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Ukraine: IRI Supports City Councils’ E-Governance Efforts during COVID-19

In Ukraine and across the globe, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic required swift government action to keep citizens safe and democratic institutions intact. Without a plan for holding online council sessions, however, the pandemic could paralyze local governments in Ukraine and put their constitutions at risk. Responding to this challenge, the International Republican Institute (IRI) collaborated with municipalities across the country to assist in their transition to e-governance by capturing the best practices and lessons learned of other local governments.

Dnipro, a city of about a million people in southeastern Ukraine, distinguished itself as a leader in the move towards e-governance. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Dnipro City Council, like many others, faced a tough challenge. Meeting in person posed a serious public health risk, but containing the virus and responding to citizens’ needs required government action. Moving the council’s operations online was critical – but it was also unprecedented and lacked a clear legal framework.  

On March 25, the council held the country’s first-ever municipal online plenary meeting. Among the organizers was Yuliya Kapshuk, head of the Dnipro City Council’s Decision Implementation Office and an active participant of IRI programs. Leveraging the leadership skills she acquired in IRI trainings and study tours, Kapshuk drafted regulatory changes, organized Zoom trainings for council members and facilitated tests before the first online meeting.  

Dnipro’s successful turn towards e-governance provided IRI with the perfect case study to share with other municipalities as they too pressed on with their online transitions. IRI was in fact one of the first organizations to share best practices with other municipalities and offer other technical assistance.

On April 6, the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolayiv became the first to benefit from IRI’s webinars on how to organize online sessions. Throughout the training, the Mayor of Mykolayiv Oleksandr Senkevych was actively engaged in the discussions and committed to learning from the example of cities like Dnipro. After, the council amended its rules of procedure according to IRI’s suggestions, and effectively enabled the organization of online meetings.

Since then, municipal governments throughout Ukraine have expressed interest in attending similar trainings – a demand IRI is responding to by hosting regular webinars that we constantly update in order to reflect the rapidly-shifting needs of individual contexts. In order to enhance the workshops while building relationships between cities, IRI now engages municipality representatives from across Ukraine to share their experiences in e-governance. Secretary of the Dnipro City Council Oleksandr Sanzhara, the Secretary of the Mariupol City Council Stepan Makhsma and Yuliya Kapshuk of the Dnipro City Council for example have all shared lessons learned and best practices during IRI-hosted webinars.

The Secretary of the Dnipro City Council Oleksandr Sanzhara during the webinar on e-governance and COVID-19, April 8, 2020.

Yuliya Kapshuk, the head of the Dnipro City Council’s Decision Implementation Office during the webinar on e-governance and COVID-19, April 15, 2020.

The Secretary of the Mariupol City Council Stepan Makhsma during the webinar on e-governance and COVID-19, April 16, 2020.

Within just 20 days of Ukraine passing legislation to allow online council meetings, IRI trained 14 local municipalities throughout the country. Across these municipalities, two city mayors and nine secretaries took part in the trainings, which Mariya Dymukhametova, the Assistant to the Secretary of the Rivne City Council, described as informative and useful.  

These efforts are just one example of how IRI continues to support local municipalities throughout Ukraine to make them more effective, transparent and responsive to citizens’ needs. As the fallout from the COVID-19 emergency places inordinate strains on young democracies, IRI will continue to assist Ukrainian municipalities as they face new (and sometimes unprecedented) policy challenges.