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Peculiarities of strategic planning of the affected communities of Mykolaiv and Kherson oblasts

Publication date: January 18, 2024

Author: Halyna Kolesnyk, Head of the Communication Cluster of the Legal Development Network

Since September 2023, three de-occupied communities in Mykolaiv and Kherson oblasts have begun creating strategic development plans. This is one of the components of the project “Supporting Volunteer Groups on the Frontlines, Promoting International Humanitarian Law and Facilitating Effective Humanitarian Response in Ukraine” implemented by the Legal Development Network in partnership with the Czech humanitarian organization People In Need and funded by the UK government.

We asked Ruslan Bakhtiyev, PhD in Political Science, head of the Garnet Social Technology Studio, who facilitated the development of strategic plans in the Shevchenkivska community of Mykolaiv and Bilozerska communities of Kherson oblasts, about the peculiarities of strategic planning in crisis conditions.

In the photo in the center: Ruslan Bakhtyiev, PhD in Political Science, head of the Garnet Social Technology Studio. Photo: LDN.

LDN: How does the development of strategic plans differ in the affected communities?

Ruslan Bakhtyiev: The strategic thinking of a community depends on its proximity to the combat line. For example, for the Bilozerska community in Kherson Oblast, the main thing is to survive. People survived the shelling at night and gathered for strategizing in the morning. It was difficult to launch strategic thinking in them to create a vision, a community mission. Their strategic development plan is being created for the next three years. They don’t see it going beyond that, because they have a lot of pressing issues right now. In addition, as soon as they overcome one problem, another one immediately arises. Relatively speaking, if you rebuild something, a missile may come there next time.

In the future, the community aims to restore the areas that are traditional for this region: agriculture, growing vegetables, fruits, and grain crops, and generally revive the agricultural business, whose products were in demand both in Ukraine and abroad.

Despite everything, the Bilozerska community makes sure that children do not lose their sense of childhood even while growing up in war. It is very noticeable when in one of the villages of the community, where there is a good shelter, conditions are created for children to socialize and spend leisure time together.

The local government of the Shevchenkivska community in Mykolaiv Oblast employs younger professionals with strategic thinking. This greatly affects the vision and future development. For example, in the field of education, before the large-scale war, the network of small schools was optimized. And in 2023, this process continues. This shows that they are systematically building their work.

Realizing that the Kherson oblast has lost its ability to supply fruits and vegetables, the Shevchenkivska community also plans to grow more of them, set up a wholesale market, and organize a logistics hub for freight transport. They also have an idea to build a plant for processing construction materials. After all, there are many destroyed houses around.

In my opinion, the Shevchenkivska and Bilozerska communities have the same desire to develop, to do their best where they are, despite the circumstances. For example, when we worked with the IDP council, one of the elements of the strategic direction was to return home, and the community is thinking about creating conditions for people to return. 

I would also note that the challenges in both communities include a lack of free hands and forces to develop and provide services, transportation, and mined fields. If the military does the demining, it is more efficient and faster. Humanitarian missions work longer, although they are just as thorough, but time is lost due to project procedures. Farmers are also engaged in demining, despite the danger, and buy special equipment for this purpose. They are forced to do so because they want to continue their business and cannot waste time.

LDN: What other requests became apparent during the strategy process?

Ruslan Bakhtyiev: In Bilozerka, there are social specialists in every village, but they cannot fully fulfill their functions because their lives are threatened by frequent shelling. If an elderly or disabled person needs a certificate, he or she cannot go, say, to the community center to get it. Most villages do not have internet and electricity. Many legal issues arise, so such consultations would be useful for people.

Also, a lot of starostas have changed in the community. They came from other areas, were activists, and feel that they need special training.

There is also a need to develop rural activism. After all, in both communities there are active and responsible people who do not know the tools of civil society. They are not very experienced, but they provide social services and do a lot of useful things at the household level. And if their level of training is increased, the quality of their work will increase.

Ruslan Bakhtyiev: We faced a low level of business involvement in the strategy process in the Bilozerska community. For example, only the heads of communal enterprises came to a meeting dedicated to the economic development of the community. The community’s problem is that there are almost no powerful enterprises that used to operate.

In this situation, we decided to think about what we could do for the housing and utilities sector. However, business was not left out. At the beginning, I conducted an in-depth interview with a local business representative. He told me a lot about the economic situation in the community and his view of the problems. For example, about the need for road construction. But at the same time, there are no men in the community to do this work. There is also another problem: the accumulation of various vehicles on the road, which can become a target.

Based on the information gathered, the community decided to add a vision element to the strategy to help develop business.

For example, in the Shevchenkivska community, cultural experts joined the strategic planning process. Often, when people talk about cultural institutions, they mean that they should only perform the function of leisure, forgetting about their responsibility for development. The same rural libraries can turn into developmental spaces. After learning about the strategic planning of the Shevchenkivska community, a community policeman joined it on his own initiative.

LDN: According to your observations, how did the strategic planning affect the participants of the sessions?

Ruslan Bakhtyiev: It became obvious to them that there is a relationship between the spheres. For example, representatives of the social and humanitarian field gathered together and at their session talked about economic development in particular. This shows the understanding that they should help develop this area. Prepare children for the professions needed by the community. Make groups capable so that there is no burden on the community, etc. It was noticeable that during the facilitation sessions a dialog was created, and we provided all the conditions for this.

One of the biggest gaps in their capacity is the limited resources they have: land, water, etc. The strength of this strategy is that it is an opportunity to rethink life before the war and the state of affairs today. Back then, it was harder to change approaches and the community’s economy. Its development was mostly influenced by external players. Now, people are forming their own vision, and knowing that the community has gone through terrible days, they feel responsible for it.

Community development is primarily about the people who will develop it. Not the conditions, not the potential, not the resources, but the people, the teams that come together. In the face of danger, each of them allows themselves to be frank and honest in their statements. I also see this as an opportunity for development.

This work inspired me a lot. When you go to western Ukraine, life is stable there and everything is more or less clear. But here, in such conditions, it is heroic to form a strategic vision.

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