My impression from my recent trip to Western Ukraine was made very positive by the ambitious political vision of the mayors that I met. I am convinced that the strong historical and geographical identity of the region opens many possibilities for long-term improvement of quality of life and makes it a particularly suited partner for French-Ukrainian cooperation.
Firstly, it was inspiring for me to see the very strong vision of local elected officials for their town, based on historical identity. In Drohobych, the salt mine at the origins of the city is still today a defining element of the city’s identity, while in Zolochiv, the mayor Mr. Ihor Hrynkiv is deploying remarkable efforts to restore the city’s once admirable historical center. I had the impression that this responsibility towards common History makes western Ukrainian cities much more akin to a political community. This then opens up the possibility of ambitious political projects : the city council of Drohobych is raising political participation through the transformation of the town into the most transparent city of Ukraine, while Mr. Hrynkiv is slowly but surely transforming Zolochiv into one of the most comfortable and attractive cities in the region. In short, I had the impression that a more defined historical identity allows for more ambitious political visions. This development is very positive because it creates much more common ground with European cities to cooperate on.
Secondly, I was struck by the potential of the region based on its geography and its nature, and the attention given to the importance of the environment.
- In Zolochiv, I saw the plans to develop the wood industry, mineral water from the Carpathians, tourism along the Lviv Castles route, and the dreams to create an ecological park. This made me very optimistic for cooperation with France, as the development of a region for tourism is a topic that French municipalities have a lot of experience in, along with water and waste management at the local level.
- In Berezhany, I heard ideas to introduce waste sorting, and to develop the nearby hills and rivers into a rehabilitation center for returning veterans.
- In Horokhiv, Poromiv and Lytovezh, I saw the importance of agriculture, which is a sector in which French municipalities can bring a lot of expertise and technology at the local level.
I am convinced that nature can be an important axis of development (tourism, exploitation…), and to see that Ukrainian mayors internalized the issue of the environment, for example the adhesion of Poromiv and Lytovezh to the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy was a positive fact.
Finally, I was most of all impressed by the quality of the people I met. The mayors were all driven by a strong vision for their town and a plan to implement it at their own personal cost if necessary. The mayor of Zolochiv wakes up early each morning to plant trees taken from his garden into the city’s green spaces, while the mayor of Berezhany returned from 17 years in Austria to help his town.
I was further deeply moved by the responsibility of these mayors in this war, as intermediaries between the front and the population, that have to announce each loss to the families, and find solutions for returning veterans and invalids. It made me understand much better their commitment to helping soldiers at the front. In this sense, I am very interested to look for possibilities to organize cultural and youths exchanges once the
partnerships are established, so that people in France can also understand the situation.
Thaddee Toulouse, international partnership manager of NGO Stand with Ukraine, France