Posted on Oct 01, 2019
Ukraine’s capital Kyiv saw many revolutions but the historical city seems to have a hard time to revolutionise itself from the shadows of the past. The city, which was the birthplace of the Queen of France Anne and the inventor of the helicopter Igor Sikorsky, aspires to raise its profile as a European smart city hub through urban infrastructure, citizen participation and information technology.
Kyiv knew its rises and falls, especially back in early XXth century, when the city knew the first inflow of serious cash. Many new beautiful and unique constructions, buildings were built then. Businesses and people thrived and competed with each other whose house would be more breathtaking. Then during a serious period of civil unrest, foreign invasions and bolshevik regime many of those had been lost and replaced with something much more utilitarian and ordinary. Nowadays Kyiv cannot complain that its budget is lacking, however there is no serious competition in terms of beauty and taste. It seems that since the day of Ukraine’s independence Kyiv is being used like an exhausted cow being milked by the privileged few for every bit of cash.
Having signed an Association Agreement with the European Union (EU), Ukraine sees itself as a bridge between the East and the West. But ironically, the bridges in its capital city collapse right after they are built. Despite high-flying projects, such as Kyiv Smart City Initiative, Kyiv seems to lag far behind from its European neighbours like Berlin and Warsaw, when it comes to urban planning or providing basic public services, such as drinkable tap water and quality roads.
This may be attributed to the city’s Soviet inheritance, where inertia, corruption, bribery and nepotism abounded. But it is time to abandon these archaic practices for good in this new era for the country, which fought hard to liberate itself from its Soviet past. This could be achieved through a genuine community-focused approach and more importantly, through a visionary and ethical leadership. In reality, most of the elected mayors of the city appear to be driven by personal interests and political expediency, which prevents them for having a clear vision for Kyiv’s development.
The succession of all Kyiv mayors reminds of a consumer queue standing for political influence, wealth, employment for their family members – getting but not giving. Kyiv mayors were accused of granting privileged access to top real estate sites, including historical buildings, for relatives and allies. The fate of Igor Sikorsky’s house is a sad testament to this. Such historical sites are often destroyed to be replaced by shopping malls or hotels, which harms the landscape of the centuries-old city.
Although Kyiv’s current mayor Vitali Klitschko, who was a world boxing champion, initially gave hopes for change, his actions have so far failed to match his election promises, including prosecution of corrupt Kyiv officials and access to drinkable tap water. In 2015, Klitschko denounced a 112 million-euro corruption scheme by the public transportation company Kyivpastrans, initiating criminal investigations on a dozen of officials. No one has been prosecuted yet and the tap water is still undrinkable to date.
Back in 2017, the Nyvky overpass repaired during the Klitschko administration, started cracking almost the very next day to the disappointment of many. The Kyivians were disillusioned about the promise of a new dawn when they listened to the explanations that the bridges which collapsed over the last several years “were tired”. Apart from a rather shady record of reconstruction and renovation projects, Klitshcko was also blamed like his predecessors to have extended favours to his family and friends, including his brother and the construction giant Mykytas. The former has allegedly received a major discount from the mayor to buy a house in the city centre following an opaque tender procedure (and despite the seizure of the building by the Court) while the latter obtained favourable conditions to reconstruct the Shuliavka bridge, which collapsed two years ago.
Following lengthy investigations on the tender regarding the bridge, the Mykytas company received a fine by the Ukrainian antitrust authority for tender rigging and inflated pricing. Klitschko’s connections to some oligarchs also came to media attention, especially following the confessions of the Ukrainian businessman Dmytro Firtash, who claimed that Klitschko’s election was prearranged as a result of a deal among oligarchs. If these allegations were true, they would hint to a sustained culture of favouritism to advance the interests of political powerhouses and representatives of big businesses, which is the exact opposite to a citizen-focused approach.
As long as old traditions remain in place and construction works in Kyiv are carried out in a haphazard manner, the public tensions will increase, transportation will be disrupted and the city’s attractiveness will be curbed. To avoid the continous mismanagement of the city’s funds, some believe that that the districts should be given back a free reign through the empowerment of district councils. This is a common practice in most EU countries, such as Germany and France, which proved effective to increase the accountability and transparency of city administrations.
Yet, the formation of city councils to supervise important decisions, such as the lease or sales of communal lands and buildings, is not supported by Klitschko’s team. This would be counterproductive if the city administration is serious about urban construction and renovation projects to bring the city in par with her European counterparts.
The ancient city of Kyiv, which was the cradle of many civilisations, has a great potential to become a modern, orderly and smart city and to acclaim its rightful place on the European continent. This potential should not be wasted by mismanagement, favouritism and neglect. If Ukraine truly wants to look into West and leave its Soviet legacy behind, it should start by ensuring good governance in its cities, with a clear vision and dedicated leadership.
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