of the “Opposition Platform-For Life” in city and regional councils.

For example, in December 2020, Abramovich came to Kharkiv for a session of the regional council and while speaking to journalists, voiced why the Opposition Platform – For Life faction should support the candidacy of Artur Tovmasyan (from the “Servants of the People”) for the post of the chairman of the Regional Council. In 2021, according to insiders and local telegram channels, Abramovich helped Igor Terekhov in the mayoral campaign, and began to influence the appointments in the city government after his victory.

Ten days before the Russian invasion, an investigation into how Abramovich removed his relatives and friends from Ukraine on a charter ship (the people’s deputy himself denied this information) was published by “Ukrayinska Pravda”. But, apparently, Abramovich did not meet the beginning of the full-scale war in Ukraine as the deputy did not take part in the sessions of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, and according to the information from the journalists of the “Schemes” project, Abramovich’s car was spotted in Nice.

In March, Abramovich (along with Oleksandr Feldman, Vadym Stolar, and Tetyana Plachkova) applied to leave the Opposition platform-For Life faction. For a deputy elected on the party’s list, this could be a result of  an imperative mandate, but it is unlikely that the “Opposition platform – For Life” will be able to use this mechanism even for those former colleagues who are not a part of the newly formed Platform for Life and Peace parliamentary group.

Little is known about the activities of a rather non-public people’s deputy during the war, and the main source of information here are Igor Terekhov’s statements and reports on the website of the Kharkiv City council. For example, in an interview with the “Ukrayinska Pravda” on March 27, the Mayor of Kharkiv called Abramovich his “close friend” and noted his help in sending trucks with medicine and food. And in April, Igor Abramovich appeared in the news stories of  the “Kharkiv News” , discussing the future architectural appearance of Kharkiv in a video conference.

Another non-public Kharkiv deputy, Vitaliy Danilov, is on the list of the richest deputies. For the head and de facto the holder of the Kharkiv regional organization “Batkivshchyna”, the current convocation of the Verkhovna Rada has become the third personal cadence. 

After resigning as president of the Ukrainian Football Premier League in February 2016, Danilov became much less active in the media, but in 2019 he was included in the closed party list of  “Batkivshchyna” under №16 and was re-elected as people’s deputy (the break in the cadences arose in 2014-2019 as the 21st number in the early elections in October 2014 turned out to be “impassable” quite unexpectedly).

Source: the collage is composed of photo materials posted on Facebook page of the “Slobozhanska Batkivshchyna.

And already in 2022 Danilov registered a personal charitable fund – the pre-war founding date (February 10) may indicate the businessman’s intention to gradually promote his personal brand (which is a quite logical desire, given the electoral system provided by the Electoral Code). However, whatever the pre-war plans of the “Vitaly Danilov Foundation” (with an emphasis on supporting amateur and professional sports) were, after February 24 the activities of the newly created charity organisation were adjusted to urgent problems.

The foundation became the main donor of the Humanitarian Center “Aquarena”, which specializes in delivering the necessary food and hygiene products to Kharkiv residents. The second area of work was the assistance to the Armed Forces of Ukraine and military hospitals. The fund’s volunteer activity also has a political overtone: a striking example is Danilov’s trip to the Pervomaisk community with Yulia Tymoshenko on May 7 (headed by Mykola Baksheev, a fellow party member).

“Servants of the people” for Kharkiv region 

“Political” and “state” are strongly intertwined in the activities of 6 people’s deputies from Kharkiv region, elected on the lists of the “Servant of the People”. While voters are being taught that the best humanitarian aid is presidential, billboards with Zelensky’s image and the with the text “Courage to be a leader” are appearing along the roads, people`s deputies from the “Servant of the People” are holding a “presidential banner” in the region.

Source: The collage consists of photo materials posted on the personal pages of politicians on Facebook, as well as a screenshot from the TSN YouTube channel.

Pavlo Sushko, the Head of the regional branch of the pro-presidential party, is actively informing about his activities on his personal Facebook page and Telegram channel. For example, on May 12, the people’s deputy said that he helped to “transfer” 9 fire and rescue vehicles, which arrived as a part of Western aid to Ukraine to the Kharkiv region together with the Head of Kharkiv Regional State Administration Oleh Synegubov. Such lobbying activities, in general, fit into the role of the Head of the inter-factional parliamentary association “Slobozhanshchyna”. And, for example, on May 9 the deputy reported on the transfer of the armored car, which was bought at his own expense, to Kharkiv Civil-military administration. In general, Sushka’s page contains of many photos with the defenders of Ukraine from the front line and recently liberated villages around Kharkiv, as well as the reposts of the President’s appeals can be seen almost daily.

Probably, an another well-known people’s deputy among the Kharkiv deputies elected on party lists is Fedor Venislavsky,who is a part-time representative of the President of Ukraine in the Constitutional Court. Although the link to the personal Facebook page mentioned on the website of the“Servant of the People” does not work and announces the possible deletion of the page, Venislavsky is one of the most media-active deputies, whose statements are included in a single television marathon, quoted by the media and discussed in social networks. The deputy specializes in explaining the legal aspects of socially important government initiatives (in fact, he is the main speaker from the pro-presidential pool in cases of prolonging the martial law or banning the “pro-Russian” parties).

Another Kharkiv resident, who was elected from the “Servant of the People”, Oleg Bondarenko, as already mentioned, heads the environmental parliamentary committee. And if the content of the bills initiated personally by the deputy does not show it much, he regularly reports on relevant topics (such as a meeting with the Minister of Climate and Environment of Poland or planting trees in Khmelnytsky region) on his Facebook page. Bondarenko visits the western regions of Ukraine a lot, and only one publication on March 6 is dedicated to “my native Kharkiv, to where I return every weekend from Kyiv“.

Instead, there is “a lot of Kharkiv” in the tape of Bondarenko’s colleague on the environmental committee, 32-year-old Pavel Yakimenko. Before the war, the people’s deputy was extremely non-public (although he managed to get into the materials of some journalistic investigations), but after February 24 he regularly reports on his activities on Facebook and personal Telegram channel. In particular, he reports about visits to Kharkiv, where Yakymenko often accompanies the Head of Kharkiv Regional State Administration Oleg Synegubov.

In turn, businessman-agrarian Mykola Kyrychenko made the last entry on his personal Facebook page in 2020 (at least, as it is stated on the party website) . No public mention of his activity during the war (except for his participation in the sessions of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine) was found on the Internet. Probably, the situation for the businessman is complicated by the fact that his native village and the lands of his farm are located in the temporarily occupied territory of the former Borivka district – this factor may deter the people`s deputy from publicity, to which he clearly had no inclination before the war.

Anna Kolisnyk, the youngest people’s deputy of the 9th convocation, is also inactive in public space during the war. On the Facebook page, which the website of the “Servant of the People” defines as the deputy’s personal page, only the cover change has been displayed for the last 3 months. The other two personal pages of Kolisnyk on Facebook and Instagram seem to have been abandoned since 2020. It can be assumed that her aversion to publicity appeared in March 2021, when she found herself at the epicenter of a scandal due to her correspondence in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. Journalists recorded the message: “We are listening to Khomchak. We need to get out of this country!” during a speech by the former Chief of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces about the threat of Russian invasion. Later, the deputy justified herself by saying that the correspondence was about her plans for Spring vacation. Kolisnyk spent the Spring of 2022 in Ukraine, regularly attending parliamentary sessions, but at the same time, no information was found about any other activity of the representative of the Kharkiv region.

Conclusions

The calendar plan of work of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine envisages, in particular, 3 main forms of activity of people’s deputies, which are participation in plenary sittings, work in committees and work with voters. Given that, according to the current Electoral Code, in the next parliamentary elections, each candidate (except the starting 9 numbers of the list) will be assigned to the region, we can expect the intensification of ties with voters from the deputies from Kharkiv region  elected on party lists in 2019. Moreover, the region now really needs the attention and help of the people’s deputies (especially those who voluntarily joined the “Slobozhanshchyna” parliamentary association, headed by Pavlo Sushko).

The analysis (which was based on open sources and, accordingly, could not cover non-public moments) of the activities of 8 people’s deputies elected on party lists from Kharkiv region showed such intensification since February 24, but not from all the deputies. Among the representatives of the pro-presidential party, Pavlo Sushko, the Head of the regional party organization, and Pavlo Yakymenko, a previously non-public deputy, were the most personally involved in solving humanitarian problems and helping the defenders of Kharkiv region. Fedor Venislavsky demonstrates significant media activity at the national level, explaining the legislative initiatives of the government to the public in the role of “chief lawyer” of the presidential team.The deputy Oleh Bondarenko, rather, gave priority to the role of the chairman of the environmental parliamentary committee, and almost nothing is known from open sources about the activities of Anna Kolisnyk and Mykola Kyrychenko during the war.

Vitaliy Danilov, a member of the Batkivshchyna faction, has been very active. According to the Mayor of Kharkiv Ihor Terekhov, perhaps the greatest help to the city is provided by Ihor Abramovich, now a non-partisan people’s deputy who left the Opposition Platform-For Life faction at the beginning of the war. But this assistance is rather non-public.

As for an another important aspect of parliamentarians’ activities, which is participation in sessions and legislative initiatives – 7 out of 8 deputies elected on party lists continue their work after February 24. Supporting the general line of the Office of the President of Ukraine, deputies with varying degrees of frequency become formal subjects of legislative initiative. In the period from February 24 to May 17, Oleh Bondarenko (39) and Fedir Venislavsky (20) were the most frequently included in the lists of co-initiators of bills and resolutions of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.