Mykolayiv regional governor Vitaliy Kim is the second most trusted Ukrainian politician, according to a recent survey by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation. If 70.7% of Ukrainians trust President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Kim enjoys the trust of 64.7% of his fellow citizens.
Both Zelenskyy and Kim are handsomely ahead of Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and volunteer activist and politician Serhiy Prytula in this rating.
In an interview with NV, the governor talks about the challenges Mykolayiv faced during the war and his future career plans.
NV: How did the life of Mykolayiv City and Mykolayiv Oblast change with the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion?
Kim: It was a real horror from Feb. 25 to March 14, 2022, when Mykolayiv was surrounded by enemy troops and battles were taking place near Voznesensk [just outside the city]. The situation had improved since March 14, when our armed forces repelled the Russians from Mykolayiv. Nov. 11  was a real holiday as the right bank of the Dnipro River was completely liberated.
We [in Mykolayiv Oblast] have only three settlements on the Kinburn Spit left under occupation. Therefore, after Nov. 11, we were engaged in sweeping de-occupied territory for landmines, restoring infrastructure, social facilities, and we’ve been doing all that for more than a year.
I’d say the situation is better than what we had in 2022, but much worse than in 2021.
NV: What are the most acute issues the region faces today?
Kim: War is our most important problem: Ukrainians continue to die, the economy doesn’t function. In addition, people are tired of the war, they’re feeling depressed, no matter how trivial it sounds, because all Ukrainians (and Mykolayiv residents even a little more) have been under tremendous stress for almost two years.
NV: If we’re not talking about the constant threat of Russian shelling, what problems would you highlight in the economy, infrastructure?
Kim: 99% of our infrastructure has been restored by now. There are certain difficulties, but we’ll deal with them. War is the main problem. Jobs, business relocations, closed ports are such a mixture of difficulties that cannot be solved without resolving the military risks. They affect everything else.
We can open one, two, or 10 large enterprises, which we’re doing now, but this doesn’t fundamentally solve the issue for Mykolayiv residents.
If we take the economy, the first priority is the ports, which must open for the region to function normally.
NV: Many Ukrainians returned to Kyiv in 2023. What’s the situation with people returning home to Mykolayiv?
Kim: About 1.2 million people lived in Mykolayiv Oblast and 470,000 in Mykolayiv City before the war. As of now, there are about 400,000 people residing in the city, meaning that 70,000 haven’t yet returned. There are about 1.1 million residents in Mykolayiv Oblast.
We have about 130,000 registered internally displaced persons (IDPs). These are mostly residents of Kherson and Zaporizhzhya oblasts, including 70,000-75,000 women and 30,000 children. That is, the population of Mykolayiv Oblast will decrease by this number if they return to their homes.
NV: Are you sure IDPs will return home? Do you not think they will settle down and stay in Mykolayiv Oblast?
Kim: The mentality of our citizens is such that most of them will return home as soon as possible. Many people from Kherson are ready to go home even now, but it’s still very dangerous there.
NV: You said the economy in the region is stagnant. Where do people work these days?
Kim: It’s difficult to answer this question. Both we and the employment service are working on this, there are certain state programs. Some people are hired, some find work on their own. Small business is actively recovering.
At the same time, mobilization is taking place, leading to a shortage of specialists. Mykolayiv mayor, for example, announced that women were being recruited to work as bus drivers. Many enterprises are idle, which means they have jobs, but the workers receive only part of their wages because all production has stopped. Therefore, frankly speaking, everyone survives as best they can.
The region’s budget was met thanks to the additional wartime income tax, which has now been taken away [and diverted to the national budget]. The situation in 2024 will be difficult, but we understand that now everything should go to our defense industry.
NV: Your official duties don’t include negotiations with Western partners on arms transfers. But as governor, you can solicit aid from other countries. How does diplomacy work at this level? Do you have personal connections with Western politicians and officials?
Kim: There are connections, but we’re moving vertically. It’s the Foreign Ministry that is responsible for external economic relations, while we mostly work with representatives of Western partners in Ukraine.
Given that Ukraine is conduction a decentralization reform, with local communities now solving many of their own issues. Our partners like it because it reduces opportunities for corruption. Therefore, partners receive requests specifically from people who will use it directly. And this is precisely one of my tasks, namely, to ensure that all possible assistance from our partners goes to the right places.
Some 720,000 residents of the region received aid, including financial assistance. We had programs under which residents received UAH 6,600 ($174), as well as $400 recovery vouchers.
NV: During this time, you’ve probably established personal relationships with some of your Western colleagues who can call you and ask about the situation in the region. Do you maintain these contacts?
NV: Yes, but it’s a state secret. There are mayors of cities, there are ministers of other countries, there are representatives of international organizations with whom we have direct contacts, correspond, and keep in touch.
NV: Many Western politicians came to Odesa. If I’m not mistaken, only the Prime Minister of Denmark visited Mykolayiv during the war. Is this related to security issues or Western politicians just don’t know much about Mykolayiv?
Kim: First of all, [it’s related] to security issues. In fact, many officials and defense ministers of many countries visited us, we just don’t talk about it that much.
Secondly, many meetings take place in Kyiv and Odesa. As for Mykolayiv Oblast, we had more than 4,000 foreign journalists. So, there is no problem with the lack of awareness of the situation in Mykolayiv Oblast.
NV: Lat year, the country debated whether we should hold presidential elections in 2024. What do you think about it? Should elections be held despite martial law?
Kim: Given that I was hired by the president of Ukraine, and I carry out his policies, my opinion can only be the same as that of Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Therefore, as the president decides, that is what I think.
Elections during a war aren’t a good idea. We all must remain united and work towards victory. As for me personally, I don’t even think about it, and no one has discussed it with me.
NV: Nevertheless, the transfer of power is a core democratic principle. And now we don’t know how many years the war will last. So, this seems like an important question to discuss.
Kim: You’re right, it’s an important issue to discuss, but at what time should it be discussed? If democratic institutions work in the country, everything is fine. And its people should be asked whether holding elections is necessary or not.
First, these are costs. Let’s say, there will be people who will say: “We need to transfer power, support democratic institutions.” Other people will say: “Elections are dangerous, why [should we do it]?”. And the third side will say about legality, as it should be in practice. These questions shouldn’t be addressed to me.
NV: What’s your relationship with Volodymyr Zelenskyy today? Do you maintain personal communication and how does it happen?
Kim: It happens as it should happen. I won’t answer about communication. My relationship with him is very simple: that of a manager and a subordinate. Because my position isn’t elected. The president appointed me. So, I can have no other relationship than that of an employee.
NV: When Ukraine holds presidential elections, will you run? Do you have presidential ambitions?
Kim: I have no such ambitions.
NV: How do you see the development of your career in the future?
Kim: There are tasks that I set for myself before the war, and I would like to do them. My position is simple: I work until we win, and then I have a rest and think about what to do next.
NV: What goals have you set for yourself?
Kim: I want Mykolayiv Oblast to be attractive for investment, to prove to the world that it’s safe to invest in Ukraine.
I also really want to implement the project of a four-lane highway to Odesa. There are also several large projects related to production, but I won’t reveal them just yet.
I also had plans to develop the tourism industry in our region. This issue is complicated by the fact that the Black Sea is now contaminated with mines, but we don’t give up on these plans.
Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine