The Shyroke community, one of the first in the Zaporizhzhia region, was formed in 2016. At that time, 34 settlements united around the village of Shyroke. The area of the community is 470 square kilometers. The population is about 15,000 people. The regional center is close by. It takes 10 minutes to get there. Even closer is the famous island of Khortytsia and a historical site – a 700-year-old oak tree. According to a legend, Bohdan Khmelnytsky gathered an army near it in 1648. According to another, it was there that Ivan Sirko, the Koshovyi Otaman of the Zaporizhzhzhia Sich, and his Cossacks wrote a letter to the Turkish sultan.
But all this is in the past. Like any local government, the area is affected by the war. And although there were no hostilities there, the community suffered significant losses. The village head Denys Korotenko told us what exactly.
“Revenues to the local budget have dropped by half. The number of people has increased concurrently. This happened due to IDPs, of whom 1,666 are currently registered. In addition, for the summer many people have moved from Zaporizhzhia to live in their dachas, which are also located on our land. Thus, the community population has increased more than 3 times – from 15 to 50 thousand. The load on the infrastructure has increased proportionately: water use, garbage removal, and other life support issues. The utilities networks are old and cannot handle such volumes. The good news is that so far no infrastructural facility has come under fire,” he explains.
Despite this, people say that this piece of land covering 470 square kilometers is a place where they want to live. You only have to open the community’s social media page to make sure. You feel as if you were in a youth camp – so much energy, cheerfulness, and smiles on the faces of young people.
When you start to figure out the reasons for this, you realize that the life rhythm of the Shyroke community is largely set by its leader. Denis Korotenko’s optimism and desire to change something brought him to this place.
“I was a deputy of the regional council for a short time. I couldn’t put up with the fact that you are not responsible for anything and cannot do anything. As a person who came from business, I have a rule: if you want to get a result, take responsibility for your area, make a decision. That’s why I decided to run for head of the community, because I’m sure that only decentralization of power with the transfer of powers to the smallest councils can ensure sustainable development of small communities. And this efficiency was proved during the war. In fact, power is like a chain. The stronger its links, the better and more reliable the mechanism,” says Denys.
Before the war, he launched the “Breakfast with the community head” initiative. This is an opportunity for everyone to look behind the scenes of the local government, to see with their own eyes how decisions are made.
They recently returned to the project. It’s easy to join the initiative – you only have to like a relevant post, repost and leave a comment by answering the question: “What is the first thing you are going to do after our victory?”
Whoever does this first will be able to attend a morning meeting of the village council, see how work is organized in wartime, what tasks and processes are solved daily. At the end – the promised talk with the community head over a cup of coffee.
Collecting suggestions on what to do after the victory, the community focuses mostly on how to bring the victory closer. In Shyroke, they chose their own path, i.e. volunteering.
Vadym Korotenko recalls:
“The war immediately changed the daily routine and responsibilities. I gathered specialists and suggested that they do their best to help not only the military, but also all those in need.
The team started working. Later, the project was named Humanitarian Hub. We have our fellow communities – two from Poland and one from Germany. We established contact with them and began to receive aid, and channel it to the communities under temporary occupation. There are also many foundations and volunteer partners from different countries of the world.”
As a former entrepreneur, the head could not fail to establish an effectively working mechanism. The result speaks for itself: the Shyroke community is second only to Zaporizhzhia in terms of handling humanitarian aid. This is a real hub.
“Packages of kindness” is one of the latest initiatives. Since the beginning of the war, volunteers have traveled hundreds of kilometers, visited all 35 settlements and distributed more than 100,000 food packages, as well as hygiene products, baby food and diapers for internally displaced persons, families who got in difficult life circumstances, and socially vulnerable population groups.
Aid is not only vital products. The community systematically holds entertainment meetings and psychological relief events for children. In cooperation with the Charitable Foundation “Caritas Mariupol” and the Young Spectator’s Theater, the employees of the Centre of Culture and Leisure, Family, Youth, Sports and Tourism conduct various master classes for all comers. One of them is “Psychological workshop for children.” Parents together with their children unloaded emotional tension, discussed their concerns with specialists, put on paper all negative feelings, and sought advice of a lawyer.
It is extremely important to listen to people’s sentiments, the community’s head believes.
“Most people have their heads on their shoulders and are looking forward to the liberation of the territories from the enemy. We should listen more closely to such people. Otherwise, they will begin thinking that Ukraine does not care about them.”
Denys Korotenko wants to return to the normal life of the community rather than just survive, as now. For five years, the community developed dynamically, and there were big plans for this year as well.
Answering the question “Why can’t Ukrainians be conquered?” he says that patriotism is the basis of the resilience of Ukrainians. This is not just hypothetical. Not a set of symbols. First of all, it is your home, street, village. When a threat appears, a Ukrainian becomes a patriot and defends his land in any way.
And this is not only the opinion of the Shyroke community’s head. Congratulating on Constitution Day, local people said:
“Every day, boys and girls win back the territorial independence of Ukraine, the identity of our people, and the constitutional rights of every citizen. They fight for simple but important truths. WE are Ukrainians! WE are free! WE are indomitable! WE are one people!”
The material is prepared within the project “Countering Disinformation in Southern and Eastern Ukraine” funded by the European Union.