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IHOR ZABAZHAN: “My dream is to create a country worthy of its heroes”

20/03/2023 15:24

izIhor Zabazhan, Mayor of Novomyrhorod, member of the European Party of Ukraine



During the year of full-scale war, the Novomyrhorod community became the second home for almost three thousand IDPs and one of the largest humanitarian centers among the communities of Kirovohrad Oblast.


Ihor! I traditionally ask all of our colleagues – how did you experience the beginning of the full-scale war?

– I was at home. The night before, I went to bed a little earlier than usual because I had to go on a business trip to Kyiv next morning. I was woken up by a phone call from my close relative in Kyiv. He told me that the capital was being bombed. Then deputies of the city council started calling. I immediately turned on the TV and made sure it was true. I called my deputies and the council secretary, and in about half an hour we were all at our workplaces. We were deciding what to do next. It is clear that from the very first days we did not understand a lot of things – what was happening, how it was happening. The most difficult thing was the information vacuum. The only thing I clearly realized and knew was that I would be with my community until the end, no matter what happened. We tried to act in a coordinated manner and did our best to avoid panic and chaos.


iz-2What challenges did you face in the first days of the war?

– In the first months, the community received a huge number of people fleeing the war. Novomyrhorod became a transit point for people traveling to the west of Ukraine and to the EU countries. We immediately set up a humanitarian headquarters. Everyone responded and helped – volunteers, community members, employees of the city council, police, military enlistment office, and village elders. We started with checkpoints because no one knew where we would meet the enemy.

In the early days, the farmers and entrepreneurs of our community came together and decided who, how and with what would help. In the first months, they played a key role in providing for both the military and internally displaced persons. Thanks to them, we managed to accumulate UAH 855.3 thousand, which we used to buy food, fuel, spare parts for vehicle repairs, military equipment and communications devices for the security company, medicines and fuel for the military. I personally and on behalf of the community thank each of them for their civic and selfless position.


iz-1Which city council department had the hardest time?

– All city council employees worked as a team. Therefore, it would be unfair to single out anyone. We all worked together to find housing for IDPs, were on duty at night to meet those fleeing the war zone, resettled them, loaded and delivered humanitarian aid. This is beyond the call of duty.

However, if we evaluate directly the areas of work, the social sphere was and is the most busy. About three thousand internally displaced persons are additional concerns for the employees who take care of the social protection of all residents of our community.


Did three thousand IDPs stay in your community?

– Yes, there are almost three thousand officially registered IDPs in the community, including 877 children, 109 people with disabilities, and thirty large families. In peacetime, I dreamed that the community’s population would cross the 30 thousand mark. But I never thought it would happen because of the war. We accepted people from Kharkiv, Kherson, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions. Most of them lost everything they had. Novomyrhorod district has become their second home. We support them both at the expense of the community budget and at the expense of charitable and donor organizations. The Humanitarian Center of the Novomyrhorod City Council provided tons of humanitarian aid over the year: food packages, hygiene products, medicines, bedding, mattresses, blankets, etc. Preschool and school-age children were provided with backpacks and school supplies, as well as sets of children’s clothes. If necessary, they are provided with psychological and medical assistance.


iz-3Who supported the city council in the first year of full-scale war?

– We have a large number of benefactors, both international and Ukrainian. Among them are the Charitable Foundation Ukrainian Social Programs, ACTED, People in Need, Planeta, the Red Cross of Ukraine, Kirovohrad Regional Public Guard, Tenth of April, the British charity Siobhan’s Trust, Help Ukraine, World Central Kitchen, Nova Druzhkivka, the Group of Associations of Municipalities from France, and the United Nations.

We received everything from food to hygiene products, diapers, medicines, clothes, household appliances, and plumbing fixtures.

I would also like to mention our local volunteer organizations:  “Volunteer Movement of Novomyrhorod Region”, CO “Panchivsky Charitable Foundation Shelter”, CO “Charitable Foundation “We are from Ukraine – Free People”, NGO “Volunteers of Novomyrhorod”, CO “Charitable Foundation “Heart of the Nation”. From the very first days, they self-organized and took on a responsible role in providing for the community. We are very grateful to all our partners. It would be very difficult for us without them.

And the residents of our community are real benefactors and real support. For example, we were raising funds to buy a car for the military. Everyone joined in the fundraising – management, employees, and residents of Novomyrhorod. Everyone united, and every contribution was valuable. The funds raised were used to buy a HYUNDAI TUCSON, which is serving in one of the military units. And when we collected food for a military hospital, a lot of people responded. Our people are the most valuable thing!


How many residents did the community lose in the war this year?

– We have lost seven of our defenders since the beginning of this year, 36 since the full-scale invasion.


How does the city council support the families of the killed, wounded and missing residents of Novomyrhorod?

– Of course, no amount of help can replace human life. Nevertheless, the city council has adopted a program that provides one-time financial assistance to family members of those killed, wounded, and missing in action in the war zone. In 2022, the families of the fallen heroes received assistance from the city budget in the amount of 15 thousand UAH per family, and the families of wounded soldiers, depending on the severity of the injury, received up to 15 thousand UAH per family.

In 2023, the payments will be higher. In case of death, the family of a serviceman will receive an allowance of UAH 25 thousand from the city council, and in case of injury – up to UAH 15 thousand. We have also provided assistance for the family of a missing soldier in the amount of UAH 15 thousand.


iz-5Did the war severely disrupt the community’s development plans for 2022?

– Yes, it did. Our priority for 2022 was to overhaul the roads. Almost all the roads between Novomyrhorod and rural settlements are in extremely poor condition. We cannot provide bus service to the community residents because the road carriers do not even want to participate in tenders for the development of routes. Unfortunately, our plans were not realized because of the war. After the victory, major road repairs will be our No. 1 priority.

Nevertheless, there were some successes in 2022. We survived the blackout. We purchased equipment for the hospital’s medical laboratory, ultrasound machines, electrocardiographs, a ventilator, and medical monitors. We were able to purchase a new school bus for the needs of the community. For the first time since Ukraine’s independence, we purchased a modern motor grader. We also purchased a sand spreader and a road marking machine. We managed to renovate bus stops in Novomyrhorod and Lystopadove village within the central road, make routine or patch repairs to roads, and resume laying pavement in the city center. We partially cleaned the central collector, replaced pumping equipment, and partially replaced the water supply system. There was a lot of work. All this can be read in detail in the report for the past year on the city council website.


What expenses will be prioritized this year?

– Our priorities are social protection of the population, support for IDPs, stable functioning of educational, healthcare and utility institutions. The deputies supported the community budget for 2023 almost unanimously, as the draft budget was thoroughly worked out at the conciliation board and all comments were taken into account.

We have provided UAH 2.6 million for a reserve fund in case of emergencies.

About UAH 13.7 million has been allocated for social protection of the community’s population. This includes social protection of the elderly, our defenders, assistance to the families of fallen soldiers, wounded, and missing persons, financial assistance for the treatment of serious and rare diseases, etc.

A total of almost UAH 157.6 million has been planned for educational institutions (60% of the budget). From the city budget, UAH 90 million will be spent on salaries, repairs in schools and kindergartens, utility bills, meals for children from privileged categories, support for gifted children in the community, school bus transportation, and more.

The budget provides more than UAH 10.4 million for healthcare. The funds will be used to pay salaries to doctors, medicines, food, utilities and energy.

In general, 75% of the community’s budget is allocated to the social infrastructure of the community – education, healthcare, culture, and sports.


iz-4You said that 60% of the community budget is allocated to education. This is, of course, great. But why is this figure so high? Why is it the largest share for education?

– It is due to subventions from the state budget. There are government programs that allow you to raise funds for targeted projects. The peculiarity of these funds is that the money raised for educational programs cannot be used, for example, for medicine or assistance to the military. Funds raised for sports infrastructure cannot be used for water supply and sewage. Therefore, accusations such as “it was better to build a water supply system rather than repair a school” are inappropriate. We are doing everything to attract earmarked funds from the state budget in various areas, because if we do not take advantage of this opportunity, other communities will take advantage of it. This year, education is a winner.


How did you survive the blackouts?

– The blackout in the community showed that the city could be left without water and sewage, and social institutions without electricity and heat. Therefore, the only way out was to provide the community with generators. And we did it. We partially purchased them on our own, and partially received help from our partners and charitable organizations. The only difficulty is that during a blackout, there is a failure, and it takes some time to restart the system.

But do you know what I noticed? During the months of blackouts, Ukrainians adapted to the lack of electricity and began to plan their time more carefully. The blackout not only caused inconvenience, but also united and hardened them. The people of Novomyrhorod live, study, work and do not give up.


What is the situation with shelters in the community?

– All the shelters owned by the city are functioning. Parents, teachers and the city council have jointly arranged basements in educational institutions. We also raise funds from charitable organizations. In particular, with the financial support of the Kyiv School of Economics, three shelters were repaired in city lyceums No. 1 and No. 2 and in Zlatopil Lyceum.

Sometimes our citizens want the shelters to be like their homes. I tell them: “Friends, this is a shelter. It can’t have nice tiles and nice walls. The shelter must have everything necessary to ensure and maintain people’s life if they suddenly find themselves there for a short time.” We provide this.

Also, the “Points of invincibility” are working. There, everyone can get help, recharge their phones, etc. But there are cases when people come to the point every morning and demand morning coffee. Unfortunately, there are people who confuse the invincibility point with a local cafe.


iz-6What are your plans for 2023?

– Our main plan is to ensure the full life of the community, prepare for possible challenges, and create comfortable conditions for both our native residents and IDPs. Today we need to rebuild everything to win. It is important to support everyone and each other. We have a historic mission to defeat Russia. And we will fulfill this mission with honor. We will fight until we drive out the enemy. And we must all realize this.


What was the most difficult thing for you over the past year?

– The hardest thing to do is to inform families of the loss, say goodbye to the heroes, and organize funeral processions. It’s very frustrating to see children left orphaned. No matter how much support we provide, we cannot replace a father, brother, husband, son.


What was your happiest moment?

– The happiest moments are the successes of our Armed Forces, the liberation of our lends, and days without air raids. I could single out another happy moment: when we as a community realized that we had survived the winter in the face of constant power outages and that we had managed to prevent the destruction of infrastructure in the community.


How do you see Ukraine’s victory?

– In my understanding, our victory will have many dimensions. We have already won morally, because we did not kneel down, we united, we returned Ukraine to the hearts of our citizens. We are fighting not only for territory, but for the values of the civilized world, for the European future of Ukraine. Undoubtedly, to consider our victory final, we must return all our territories. We must honor all our heroes, because the war continues until all the dead are honored.

There is one more important realization of our victory. This is when we retain all our moral achievements – unity, cohesion, patriotism, courage, all these qualities of Ukrainians that were manifested in the struggle and are now admired by the whole world – in peaceful life. We will build a strong Ukraine, a country-brand – wearing embroidered shirts on holidays, with a powerful industrial sector, with innovative technologies, but with javelin in hand, just in case. A country worthy of its Heroes!


How will you celebrate the victory?

– I really appreciate every opportunity to communicate with my fellow community leaders. Therefore, if I dream… Somewhere in our Crimea, on the coast of our Black Sea, within the framework of the All-Ukrainian Congress of Community Heads. And as soon as possible.


The conversation was conducted by Yulia Pidkurhanna