This year, also "fresh faces" - young and educated - won some local elections in Ukraine. Some of them had happily lived abroad or in big cities. Nonetheless, they returned to their small communities to begin developing them. Below are several such stories of newly elected mayors.
"An architect is a politician, but a more practically oriented one"
Rostyslav Bortnyk is the newly elected mayor of Berezhany in the western Ternopil region. He lived in Austria for 17 years and studied architecture. He returned to Ukraine three months before the local elections. He says that the idea to become the mayor of Berezhany appeared when he was living in Austria.
In 2001, when I went on an internship on a farm in Austria (from the Berezhany Agricultural Institute, where he was studying at the time - ed.), I saw the country, the opportunities and realized that I wanted to study abroad. I wanted to become an architect. My mother suggested I go to study in Kyiv or Lviv, but then I had already set a goal to return to Austria.
Restoration of a sign at the entrance to the town of Berezhany by Rostyslav Bortnyk’s team. Photo: Rostyslav Bortnyk / Facebook
At the age of 22, I went there and started working on a farm, living in a homestay, where I did an internship. In the morning and in the evening I went to milk cows, and in the afternoon I went to study. It helped me pay for housing and tuition. It lasted nine years. Generally, the training takes five years, but I lingered on a little.
In the last years of my studies, I didn’t work as much on the farm - only on weekends and in the evenings. At that time I was already trying to work as a freelancer in my specialty, but it was an unstable income, so I could not leave my job on the farm. Besides, for that family, I was already a member of the family. In Austria, there is such a thing as a farm holiday. Later, I started saying that it was my holiday, as opposed to work.
I got my first proper job in my specialty thanks to my diploma work, which concerned the redevelopment of Berezhany. My boss at the time was looking for an architect who could create a development plan for a town similar to Berezhany. He liked my thesis, so I spent two years working on that project. Then there was cooperation with other countries - Italy, Sweden.
In 2015, I moved to Vienna, where I no longer worked as an architect, but as a manager. It was a more routine job, so I implemented my creative ideas outside of work. At the same time, I created a project dedicated to MH17.
I was quite active in the Ukrainian diaspora, I went to rallies and pickets, but in Austria it is not perceived as in our country. Standing and shouting slogans that "Russia is an aggressor" does not work. When we went out with Ukrainian flags, the Austrians asked us what we wanted, wondered why we as guests demanded anything at all there. Then I realized that I had to speak another language - the modern language of art.
I made a big two-meter plane, wrote the number of casualties on it, the number of deaths in Ukraine and put it in front of the OSCE [building]. This was perceived quite differently. We stood silently next to it, but it attracted attention, people approached and were interested. Then we took the plane to the center of Vienna.
I always had the idea to return to Ukraine at a later stage. As well as the idea that you can try your hand and become mayor. Over the last few years, I was already earning enough in Austria, but since I decided to return myself, I was already determined to do so.
About three months before the election, I returned to Ukraine, although I have not officially moved yet, most of my belongings are still in Vienna. I started preparing for the elections, went from house to house to campaign, speaking to people. I immediately said that I am a newcomer, without political experience, but I am young, I have the energy to learn. The fact that I am a person with European experience, had worked on a farm for a long time, milked cows - all this impressed my constituents.
There is a bit of self-doubt due to a lack of political experience. However, I believe that an architect is a politician, but a more practically oriented one. At university we had to design a plan for the development of the town, we had to understand what the town is doing, what it needs. We were given the task of designing a hospital, and we had to think about doctors and patients first. We are primarily doers, so I think an architect-mayor is a good thing for the town.
Oksana Pitsyk Photo: Courtesy of Oksana Pitsyk
"If I can't beat them, I lead them"
Oksana Pitsyk is the head of Smidyn amalgamated territorial community (OTG) in the western Volyn region. She has been elected to this position for the second time. After the eighth grade she went to study in Lutsk, lived there for about 10 years, but later decided to return to her native village of Smidyn.
I come from a large family, we did not have the opportunity to study abroad, I could only get in on my own. I really wanted to study at the Department of Political Science at Volyn University, but I was 0.4 points short of a government scholarship - there was a five-point system at the time. So then I entered the Faculty of Biology, because I graduated from a specialized class at the lyceum.
At university, I always joked that I would become prime minister. However, I never seriously considered politics, despite always following the news.
When I got married after graduating from the institute and returned to the village, I could not find a job for a long time. Eventually, I was hired as a teacher-organizer at the school. Then I started working in a public organization. That’s when I realized that changes can be made no matter where you are.
Even after graduating from university, I continue to study, constantly take part in various training programs and try not to stop. Now I am a student of the Kyiv National Academy for Public Administration under the President of Ukraine. I study at the Department of Social and Humanitarian Policy.
I became the head of the community at the age of 30. Before that, as the head of a public organization in Smidyn, I had to cooperate with the former mayor, it was a bad experience. Then I realized that if I can't beat them, I have to lead them.
The problem of village councils was that completely inept people came to power, they did not understand what had to be done. When OTGs were formed, the selection of mayors got better.
Oksana Pitsyk Photo: Courtesy of Oksana Pitsyk
Now, despite the fact that people sometimes criticize the projects and decisions of the community, they still see change. This time, 77% voted for me. This figure showed that we are on the right track. We also plan to work on improving the provision of medical services, attract investment to increase the community budget.
Of course, there is sexism. I often hear jokes from men, and sometimes even from women. However, I try to bring them to naught, because if I allow them, they will be repeated. During my campaign, one old man said to me, "Never will a woman be the head of the community." I am short and quite slender, and when I enter various state bodies at the district level and beyond, I feel this even in the way people look and their intonation.
I spend a lot of time at work. Other areas of life suffer from this. Being a good head, an ideal mother and a housewife at the same time - I think - is impossible without outside help and support. In one of the spheres you still realize yourself more.
I have two children (a son in the fifth grade and a daughter in the third) who are used to the fact that their mother is often busy. However, the daughter says she wants to be the head of the OTG. My family supports me, I would not be able to work without support.
For the next five years, I will be involved in community affairs. I'm not sure if I want to go to another level, because it's all very difficult. I think my mission is to make a difference in the life of my community.
Bohdan Kelichavyi Photo: Oleksiy Nikulin / hromadske
"When people come together, they can achieve a lot"
Bohdan Kelichavyi is the newly elected mayor of Kopychyntsi, in the western Ternopil region. After graduating from school, he left Kopychyntsi to study in Chernivtsi and then in Estonia. He lived in Europe for several years, and before returning to Ukraine, he spent a year in Canada.
I already participated in the previous OTG elections in 2018. But then we barely prepared for them. Three weeks before the election, I came from Kyiv and we started actively campaigning for people. At the time, I got 30% of the vote, it was a good result in such a period of time. My friend Andriy and I, who was the head of my election headquarters, and I decided that we should run in the next elections.
This time we were [properly] preparing and participating in the election campaign. We went to every house in the villages that belong to our community and in Kopychyntsi to meet people and tell about us. About 30 people worked with me in the team, all of them volunteered to help with the elections. Elections have united us, which is just an indication that when people come together, they can achieve a lot. We managed to win.
My wife's family moved with her from Kopychyntsi to Canada when she was 10 years old. She returned at 25, and the town has not changed since she had left. Small changes, of course, are there, but nothing major happened. We have plans on how to start implementing change.
Bohdan Kelichavyi and the team that helped him win the election Photo: Oleksiy Nikulin / hromadske
I studied here from 1st to 11th grade, and then went to study in Chernivtsi to become a lawyer. In the fourth year, I realized that I did not want to study for a master's degree in Ukraine, I was a little disappointed in the Ukrainian education system. I started writing letters to various institutions in Europe and so I entered Estonia, and received a scholarship. There I studied international law for a year and then was able to enter another specialty, where I also received a scholarship. Then I got into the Erasmus program in France, so in one semester I was studying in three programs.
The studies were interesting, the most valuable thing for me was to broaden my horizons, I met different people, I had people from all over the world in each of the groups I studied in. And when you are among people of different cultures, you automatically become like the ambassador of your country. People ask you about the Maidan, about the war in Donbas, you have to be aware of all the events and tell the right things.
Later, my wife and I moved to Canada and lived there for a year, then decentralization reform began in Ukraine. We decided to try to live in Ukraine for a while.
I did not have political experience, but I do have experience in the development of other communities, so I know what the job entails. I understand that there can be difficult decisions, sometimes unpopular decisions, but in the end I think that people will be satisfied, I will actively work on this.
While traveling in Europe, I met Rostyslav Bortnyk, who became the mayor of Berezhany this year. We greeted each other on Facebook. I think we will be able to create a trend and demand from society for such mayors.
I do not take my return as a step back. In any situation there are pros and cons, if a person has the right attitude, positives can be found everywhere. Ukraine is now the most interesting place to be.