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2 March, 2021  ▪  

Frontline politics

Local election shows that the era of political monopoly in Luhansk Oblast is drawing to an end

Generally, there are hardly any independent politicians in Luhansk Oblast. All deputies, mayors and heads of counties are guided by their peers from higher up. Only parties or national MPs on whose behalf any given local official or politician acts are relevant. The most active parties in Luhansk Oblast now are Opposition Platform-Za Zhyttia [For Life] (OPZZ), Nash Krai [Our Land] and Sluha Narodu [Servant of the People]. They had the best results in the 2020 local election.  

Serhiy Haidai, Head of Luhansk Civil-Military Administration, is the most illustrative representative of the President’s party in the region. In slightly over a year in office, he has made friends with OPZZ, installed civil-military administrations in a number of unified territorial communities (UTCs) in the oblast and written three letters to the Central Election Commission justifying the cancellation of elections in part of the oblast.

As a result of all this, Haidai has made quite a few enemies in the region. These include MP Serhiy Shakhov who leads the Nash Krai team in the oblast and, paradoxically, Sluha Narodu’s MP Maksym Tkachenko, previously head of the party’s oblast branch. MP Serhiy Dunayev has joined that list recently after Haidai left him out in the cold when establishing Lysychansk and Severodonetsk civil-military administrations. 

Despite the many people who are unhappy with him, Haidai feels confident. One possible reason is his good relations with the leadership of the Presidential Office as the generous lending for the restoration of the oblast exemplifies. Apart from that, media have reported that President Zelenskyi personally attended Haidai’s birthday party while on an official visit to open a new contact line checkpoint in Luhansk Oblast. 

The division of OPZZ into two camps that is no longer concealed was the most illustrative element of the local election in Luhansk Oblast. In this, nothing has changed. One camp is run by MPs Yuriy Boiko and Serhiy Dunayev, and the other by Viktor Medvedchuk and Vadym Rabinovych. The friends of both camps are very different too. Boiko and Dunayev have been pretty close to Haidai in their views until recently. Lately, however, that union has started to dwindle as both sides are excessively focused on influencing appointments in the cities.

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Rostyslav Dubovyi is the de facto head of OPZZ’s second camp in Luhansk Oblast and very close to Nash Krai too. He ran as its candidate for Rubizhne City Council in 2015. In 2020, Dubovyi was elected deputy of Severodonestk City Council. Despite the divide within OPZZ and the reluctance of part of it to convene the first council meeting under the leadership of Boiko and Dunayev, Dubovyi was elected head of council while Nash Krai’s Kostiantyn Sukhov, the brother of an MP from the 107th constituency, was elected deputy head.

The section of OPZZ led by Boiko and Dunayev was luckier in Kreminna, ending up with an overwhelming majority in the council of Kreminna UTC and its mayor Volodymyr Struk. This UTC receives decent revenues to its budget from recreation, tourism and timber industry. 

Kreminna illustrates how intense political struggle continues in Luhansk Oblast even after the election. Just 13 of 26 deputies and the newly-elected mayor arrived to the first session of the local council. Nash Krai’s supporters demanded declaring it illegal. MP Serhiy Shakhov, the leader of Nash Krai, came to Kreminna personally, filing a lawsuit about this, offering to convene the first session once again and hinting at the option of withdrawing local council deputies. Shakhov and his colleague, MP Serhiy Velmozhnyi from the 113th constituency, were then not let into the scheduled second meeting so they failed to influence it in any way. This is by far not the only case in Luhansk Oblast where Nash Krai is reluctant to accept election results and tries to change the situation to its own benefit. 

In Rubizhne, the biggest city in the oblast that did have the election, Nash Krai did not have to change anything. It got one-party majority and its mayor Serhiy Khortiv, while the OPZZ team did not succeed. 

Another influential group is represented by Maksym Tkachenko, Ruslan Horbenko and Oleksiy Kuznietsov who act as representatives of Sluha Narodu. «Act as»is the keyword here as Sluha Narodu’s Us in the regions section on its website has no information about Luhansk Oblast. 

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Meanwhile, all three make alliances with various groups. While Kuznietsov worked on Sluha Narodu's local election campaign together with Serhiy Haidai, the aggrieved Tkachenko tried to retaliate after he was removed from running the election process as a result of his conflicts with Haidai. He spoke on TV, accusing the head of the Luhansk Civil-Military Administration of embezzlement and failure to act during a slew of serious forest fires in 2020.

Today, Tkachenko and Horbenko have found support in Nash Krai’s team as illustrated by the establishment of the Temporary Investigative Committee to investigate what caused extensive fires in Luhansk Oblast in 2020 at the Verkhovna Rada. Chaired by Horbenko with Serhiy Velmozhnyi as his deputy, the Committee has met several times in Kyiv and visited the oblast by now.

Risky deals, friendship against the common enemy or personal ambitions of politicians — all this manifests itself fully in the frontline region. The key figures are clearly not going to work with each other tolerantly. Civil-military administrations have been introduced in a number of UTCs instead of elections, and Head of the Oblast Administration realizes that there will be no Sluha Narodu winners if an election takes place there. 

Oksana Dmytrenko, Lysychansk


Translated by Anna Korbut

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