In Ukraine, Women Take the Lead:

How leaders are unifying residents and bringing progress to a community

As a former paramedic, Inna Kopiika knows how to handle emergencies. Her skills have proven useful in her current role as head of her community many times. She has served as the community head since 2015 when she decided to run for office in the village of Kutsurub, on the shores of the Black Sea in southern Ukraine, and shocked the local political elite by winning. She ran on a promise to “cure” the entire village and help bring progress that benefits everyone. Two years later she is fulfilling that promise, but not just for the village of Kutsurub. Kopiika and her team now oversee a community compromised of 12 villages with a population of more than 8,000 people.

Inna Kopiika, head of the Kutsurubskaya consolidated community which is comprised 12 villages and 8,000 residents.

After Kopiika’s surprising victory, she began working with neighboring villages to “unify,” a process in which villages and communities voluntarily join together for local self-government. Unification, a new law passed by the national government in 2015, helps communities access more financial resources while promoting the more effective and transparent management of those resources. Its goal is to create viable and self-sufficient communities able to manage resources and deliver services to its local populations.

Unification is part of the government of Ukraine’s national goal of decentralization which aims to transfer authority, resources and decisions on everyday issues from the central government to the local level. However, after decades of strong centralized government, local communities are not always capable of performing these functions and need support to build up their organizational, financial and human resources capacities. The USAID-funded Decentralization Offering Better Results and Efficiency (DOBRE) is working with communities like Kopiika’s to help new local governments effectively manage their new responsibilities and deliver services to its constituents.

Prior to their unification under Kopiika’s leadership, the individual villages were under-resourced, leaving many important projects unfunded. Now that the communities are working together to access resources, residents have already seen much progress. “People believed us. They saw how many things they managed to do only last year,” says Kopiika.

Tetiana Pikul, director of the local school displays some of the educational materials purchased as a result of the new allocation of local resources. Prior to new leadership, Pikul explains that local council would not even allocate money for paint and other basic supplies for the school.

Examples include 24 infrastructure projects including road repair and construction of a water supply system in one village. At the secondary school, students are benefitting from new desks, windows and flooring as well as new computers, audiovisual and educational equipment. DOBRE has also made investments in local medical facilities, upgrading a rural clinic into a primary care facility and ensuring the dental clinic is fully equipped.

Kopiika oversees a team of 14 deputies on the village council, 11 of whom are women, who hold some of the most important positions on the council including secretary and head of finance. This does not surprise Kopiika in the least. “My team is good…We are the first and we need the best,” she asserts proudly.

Of the 14 positions on the new council, 11 are held by women. Pictured in center is Tetiana Dubina, who is responsible for education.

Global Communities’ role under DOBRE is working with newly elected leaders to build their capacities to deliver local government services. Equally important is the role of citizen engagement. Key to the success of decentralization is ensuring transparency and accountability of new local governments, which requires citizen awareness and participation especially in the local budgeting and planning process. Under DOBRE, Global Communities is supporting civil society organizations and communities to advocate for their interests and become active participants in local decision making processes.

There has been a marked increase in public participation and a greater sense of trust and cohesion in the community.

Kopiika and her team has seen this spike in citizen engagement first-hand. There has been a marked increase in public participation in her community, and as a result, a greater sense of trust and cohesion among the residents as well, who saw how they can influence local decision-making processes and experienced the results after.

When asked about her success in just two short years, Kopiika explains. First, it is thanks to a good team of managers. Second, it is the trust of people and the fact that they recognize their influence on the development of the community in which they live. They no longer wait to see what the government will say — they decide the priorities, and the act to make them happen.

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