Solution 14:52 04 Oct 2023

Bridges of trust: how Ukrainian communities cooperate with EU municipalities

Rubryka explores how the launched U-LEAD with Europe initiative works and how communities exchange experiences with foreign partners for more effective reconstruction and closure of priority needs.

What is the problem? 

Due to the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation, Ukrainian communities faced many challenges. Large-scale population migration, financial and humanitarian problems, security issues, and energy supply. In the crisis conditions, those needs that existed in the communities even before the war became more acute.

What is the solution?

International partnership, the foundation of which was laid long before February 24, helps Ukrainian communities overcome wartime difficulties. In the conditions of full-scale Russian aggression, cooperation between Ukrainian and foreign communities takes on new meanings. Now, this is a way to provide specific aid and support measures, demonstrate solidarity, and change Ukraine's future for the better.

An excellent example of the development of such a partnership is the Bridges of Trust initiative, which is implemented by the U-LEAD with Europe program. The Bridges of Trust project creates connections between Ukrainian communities in need of support and municipalities in the EU that are motivated and ready to help.

How does it work?

The Bridges of Trust project began in March 2021. At that time, more than 25 online meetings were held within its framework, as well as six visits of representatives of Ukrainian communities to EU countries. European municipalities shared the experience of developing their communities and discussed with Ukrainian communities the filling of local budgets, energy efficiency issues, education, and social and tourist services.

But with the beginning of the war, the question of reformatting the project immediately arose. On February 15, the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), together with the Association of Cities of Ukraine and with the support of U-LEAD with Europe, presented a new stage of the Bridges of Trust initiative. Thanks to it, 30 new municipal partnerships have already been created to rebuild Ukraine and improve the capabilities of Ukrainian communities.

Poland and the experience of creating new jobs

ініціатива Мости довіри

The signing of a partnership agreement with the Polish city of Sieradz.

The bridges of trust are being built, particularly in Kozyatyn, the Vinnytsia region. Representatives of the Kozyatyn community, together with representatives of Borodyanka and Nemishaeve in the Kyiv region, visited Poland. As the trip participants admit, this event brought the Ukrainian and Polish communities together like never before.

The delegation of the Kozyatyn city community was invited to Poland for the implementation of two projects. The first was signing a partnership agreement with the city of Sieradz. For this, negotiations, online meetings, and consultations had been held for about nine months. The second part of the visit was participation in the working conference of the Association of Cities of Ukraine and the Association of Cities of Poland. At this event, the community of Kozyatyn, together with the partner city of Sieradz, presented its project of the START industrial park. The community implements this project for the development of the economy of the region in cooperation with Polish partners.

The industrial park is a special zone for business. The Kozyatyn community expects that its creation will provide an opportunity to fully develop the potential of the community, promote investment, provide favorable conditions for the development of industrial enterprises and related types of business activities, and, just as importantly, create about 3,000 new jobs.

"At the stage of discussion of possible projects, we thought that, like other communities, we would install solar batteries in hospitals, engage in education, and something else," says Tetyana Yermolaeva, the mayor of Kozyatyn. "In short, there were many ideas that were all very different. But then, when we delved into the topic even more, we literally decided to promote exclusively that which would contribute to the economic development of our community. We decided to move towards the industrial park so that investors — Ukrainian and, possibly, foreign ones — would come here and, first of all, open factories."

The logic of this decision is obvious: if the economy works in the country, region, and community, there will be money for all other needs. Yermolaeva admits that the community will cooperate with a partner city for the first time to implement a joint project. For Kozyatyn, this is a new experience. Although Sieradz does not have its own industrial park, it has something to share with Ukrainians — the Polish city has a successful experience in attracting multimillion-dollar investments that have completely changed the economy of this region.

"For our community, it is important to expand cooperation with our friends-partners, share experience, and take over their work and knowledge," says Yermolaeva. "For us, Sieradz is a leading community. We do not expect financial assistance from them. Cooperation with them is more about consultative, intellectual support. We have seen their projects — they are simply impressive, and now we must learn to set our own goals correctly."

The industrial park project is large-scale. Its estimated cost is about seven million euros. They are just starting work on it in Kozyatyn. So far, it's about networks, logistics, and availability. Currently, the project's goal is to establish high-quality, long-term international cooperation based on bilateral experience and partnership interaction.

Denmark as an energy security trainer

ініціатива Мости довіри

As part of the U-LEAD initiative Bridges of Trust, the project "Cooperation for the implementation of energy management systems in the territorial communities of Ivano-Frankivsk, Chernivtsi, Zakarpattia regions" was launched.

Effective energy use and economical consumption of energy resources were relevant for Ukrainians even before the full-scale war. However, due to Russian terror, energy saving and energy security issues have become even more urgent and critical.

To solve these problems, take care of energy efficiency and the use of alternative energy sources, within the framework of the Bridges of Trust initiative, the project "Cooperation for the implementation of energy management systems" was launched in nine communities from the Ivano-Frankivsk, Chernivtsi, Zakarpattia regions. The Danish municipality of Guldborgsund, which has been supporting Ukrainian communities since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, has become a partner in bilateral cooperation, particularly in the form of humanitarian aid.

This time, with the assistance of Danish partners, Ukrainian communities executed a project to implement an energy management system. During six months, the representatives of the selected regions underwent training and became certified energy managers. Today, these 24 specialists are already working in territorial communities and implementing the energy management system. They will develop local energy efficiency programs, conduct an inventory of CO2 emissions, and implement measures to reduce them, and model energy balances of territories based on new realities.

For example, in the Ivano-Frankivsk region, the Development Agency of Prykarpattia unified territorial community implements the project. The organization's team is confident that communities that model their consumption and the possibility of their own energy production will be less dependent on external circumstances, which is extremely important in times of war.

"In today's realities, communities should first of all think about reducing the cost of energy resources, providing alternative energy sources during emergency shutdowns of hospitals, schools, kindergartens, and buildings where social and administrative services are provided. That's why the experience of Denmark, which is much 'colder' than Ukraine, is essential, says project manager Tetyana Danyliv. "Thanks to the implementation of the energy management system, it is possible to achieve greater energy use efficiency and reduce consumption, which in turn will contribute to reducing the burden on the community budget."

During the implementation of the project, a study trip to Denmark was organized for representatives of nine communities. Each day was devoted to a separate topic. In addition to getting acquainted with local initiatives in the field of energy efficiency, during the visits, community representatives learned more about:

  • communication strategies, municipal cooperation, and support of public organizations,
  • the process of municipal planning and the involvement of citizens in strategic planning,
  • the role of the community in the "green transition,"
  • and educational space.

The study tour participants took part in a workshop on urban planning for urban revitalization and open space planning in rural areas. Also, representatives of Ukrainian communities had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the functioning of the innovative city library and compare the work of centers to provide administrative services — as it is organized in Denmark and Ukraine.

Experience of the Czech Republic in project management

ініціатива Мости довіри

An Association of Cities of Ukraine delegation paid a study visit to Czech partner municipalities.

Bridges of Trust extended to Ukraine from the Czech Republic. In August 2023, as part of the Association of Ukrainian Cities delegation, representatives of three Ukrainian communities paid a study visit to three Czech partner municipalities. Each community chose for cooperation the topic that interested them the most: for example, Česká Třebová and Yasinia shared their experience about communal services and energy-saving technologies, Zabrzeg na Moravě and Rzyszczew discussed communal management, ecology, social services, and water management, and Nový Jičín and Pavlohrad exchanged insights in the field of social activities, water management and project management.

In addition, such trips allow communities to directly discuss possible joint projects with partners in the future. Thus, the mayor of Pavlohrad, Anatoliy Vershyna, and the secretary of the city council, Serhii Ostrenko, met with the mayor of Nový Jičín, Stanislav Kopetsky. Managers and specialists of the Czech municipality talked about the Czech system of local self-government and decentralization. They shared their knowledge and experience of preparing and receiving European funding and implementing projects. Also, for the representatives of the Pavlohrad community, the Czech colleagues conducted tours of the city's municipal public transport and utility equipment fleet, familiarized them with the work of the waste processing plant and the range of recycled products, and talked about successful communal projects that can be implemented in Ukraine as well. In their turn, the Ukrainians presented their community, outlined priority projects for construction and development, and shared their acquired crisis management experience in wartime conditions.

Vershyna shared with Rubryka: "During a working visit to Prague and Nový Jičín, I presented the investment and economic potential of Pavlohrad and told foreign partners about the real state of affairs in the city, about the humanitarian situation, about threats that may arise, in particular those related to the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Together with colleagues from Ukraine, we got acquainted with the communal economy, the water supply and drainage system, and the transport infrastructure of Nový Jičín. They exchanged the experience of the municipal police. Through grant programs, Czech partners showed us examples of cooperation between local self-government bodies and the European Union. This is the construction of an ice arena, a sports complex, and football stadiums, as well as the purchase of electric buses for the city's public transport company."

As a result of the trip and negotiations with the mayors of Nový Jičín and Litvinov, representatives of the Pavlohrad community agreed on support from Czech partners in submitting applications to EU grant programs for the construction of social infrastructure facilities in Pavlohrad.

"Thank you for the opportunity of a direct dialogue between the leaders of the cities of the two countries within the framework of the project. We have reliable partners from the Czech Republic and are grateful for the support and help for the Ukrainian people in difficult times for our country," Vershyna added.

Even more useful solutions!

Changes in Ukraine and its reconstruction are inevitable. The Bridges of Trust project opens up great opportunities for the country and communities. Although the war is ongoing, Ukraine already needs specialists, a strategy, and cases of successful projects.

The observations of U-LEAD experts show that not only Ukrainian communities are looking for partnership and cooperation. European municipalities are interested not only in helping but also in learning from experience because Ukraine has a lot of its own experiences. Today's realities prove that cooperation is a more effective method of interaction than competition.

This article was published as part of the Voice of Communities campaign, which is part of the Program for Ukraine on local empowerment, accountability, and development U-LEAD with Europe, jointly funded by the EU and its member states Germany, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, and Slovenia to support Ukraine on its way to strengthening local self-government. U-LEAD promotes transparent, accountable, and multi-level governance in Ukraine that responds to the needs of citizens and empowers communities.


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