UKRAINE’S DECENTRALIZATION DIVIDEND: Signs of regional reform progress despite widespread frustrations at the national level

Are things finally looking up in Ukraine as it struggles to match the reform expectations of the 2014 Revolution of Dignity? While substantial challenges remain, a recent nationwide municipal poll conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI) indicates clear progress on reforms at the local level, despite continuing pessimism on the national level.

The poll, made possible with the support of the Government of Canada, is the third annual nationwide municipal survey of its kind carried out by the IRI. It draws from a sample of more than 19,000 respondents from 24 Ukrainian cities representing oblast centers across the country, including Mariupol and Severodonetsk close to the frontlines in the east Ukraine conflict zone.

Fruits of Decentralization

With so much attention focused on Ukraine’s national political and economic ratings, this regional municipal survey provides a rare and enlightening below-the-surface look at the issues and political developments impacting the largest regional cities in Ukraine, including those on the contact line with Russian-backed forces. The results are as striking as they are surprising. Despite the fact that the full legislative package of decentralization measures has not yet been implemented across the country, it seems the decentralization processes that have begun are already having a positive impact on local Ukrainian communities.

Comparisons with the results of previous years highlight evidence of changing attitudes towards local government throughout Ukraine. Approval ratings for local authorities have increased significantly year-on-year. Growing support for city mayors was one the biggest changes, with the figure rising from 14 percent in 2015 to 49 percent in 2017. Similarly, city councils rose to 25 percent, while even the less visible municipal executive committees saw a seven-point increase in public approval (from 25 percent to 32 percent) over the past three years.

Public views of city services are also on the upswing.