Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“We will not allow a revanche”

Borys FILATOV discusses personnel issues, paternalism, Viacheslav Lypynsky, and political will
16 August, 2018 - 09:06
Photo by Mykola TYMCHENKO, The Day

Mayor of Dnipro Borys Filatov, who came to Kyiv specifically to meet with students of Den’s Summer School of Journalism, discussed how to restore citizens’ trust in government, what issues worried residents most, and what the real powers and resources available to a mayor were. The students went to the meeting well-prepared. The speaker intended to have an interesting and productive conversation. The end result was in line with expectations.


Iryna LADYKA, Ivan Franko National University of Lviv: “You stated in one of your interviews that there was now a complete distrust for government. Do you have a recipe for restoring this kind of trust?”

“The recipe is very simple. One needs to talk less and do more! We have an issue with the public. People believe that full responsibility lies, firstly, with the president, then with the governor, and lastly with the mayor. People do not understand the separation of powers and authority. The top leader is held personally responsible for everything. It is under such conditions that it becomes difficult to ascribe any achievement or defeat to the individual responsible.

“In order to restore trust, one must first show work done.

“When I entered the latest election campaign, only 5 percent of citizens aged over 50 trusted me. Now the level of trust and satisfaction with the work of the mayor in this age category is about 50 percent, that is, it has increased tenfold. The share has changed because people can have different general outlooks, but when they see work done every day – in their courtyard, on the street, on TV screens, on the pages of newspapers – they change their attitudes, including ones towards those leaders with whom they may be in disagreement on certain political issues.

“We, I mean local communities, have received a serious financial resource after decentralization, which has allowed us to implement many projects. But when people talk about it, they forget about the hryvnia repeatedly and sharply falling against the US dollar. When funding is set against prices of materials and infrastructural projects, it becomes clear that we do not have that much more money.

“A lot of problems have been accumulating for decades. Even taking into account the ‘massive’ budget of ours, it is impossible to solve these problems immediately, because despite the spending amounting to 14 billion, 10 billion of it are protected items: wages, welfare payments, etc. There are huge problems with water supply and environment. For example, nobody knows where and which communication lines lie in this city. We begin to dig and find pipes bearing Russian Imperial era emblems. To conduct an audit of underground communications, I need like 200 million hryvnias.

“Decentralization is a success now, because the communities have enough money, plus many young, ambitious teams have come along with new mayors. There are many regional politicians who want to show a result and win public respect with it. We share experiences, help each other. In general, I believe that decentralization needs to be enhanced.”

Evelina KOTLIAROVA, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv: “You said in an interview that the fight against corruption was a sixth- or even seventh-placed priority for the public now, while improving standards of living was all-important. What else is important for the Ukrainians?”

“I see it when communicating with people, and this is evidenced by opinion polls and a focus group we had as well. In order to make adequate decisions, one has to get down to earth. Unfortunately, the chattering classes, various commentators and experts quite often exist in a virtual world of sorts. Since you are future journalists, I want to convince you to look at the world not through the prism of social trends that we are creating ourselves. Today, we have many people getting involved with fighting corruption. Probably this is a right thing to do. But as soon as you get down a level, you know what issues worry residents most? In the first place, it is utility rates, followed by public transportation fares. People do not have enough money. When they do not know how to pay utility bills and feed their families, they are not interested in political scandals.”


Solomiia NYKOLAIEVYCH, Lesia Ukrainka Eastern European National University: “You said in an interview that you were awaiting the presidential election with anxiety, because you were satisfied with the status quo, and there might be chaos after the election. I wonder if you have a list of traits that a worthy president should have?”

“I await the election with dread because I am interested in the status quo being preserved since I am the leader of a local community, and I impartially discuss and raise in communications with mayors of other cities the fact that now the central government does not intrude much into the affairs of local communities. It is clear that the public opinion colors all administrations as equally bad. However, things are not the same as before at the level of the regional councils, the prosecutor’s offices, the Security Service of Ukraine, or the police. There are no required vote quotas, nobody invents designs aimed at getting mayors into a tight corner or forcing them to promote someone. There are, of course, many different speculations. I saw a TV channel, for example, broadcasting a story about Petro Poroshenko allegedly trying to force Filatov to support him in the election. But this is not true. When they begin to invent a conspiracy theory (which is interesting at the first glance) stating that Poroshenko came up with all that so that all mayors become loyal to him, it is total idiocy.

“Therefore, we are satisfied with the status quo, because nobody hinders our work. It is clear that everyone has their difficulties: someone has quarreled with the governor, someone with local security forces, someone is disliked by the cabinet, so everyone has their own story to tell. But the situation has changed dramatically in comparison with the time when city mayors spend weeks in Prime Minister Mykola Azarov’s reception room, only to get him to sign a piece of paper. Therefore, as leaders of local communities, we sit and think: ‘And what if, after another president comes to power, we will have to sit in the reception room again?’ This is quite normal logic. I, for example, do not know what Yuliia Tymoshenko, or Anatolii Hrytsenko, or Oleh Liashko think. Before the election, they are all tenderness incarnate, they like mayors and the idea of self-government, but we do not know what chimeras inhabit their minds. We do know which chimeras inhabit Poroshenko’s mind, and we can cope with them.

The city government has no priorities, we do everything. Speaking about the required traits list, the presence of political will is, obviously, of greatest importance. I believe that if there is will, a lot of problems can be solved.

“The city government has no priorities, we do everything. Speaking about the required traits list, the presence of political will is, obviously, of greatest importance. I believe that if there is will, a lot of problems can be solved. We did some things in the legally grey zone, but still saw them brought to conclusion. With political will and determination, one can do a lot.

“And the second trait is the ability to negotiate. One should never cross red lines. The city council was divided in half, with 32 councilors on either side. The meeting room saw fights, attempts to occupy the premises. But I understood that I would never get rid of these people, because they would still sit on the city council, still live in this city, I would never be able to send them to the Moon together with the voters who vote for the Opposition Bloc each time. Therefore, when one understands that the situation cannot be resolved otherwise, one begins to negotiate.”


Olha KRYSA, Ivan Franko National University of Lviv: “You are the head of a million-resident city. Unfortunately, many people still have that post-Soviet inertia. Who provides you with most support in your work? And which group is the most problematic?”

“I am upset by the paternalism of people. Many of them feel that the nation ends on the doorstep of their own home. They cannot agree who will mop the staircase shared by four apartments, or clean it up and take out the rubbish. At the same time, they constantly shout that the government has failed to provide them with something.

“The second problem follows from the first one. There are things that can be done through self-organization of people. We already have embryonic forms of self-organization, and we try to stimulate it. There is a municipal program under which we have started to provide people with wheelbarrows, saplings, paint... People come to the city housing administration and say they want to hold a volunteer work day. To do this, we give them everything they need: flower seedlings, brooms, shovels... And this is done at the expense of the city. Thus, we stimulate self-organization.

“Paternalism, passivity, disbelief are the most important problems. Well, excessive optimism is there too, because a lot of people think that they know it all. People do not understand that manning the barricades and flying flags is one thing, while cleaning these Augean Stables hour after hour, day after day is markedly different. Of course, institutional memory is needed. That is, one just cannot come in from the street and become director of the city landscaping administration, without understanding anything about the trimming of trees. One should understand how it functions, how local government operates. I have replaced all the city hall employees, dismissed all deputy mayors, directors of departments, almost all heads of administrations. I have replaced most directors of utility companies. Here, for example, we have one Valentyn Lazariev who will stay on his job under every regime, because he knows where and which communication line lies in the city, and who owns it. We had one Yurii Lozovenko, who offered advice on urban infrastructure. Then he took offense at something and left for Ivano-Frankivsk. He provided good advice, but where can I obtain hundreds of millions euros, not hryvnias, which are needed for its implementation?”


Ivan KAPSAMUN: “How did you select your team?”

“We brought some people over from the regional state administration, ones we worked with in 2014. These were young lawyers, people who were engaged in bureaucratic work. Another part of the team is made of our party comrades who fought the election campaign with me. But this does not mean that I took people in because of personal or party loyalty, no, they were people who showed professionalism, especially in business operations and in public administration. Thirdly, we also took in young, active citizens and volunteers who were ready to work a lot and work hard. In particular, we brought people from Kyiv, for example Maksym Muzyka came here, and the head of the city health care department came from Volyn. We selected personnel by carefully picking people. These were three main ways. Fourthly, of course, I retained people who were not stained with corruption scandals. There is one Olha Cherkas. She was here during every mayor’s term, even in the Soviet time. When I will leave office, she will keep working, because she is a high-level financier.

“The personnel problem is the number one problem for the country. People with business background do not want to enter the civil service. For example, we have the position of the city’s chief architect open, and a famous young architect comes and says: ‘I am ready to work for 10,000 dollars in monthly salary.’ He says so because he earns that much in business. Why should he enter the civil service? We hired recently a young progressive artist Serhii Bilyi. He gets no salary at all. Bilyi says: ‘What use do I have for your 5,000 or 15,000 hryvnias salary? I want to change the city!’ He and his associates draw logos in their bureau, sell them to businesspeople and make good money from it.

“Moreover, we were the first in the country to raise salaries for city officials. Our department heads earn up to 20,000 hryvnias. Oh, I have heard many people cursing me and saying that ‘while children starve, Filatov pays these cannibal-like officials exorbitant sums.’ However, I cannot demand anything of people who earn 3,500 hryvnias.”


Khrystyna SAVCHUK, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv: “What specifically influenced your switch from legal profession to journalism?”

“I am actually a creative person, and can be said to have lived a few lives, so nobody except God can say what will happen to me next. I did not intend to become mayor either. I became mayor due to one person in the world, and this person’s name is Oleksandr Vilkul. I realized at one point that I would not surrender my hometown to the ‘Kryvyi Rih gang.’

“When Maksim Kurochkin began his attempt to capture the Ozerka Market, the city was totally horrified. I then participated in the trial on the side of the defense. And at that moment, I realized that it was time to talk about it on TV. But nobody wanted to deal with such things because it was dangerous. Then I went to the Channel Nine, which then belonged to Ihor Kolomoiskyi. I had one condition only – nobody was to interfere in editorial policy. Kolomoiskyi agreed, he never told me what to show and what not to. I paid the editorial team with my own money. In essence, they ‘sold’ airtime to me.

“We had sky-high ratings. To stop us from airing a story, people offered up to 5,000 dollars. It was a huge sum for the time. We gathered a good team and created a great project. Viktor Yushchenko even awarded me the title of Meritorious Journalist for it. But at some moment, I realized that people had grown bored with my ‘broadcasts from the basement.’ The audience began to grow tired of all this pessimism and horror. Then we created the section entitled ‘People Talk about People’ and talked there about many interesting things done by ordinary citizens.”

Viktoriia HONCHARENKO, Dnipro Law School: “I am very pleased to meet you. As a Dnipro resident, I can emphasize that our city is really getting better. But there are people who find nothing to their liking. How do you deal with this hostility, what motivates you?”

“Skeptics can only be convinced by deeds. I do not know how true it is, but political scientists and analysts say that the index of happiness is increasing in this country, after all. Living amid unending negativity is just impossible. Often enough, I respond to negative assessments with a suggestion to replace me in the office. People immediately refuse. In order to understand someone’s path, you need to get into their shoes.”


Daria CHYZH, Borys Hrinchenko National University of Kyiv: “You are the first city mayor to ‘ferry’ Viacheslav Lypynsky across the Dnipro River. Why did you choose Lypynsky’s side in the ‘quarrel’ between Dmytro Dontsov and Lypynsky?”

“Because there are objective reasons for it. It includes the story about how we transferred the building of Ekaterinoslav Great Mosque to the Muslim community. This is a well-known debate between ‘the voice of the soil’ and ‘the voice of the blood.’ One should not counterpose Lypynsky and Dontsov. This is often the legacy of Soviet historiography. They were engaged in a debate, true, but to a certain extent they were in dialog too. If we are talking about Dontsov, then he was different in different periods. I think that Lypynsky defeated Dontsov, historically speaking. But we need to read Dontsov as well. Incidentally, I have been the only Ukrainian politician to visit the grave of Dontsov at a US cemetery. Apart from me, First Lady Maryna Poroshenko, and Patriarch Filaret, no one has reached this cemetery.

“Incidentally, during that visit to the US, we agreed that we would bring from there diaspora publications and create a dedicated department for them in our city library. They intend to transfer to us 10,000 to 15,000 volumes. Why? Because, as Lypynsky had it, ‘the voice of the soil’ is a thing. Without the soil, there can be no nation, a political one in particular. When we were in the States, we talked to diaspora families a lot. They have wonderful children who are clad in embroidered shirts, they speak Ukrainian, sing carols, but they already lack interest in these books. They are Americans. Yes, they maintain a connection to the old country, but it is only virtual for them. In particular, Mr. Mirko, who is transferring to us this library which contains the creative legacy of the Ukrainian diaspora, said: ‘When I go, these books will simply get scattered across other libraries and there they will ‘die’ as dead weight, nobody will read them.’ And this is a colossal library, holding publications from Argentina, Brazil, Britain, and Canada. And we want to collect it, because, with all respect due to our American diaspora, they do a lot, but if there is no soil, ‘the voice of the blood’ does not really help.”

Anastasiia KOROL, Vasyl Stus National University of Donetsk: “You and Den newspaper. How did you two get to know each other, and which Den’s projects you like most?”

“Frankly, I do not remember it. It seems to me that it was so long ago... Moreover, I have such a huge amount of contacts because of my work that I cannot establish lasting relationships with everyone. However, I would like to thank Larysa Ivshyna, for among these tens of thousands of people, she is an ‘anchor’ of sorts which we have managed to get tied to.

“Why Den newspaper? There are many nice, interesting, respected newspapers, but cultural matters are a priority as well. Except for Den, no one pays appropriate attention to it. Also, I love Den because of photos. I remember that even before we came to know each other, I visited the early Den’s photo exhibitions at the Ukrainian House in the capital city in the 1990s and was shocked by the quality of the photo materials shown.”


Larysa IVSHYNA: “We had a meeting recently with the historian Yurii Tereshchenko. For many years, he was studying the Lypynsky archive, and we asked him: ‘What state Ukraine should see itself as a successor of: the Hetmanate or the Ukrainian People’s Republic?’ This question was raised for the first time then, and we are discussing it for the second time with you. And in Dnipro, if you wanted to talk about this topic, could you find an interlocutor?”

“We have a fairly controversy-prone city. Opinions differ widely. An MP asked the municipal renaming commission to rename Robkorivska Street after Stepan Bandera. However, the commission replied that Robkorivska Street was too small, while Bandera was so historically significant that it was impossible to rename it after him. The MP made a big scandal out of it, accusing me of involvement, although I had had nothing to do with it. This is so because even the renaming commission is quite diverse in its membership. We have a lot of intellectually developed people who are ready to discuss these ideas. It is now on the agenda. Come and visit us.”

L.I.: “By the way, while streets are getting renamed in this country, people do not always understand the complexity of the figures involved...”

“I will say more, they do not understand it at all. We just talked about renaming the street after Bandera, who is a symbolic figure. However, we have a street in our city, one of the central ones, in fact, which is named after Roman Shukhevych. And people did not say anything at all against it, because they simply do not know who he was. There were no scandals or protest rallies.”

L.I.: “Do you think a revanche is possible? Is Ukrainian society wise enough to detect hidden maneuvers, in particular those made by Russia?”

“I think a lot about this, especially when talking to the far right, who say to me: ‘Imagine, say, Ivanov becoming president. What will he do if we bring to the streets 50,000 armed men if we see a danger of revanche? Or, for example, imagine Sydorov becoming president. How will he go to attend his inauguration, if we will not let him to do it?’ It is clear that such scenarios are really not needed. They can inflict catastrophic damage on the country. But now there is a certain critical mass of resolute people who, in my opinion, will not allow a revanche to happen. But there is another problem, namely the problem of the creeping revanchism. Today we gave way in one matter, tomorrow in another, the day after tomorrow in the third one, and so after three to five years, we may return to square one. People are so tired of all the horrors that are happening now that they may simply refuse to support such people or some much-needed decisive steps. But we are optimists and people of action, so we are doing everything to prevent a revanche.”

The Summer School of Journalism was held with the support of the NATO Information and Documentation Centre in Ukraine

By Viktoriia HONCHARENKO, Den’s Summer School of Journalism, 2018. Photo by Mykola TYMCHENKO, The Day