Chernihiv Oblast is the border region that was among the first ones, affected by the war. Communities went through a lot during this time, but despite everything, they are providing comfort to people, taking care of safety and security, restoring, and planning development. International organizations such as Global Communities help them with this. In Chernihiv Oblast, all three projects, represented by the Organization in Ukraine, are operating: the CLEAR Program, the PEARL Program to Support Business, and the largest, the USAID DOBRE Program.
This month, President and CEO of Global Communities, Ms Carrie Hessler-Radelet, visited Ukraine. Together with representatives of the USAID DOBRE Program and Global Communities Ukraine, Ms Carrie Hessler-Radelet visited communities in Chernihiv Oblast, where they told their stories of struggle and shared their achievements for development.
“I am glad to come to your communities. To see how the projects are being implemented, to listen to your stories and requests, and to pass them on to the Congress and organizations that can assist. All three of our projects are operating in Chernihiv Oblast, so I’m excited to see the results of our joint work,” said Ms Carrie Hessler-Radelet, President and CEO of Global Communities.
How Global Communities Helps Ukraine
The largest project Global Communities is implementing in Ukraine is the USAID’s Program “Decentralization Offering Better Results and Efficiency (DOBRE).” The Program provides technical and material support to help strengthen capacities of local governments, learn how to manage resources, attract opportunities, and implement local economic development. Following the start of the full-scale war, the USAID DOBRE launched another area of its work: the Rapid Emergency Response Project support to the challenges of the war. Under this initiative, communities acquire necessary equipment, power generators, hand tools, etc, to ensure their residents’ safety, meet the challenges of the war, promptly help people in emergencies, and restore services. In Chernihiv Oblast, the USAID DOBRE Program cooperates with eight communities, two of which the delegation visited during their trip.
“The USAID DOBRE Program has been working with various communities in Chernihiv Oblast for a long time. This time, our visit covers all three areas of Global Communities’ work in Ukraine. We at DOBRE continue to support community development and work closely to implement development projects. We know that our communities are working well and see the success of all projects. In the near future, we will develop service improvement projects with the communities of Chernihiv Oblast in accordance with the priorities, as identified by their community members. All of our areas continue to work thanks to the efforts of our local partners,” said Mr Brian Kemple, the USAID DOBRE’s Chief of Party.
The Community-Led Emergency Action and Response Program (CLEAR) has been under implementation in Ukraine for a relatively recent time. The CLEAR operates in 23 territorial communities in Chernihiv and Chernivtsi Oblasts and, together with local civil society organizations, implements humanitarian projects in three main areas: protection, shelter, and access to sanitation and hygiene. That is, it helps people in difficult situations, due to the war, and supports communities in their efforts to create comfortable conditions for people.
The third project, PEARL, is a grant contest to support small and medium-sized enterprises, affected by the war. It aims to help businesses recover, increase their capacities, and create jobs. In Chernihiv Oblast, 21 local business projects will receive assistance from Global Communities as part of the grant.
“The needs of communities do not always fall under the Organization’s Charter. That’s why we came to a decision to raise a stand-alone fund and direct the funds to support businesses in Ukraine. We started searching for needs that we could address on our own. Even Global Communities employees invested their own money in this project. This is help from our hearts because we are very supportive of Ukraine in this struggle,” said Ms Carrie Hessler-Radelet, President and CEO of Global Communities.
One of the examples of a successful project that the delegation visited during their visit to Chernihiv Oblast is a sewing factory in Menska community. This project is based on the story of the local entrepreneur, Mr Vasyl Kondakov, who recently, during the difficult times of the war, learned to sew himself. At first, he made pillowcases and bedding sets. Then, he began to take on more complex patterns and eventually looked for opportunities to build a startup. Winning in the grant contest helped him purchase sewing machines. Currently, Mr Vasyl Kondakov has his own factory that sews clothes and provides jobs to people.
Nizhynska Community: Development Despite all Challenges
Before the full-scale invasion, out of the three programs, only the USAID DOBRE Program worked in Nizhyn, and the community is making progress in cooperating with it. During the visit, the delegation inspected the previously implemented projects and the new ones. The CLEAR Program and the PEARL grant contest have recently been launched in the community.
Representatives of Nizhynska community told the story of the struggle for their land during the full-scale Russian offensive that began on February 24, 2022.
“For the whole month, the city was surrounded by the enemy. We heard fighting near the city and experienced problems with the supply of food and medicine. The shelves were empty. We were shelled. Miraculously, the city was not completely besieged. We had a single entrance that we could use to get there. Thanks to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the city was not occupied, and not a single Russian soldier set foot on the land of Nizhyn. The community transformed into the humanitarian headquarters, and we started accepting IDPs,” said Mr Yuriy Khomenko, Secretary of the Nizhyn City Council.
During the full-scale war, 25 multi-story buildings and more than 60 private houses were damaged or destroyed in the community, as well as two schools, a kindergarten, a cemetery, and a boiler house. The improvement and restoration of buildings, damaged by the explosions, is the crucial area of activity in the community. Thanks to the USAID DOBRE Emergency Response Project, Nizhynska community received emergency rescue equipment that will help with both repairs and territorial improvement. The USAID DOBRE Program also donated power generators and heaters for the invincibility points. The local hospital received washing machines and dryers. The hospital also acquired folding beds that can be placed in the shelter for a more comfortable stay of patients during the air raid sirens. The total amount of assistance, provided to the community, as part of the Emergency Response Project to meet the challenges of the war is 80 thousand USD.
Healthcare, by the way, is one of the community’s priorities. Earlier, the local authorities, with the support of experts, developed the program to improve health and medical services until 2027.
To implement one of the points, the USAID DOBRE Program provided its technical assistance and purchased the equipment for the hospital’s maternity ward.
“When Nizhyn was under fire, we gave birth in basements, and the equipment came in handy. It’s mobile, so we could move it as needed,” said Ms Iryna Grozenko, Deputy Mayor for Executive Body Affairs of the Council. “There was not a single infant or maternal death during the full-scale invasion. Even in the basements, all children were born healthy.”
Ms Carrie Hessler-Radelet, President and CEO of the international organization, Global Communities, said that such stories are inspiring.
“Thank you to the USAID DOBRE Program and the CLEAR Program for everything you do for Ukraine and Nizhyn. We appreciate this assistance, especially in times of such challenges that our country has faced,” said Mr Oleksandr Kodola, Mayor of Nizhyn.
During the visit, the delegation observed several other projects, implemented in cooperation with the USAID DOBRE Program.
The trading booths, set up as part of the local economic development component, serve as a place for entrepreneurs to sell their products. Today, you can buy handmade products: i.e. toys and artwork, and wallets made of leather .
With the support of the youth component, a stage was installed in town, which is used, among other things, for charity concerts to help those in need.
The guests also visited one of the two winners of the PEARL grant competition in Nizhynska community. It is the first private kindergarten in Nizhyn, the Educational Center, “Idea,” which also operates as an extra-curricular facility. Here, you can take an English language course or learn robotics. The latter, by the way, is in demand among children. They have even won various contests. They are currently getting ready for the next championship.
According to Mr Dmytro Tymoshyk, Co-founder of the institution, the money raised was used to buy equipment and additional LEGO sets for the group. They also equipped the shelter for a comfortable stay during air raid sirens. They made basic indoor repairs and added lighting and furniture. They also installed the air dryer, the water from which is used for technical needs and to teach children about energy efficiency. The project increased the number of seats in the kindergarten from 26 to 33.
Nizhyn does not stop there, on what has been implemented, and continues to use all opportunities that will help develop the community. For example, they actively engage sister cities. According to Ms Yulia Kuzmenko, Head of the International Relations and Investment Department of the Executive Committee of the Nizhyn City Council, this is a critical job for them. Head of the community, Mr Oleksandr Kodola, is active at the international arena to tell the world about how Ukraine lives today. Nizhyn now has eight sister cities, with the memoranda signed with six of them, after the full-scale invasion began. There are three more potential partnerships in Germany, however they are currently at the negotiation phase.
In cooperation with the USAID DOBRE Program, Nizhynska community is implementing several other projects. One of them is in the field of local economic development. The business hub purchased equipment to create new opportunities for consulting entrepreneurs and promoting local products. Entrepreneurs can print advertisements in the community business hub. As part of the project, USAID DOBRE will purchase an LED screen. The local authorities plan to offer businesses that clutter the historic city center with advertisements to place promotions of their services on this screen. According to Ms Yulia Kuzmenko, they are actively working to improve the appearance of the historic center, and this service will help to implement it.
The youth have also defined their project initiative: they would like to buy mobile equipment for organizing events and a screen for outdoor movie screening. As for the service to improve, the community is still thinking about. Their public opinion survey is currently underway.
Snovska Community: Resilience and Dreams
Before the full-scale war, Snovska community developed its tourism. It has a calm river, the Snov, where they planned to set up a kayaking station. About a third of the community’s territory is covered with forests, through which you can build routes. There are mushrooms and berries here. However, the border area remains dangerous, because of the risk of landmines.
Before the full-scale war, Snovska territorial community (TC) planned its development and worked to attract opportunities. In December 2020, the community became a partner of the USAID DOBRE Program. Together, they developed and approved the Development Strategy until 2027, created an economic profile, and implemented a number of projects, some of which the delegation visited during their trip. But these determined plans were impacted by the war.
The border community of Snovsk was one of the first to be hit by the war and find itself under occupation. And despite this, the Ukrainian flags were waving at the town council.
“There is a tradition in the community: in addition to the main flag, which waves at the city council, we hang two additional flags for certain events. On February 24, we hung them at the entrance to let people know that the Ukrainian government was still there. That we are Ukraine. These flags stayed here until the liberation. We have never taken them down,” said Mr Oleksandr Medvedev, Head of the community.
According to Ms Natalia Avdievska, Secretary of the Snovsk City Council, the bridges to Chernihiv were blown up, and basic food and medicines ran out in a few days. The only transportation artery left was the Desna River crossing. Activists and employees of the City Council used boats to transport flour, salt, oil, yeast, cash, and rescue people. They launched additional capacities of the bakery to feed people. However, the community resisted and blocked the roads with trees so that Russian troops could not pass. Snovska community was occupied for 36 days and was liberated on April 1, 2022. Despite its proximity to the border, people are returning home, and the local authorities are trying to return to the development vector and establish comfortable life.
“We are grateful to USAID DOBRE for being the first to lend a helping hand immediately after the de-occupation. As part of the Emergency Response Project, we received generators and heaters.
We were provided with equipment and computers to restore services. Then we received tools for a utility company, water pumps for two starosta-districts and power generators for them. The USAID DOBRE Emergency Response Project helped us survive the difficult winter last year,” said Ms Natalia Avdiyevska.
“I am impressed with your courage and determination. I see how much risk you took to save the people of your community. I am very impressed with the ingenuity you showed to drive the enemy out of your community. I am impressed by your strength. I’m glad that I have the opportunity to bring you the support of the American people. But the foundation of the support is your bravery and courage,” said Ms Carrie Hessler-Radelet, President and CEO of Global Communities.
During the visit, the delegation toured some of the jointly implemented project sites. Due to the air raid alerts, they also visited the shelter that USAID DOBRE helped to equip as part of the Emergency Response Project.
Before the full-scale war, the community was actively developing its cultural sphere. A creative hub was opened in the community center, where craftswomen work and conduct master classes for children and adults.
The youth in Snovska community is active. One of the joint projects, which the community is proud of, is the youth space, “SAM” that operates in the community center. The youth here prepared for the external independent testing, organized events, and planned activities for the benefit of the community: a bicycle selfie, a road safety campaign, etc. Ms Natalia Avdiyevska said that their young people are always coming up with valuable and beneficial ideas:
“The war divided the lives of young people into the before and after. At first, there were creative ideas. After the full-scale invasion began, young people started volunteering. Tons of humanitarian aid went through the youth space and was distributed to people, who needed it. It’s a hard job during the occupation, but they decided to do it themselves and did it with dignity. With such young people, we will definitely win.”
But that’s not all the community is proud of. The extent the local hospital is equipped to, many health care institutions can envy. The community has identified healthcare as a priority service and developed their improvement plan. USAID DOBRE helped purchase equipment and furniture. The total cost of the project is UAH 2.8 million, including the Program’s contribution of UAH 1.9 million. Thanks to the high-quality equipment, says Ms Natalia Avdiyevska, the hospital has signed new contracts with the National Health Service of Ukraine. It has increased financial revenues to the hospital’s budget. And, of course, patients feel more comfortable, when visiting the medical facility, and they can receive most of the necessary services without leaving their community.
The community is now making efforts to promote local economic development. Investors are reluctant to come to the border community, so the local authorities rely on local businesses. In cooperation with USAID DOBRE, a sewing coworking space was set up at one of the schools. The local authorities implemented the project in collaboration with the business, while USAID DOBRE helped purchase the equipment. Now, instead of an old building, the community has a modern coworking space with equipment for all stages of cutting and sewing, as well as knitting and embroidery machines.
Local residents are already coming here to have their clothes mended. Ms. Svitlana, for example, has her own sewing machine at home, but its capacity is insufficient for thick fabrics. Thus, she came to use the equipment at the coworking space. Soon, workshops will be held here for those, who would like to learn how to sew, as well as vocational training for students from different schools. Local entrepreneurs will also have access to the new equipment, and for some, this opportunity may become an incentive to start their own business.
After her visit to Ukraine and Snovskа community, Ms Carrie Hessler-Radelet will have a pleasant memory: a felt bag with the Global Communities logo. The bag was created by the caring hands of local craftswomen, using the equipment purchased with the support of the American people.
Among the unfulfilled plans that the war prevented, the community recalls a mobile stage, purchased under the USAID DOBRE Program. Mass events are not allowed here because of the proximity to the border. However, the community dreams that a concert in honor of the victory will be held on this stage.
“I can’t wait to see all of us together, with your talented people and dancers, get up on that stage and celebrate the victory. I also want to go kayaking on your beautiful Snov River,” added Ms Carrie Hessler-Radelet, President and CEO of Global Communities.
Ms Carrie Hessler-Radelet noted that Americans are rooting for Ukraine. And millions of Americans are flying blue and yellow flags as their sign of support. The President of Global Communities added that American programs continue to assist Ukrainians.
The USAID Program, “Decentralization Offering Better Results and Efficiency” (DOBRE), is a nine-year program, implemented by Global Communities and funded by the United States Agency for International Development. DOBRE has worked closely with 100 consolidated communities (CCs) in ten Oblasts of Ukraine to help them realize the benefits and meet the challenges brought by decentralization. DOBRE provides technical and material assistance to CCs to help them govern openly and accountably and meet the needs of their citizens; and supports citizens’ active engagement in decision-making and policy making. DOBRE’s support encompasses strategic planning; spatial planning; financial management; public service delivery; local economic development; capacity building; good governance practices; and gender- and youth-responsive policies.
In the period 2022 – 2025, DOBRE will be working directly with at least 60 CCs of Ukraine to help them cope with the consequences of the war, recover and rebuild, and resume their trajectory of positive, sustainable development. Partners with Global Communities in the DOBRE Program Consortium include the Ukrainian Crisis Media Center; the Foundation in Support of Local Democracy, and the Malopolska School of Public Administration at the Krakow University of Economics, Poland.