Research «Political portrait of the warring Kharkiv region»
During February-May 2022, Center for Political Analysis «Observatory of Democracy» conducted the expert-analytical monitoring of the political process in Kharkiv region during the war. Given the limited open data and generalized statistical information, the research focused on individuals -their actions, decisions, statements and all the public activity of leading Kharkiv politicians, local authorities, people’s deputies from the region. Realizing the possible incompleteness of all the currently known information, we see a special value of such a «political portrait» exactly «at the moment», because the retrospective studies after the end of the active phase of confrontation run the risk of encountering some mythologizing or a direct distortion of the history of this war by certain political entities.
The study also aims to draw attention to the problems of working with voters and the performance of the direct duties of the representatives of government and local self-government. Given the global significance of the current events in Kharkiv region, the monitoring aims to raise awareness of both residents of the region and citizens of other regions and countries.
Conclusions of expert-analytical monitoring of the political process in Kharkiv region during the war
After the first 100 days of the full-scale war, 30% of the territory of Kharkiv region and more than 20 territorial communities of the region turned out to be under Russian occupation. According to the information provided by the Head of the military administration Oleg Synegubov, the shortfall in the revenue part of the regional budget has already amounted to 30%. At the same time, the trend of spontaneous evacuation of the residents, observed in February and March, has changed to the opposite -the residents, especially those from the regional center (where more than a half of the region’s population is registered) return home en masse, and the local economy begins to show signs of restart.
At the same time, politics returned to the Kharkiv region (in the sense of a specific competitive sphere of politics). In May, Kharkiv regional and city councils held their first remote sessions, and the most striking evidence of “re-politicization” was the dismissal of the regional Head of the Security Service of Ukraine Roman Dudin, who had a conflict with the Head of the regional military administration Oleg Synegubov in late May. The fired Dudin began publicly threatening his political opponents with video compromising material (later deleted his posts from Facebook), but the reaction of the Office of the President of Ukraine, which took the side of Synegubov and de facto reminded the local influence groups of who represents the government in the region, is significant.
Some transformations of political subjectivity and changes in the balance of influence in the region were largely institutionalized. In particular, the introduction of martial law strengthened the position of the Head of the regional administration (although in some regions of Ukraine the President of Ukraine dismissed the “civilian” heads of state administrations and appointed military ones, while such a rotation did not occur in Kharkiv region). At the same time, other striking transformations of political subjectivity are related not so much to the institutional dimension, but to the personal dimension alone. The “socio-political elevator” at the moment is, above all, participation in hostilities, as well as (to a lesser extent)volunteering. Probably the most striking example of such a transformation with positive dynamics is the case of Konstantin Nemichev, the commander of the special unit «Kraken» of the «Azov» regiment. Self-exclusion from the public sphere in combination with departure from Kharkiv, as it happened in the case of, for example, businessman Alexander Yaroslavsky, informal curator of the “Servants of the People” in Kharkiv region Vadym Slyusarev, the leader of the “suspended” Nashi party, Eugene Muraev, or the Head of the largest faction in the regional council Kyrylo Kernes, led to the transformations with a minus sign (meaning significant losses of political capital and influence in the region).
According to a relevant estimate by the Ministry of reintegration and partially occupied territories, 51 of the 56 communities in Kharkiv Oblast have been identified as “located in combat areas or occupied” (excluding 5 communities in the South and West of the region looks strange and deprives migrants from these communities of the right to financial assistance). The situation in these equally classified 51 communities is very heterogeneous. The biggest humanitarian crisis has developed in the settlements in the North and East of the region, which have been occupied since the first days of the war. In the political dimension, the occupation was accompanied by high treason or collaborative activities of some of the representatives of local authorities, deputies, and law enforcement almost in every case. For example, in the strategically important occupied cities of Kupyansk and Balakliia, high treason was perpetrated by the mayors, in Izyum – by several of the City council deputies.
Undoubtedly, the most important city in the region in strategic terms is Kharkiv, the regional center. Mayor Igor Terekhov took an unequivocal “pro-Ukrainian” position, making it impossible to hand the city over to the occupiers. In the most critical weeks of the war in February and March, the Mayor managed to maintain the controllability and functionality of public utilities, to ensure the solution of current humanitarian and economic issues in the city. At the same time, the expediency of some management decisions is at least debatable – in particular, it refers to the stop of the subway until the end of May (which actually paralyzed the city and did not contribute to the resumption of economic activity), mass planting of annual flowers by “Kharkivzelenbud”, the initiative with launching the fountains, the dismantling of the tramway on Vesnina Street, forced approach to toponymic policy in the city. At the same time, the Law “On the legal regime of martial law” eliminated the Mayor from having to coordinate the changes to budget programs with the City council – in fact, only one remote session of the City council took place in Kharkiv after the war. But currently there is no publicly available information on the implementation of the city budget in 2022 (the last update of the “budget section” on the website of Kharkiv City Hall is dated February 21), and the general economic situation in the city is opaque. Accordingly, the scale of the socio-economic crisis that the Kharkiv City Hall will have to deal with in the upcoming months, despite the continuation of hostilities in Kharkiv’s neighboring villages and settlements, is still unclear.
Article 12 of the already mentioned Law “On the legal regime of martial law” stipulates that the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine continues to work in session in the conditions of martial law and its powers are not limited. Accordingly, the parliamentarians must continue their work and fulfill their responsibilities under the Law “On the status of the people’s deputy of Ukraine”. The list of these responsibilities is given in Article 24 of this Law and contains, in particular, the requirement of personal presence and participation in voting on issues submitted to the session of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. The conducted monitoring study shows that out of 22 people’s deputies (elected on party lists or in majority constituencies) from Kharkiv region, three (Dmytro Shentsev, Ihor Abramovich and Oleksandr Feldman) practically did not take part in the voting. All three did not belong to the “majority”, and Abramovich became a Co-chairman of the newly formed parliamentary group “Restoration of Ukraine” on May 22, Feldman joined the same group (Shentsev remained non-partisan). Among the members of the Servants of the People faction, the “majoritarians” Victoria Kinzburska and Andriy Odarchenko have the lowest turnout (about 50%) in Kharkiv.
According to the Constitution of Ukraine, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine is the only legislative body of the state, and people`s deputies have the right of legislative initiative to fulfill the first task of their duties, which is “to care for the welfare of Ukraine and the welfare of the Ukrainian people, protect the interests of voters and the state”. The request for specific legislative initiatives is especially relevant for the regions in combat zones or those with temporarily occupied territories, where there is a need for legal regulation of a number of issues, which are “atypical” for “rear areas”. At the same time, people’s deputies from Kharkiv region were rather unevenly involved as co-initiators in the work on submitting bills and resolutions. Oleksandr Bakumov (61 legislative initiative) was the most active, while half of the people’s deputies from the region (11 out of 22) had only two or fewer co-initiatives.
The responsibilities of the people`s deputies also include “maintaining constant contact with the voters” and “informing the voters about their activities”. Most of the deputies from Kharkiv region were quite active in covering their public activities on their pages on social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Telegram). Humanitarian aid to the residents of the region and defenders of Ukraine was the dominant trend. For example, people`s deputies Yevhen Pivovarov, Vitaliy Danilov, Oleksandr Feldman, and Dmytro Shentsev intensified the humanitarian work of their registered charitable foundations. And the Mayor of the city Igor Terekhov spoke about the multimillion-dollar aid from the non-public Igor Abramovich in many interviews (the Head of Kharkiv Regional State Administration Oleg Synegubov recently joined the PR of the people’s deputy).
From the point of view of PR strategies, all the attempts of people’s deputies to join the popular “volunteer trend” are understandable, although they are not always comparable to their status in terms of real assistance. In the best cases, the deputies take on the organizational aspects and / or financial costs, but there are also opposite examples of reducing their activities to the “courier” function for the sake of photos on the background of someone else`s help. Legislative activity of the people’s deputies and defending the interests of their constituents at the central level would probably be more beneficial than personal public involvement in, for example, the humanitarian aid program of the President of Ukraine. Of course, with each day the war is exacerbating the socio-economic problems of the population, under the pressure of which even the political power of the victors may lose the election (as it happened with the Conservatives, led by Winston Churchill in the July 1945 election). But the people`s deputies have powerful tools to deal with these socio-economic issues at the level of bills, parliamentary inquiries, defending the interests of their constituencies by their own votes – their institutional function should not be devalued to the level of “loaders” and “carriers” of humanitarian aid, no matter how impressive it may seem in the frame.
The analysis was conducted as a part of the project «Promoting Democratic Elections in Eastern Ukraine», with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The content of the publication does not necessarily reflect the views of the NED and is the sole responsibility of the Center for Political Analysis «Observatory of Democracy».