On October 31, Kharkiv voters will put an end not only to the early mayoral elections but also to a long political history of the late Gennady Kernes.
The newly elected mayor, whoever he is, will turn over the page of his predecessor and bring his own style of government to develop the city. On the eve of the election, the political (and not only) legacy of Gennady Kernes has not yet been divided up, and it will undoubtedly affect the specifics of the upcoming election. While some are trying to imitate Kernes’s image, others have faced a sad reality: the absence of the powerful player, as the former mayor was, does not guarantee the growth of their own shares.
The greatest public activity before the start of the campaign has been shown by the secretary of the Kharkiv city council, Ihor Terekhov, and by the ex-chairman of the Kharkiv regional state administration, the People’s Deputy of IV and VIII convocations, Mykhailo Dobkin. Due to the gracelessly long pause between Kernes’s death and the scheduling of early elections, Ihor Terekhov was given time to build up his electoral weight, while Mykhailo Dobkin has still not solved the problem of insufficient resources and support from elites. Although hardly anyone in the city has any doubts about the changes to the Terekhov-Dobkin “couple,” the nomination of other influential leaders (including an MP Yulia Svitlychna) may add momentum to the election.
The “postkernes” version of Kharkiv deserves some genuine political competition. It will become possible only when the city has an efficient counteraction to the abuse of administrative resources and bribery of voters. There is work for the parliament to do, as well. Politicians must finally be stripped of the opportunity to tamper with the oath-taking procedures by community leaders, and of calling snap elections, as was the case with Kernes’s inauguration, who was in critical condition in hospital abroad throughout the election campaign and after his own victory, and with delays in appointing election after his death. The government must prevent confrontations between groups of law-enforcement support of candidates and friendly paramilitary formations, which appeared before the elections in the city bordering Russia.
Pending a broad consensus
Two months before the official start of the elections in Kharkiv, there has been a feeling of the inevitable consensus of political and economic elites around the current secretary of the city council, Ihor Terekhov. It remains to be seen whether expectations will come true, but political and economic actors do not really show readiness to fight boldly without any guarantees of success. Many still see the third result of the then head of the regional state administration, Oleksiy Kucher, from “Servant of the People” who gained 7% of votes and lost not only to Gennady Kernes, but also to the current People’s Deputy, Oleksandr Feldman. Few people want to go to such public humiliations again, so Terekhov faces high chances of gaining the support of key economic groups in the region and the Office of the President of Ukraine.
The situation with nominating a competitor to Ihor Terekhov by the ruling “Servant of the People” party is definitive: there will be no candidate. Instead, the statement of Kyryl Tymoshenko, the person in charge of the regions in the OP, about the need to elect a “pro-Ukrainian” mayor of Kharkiv, was taken in the city as support to Ihor Terekhov, and a stone cast at Mykhaylo Dobkin. The meaning of such a signal from Bankova should not be underestimated. Now, Ihor Terekhov claims not only the traditional electorate of Kernes, but also the support of voters who are afraid of the former head of the regional state administration rather than do not accept the current secretary of the City Council. Whatever the signals, Ihor Terekhov seems to have established a stable contact with the office of Volodymyr Zelensky.
Unlike Gennady Kernes, who after the election in 2019 defiantly clashed with the regional protege of Zelensky, the secretary of the city council has a conflict-free communication with the head of the regional state administration, Ayna Tymchuk.
In public domain, Ihor Terekhov keeps being associated with Arsen Avakov, the former interior minister, under whose leadership he worked in the Kharkiv Regional State Administration. Although there is no consensus about the actual relations between Avakov and Terekhov, the candidate’s working relationship with the minister has been considered a solid advantage, until recently. By the way, it posed new challenges for the political impartiality of the law enforcement system. The key question now is whether Volodymyr Zelensky’s office and party will reconsider their attitude toward Terekhov, who shares a history with the retiree.
So far, everything is fine with Ihor Terekhov and with the deputies of the city and the region. In the city council, the Kernes bloc “Successful Kharkiv” controls 40% of the seats, in the regional council – 38%. Analysis of the votes in the regional and city councils shows that the Kernes bloc “Successful Kharkiv” and the “Servant of the People” often vote identically. At the end of 2020, the then deputy of the Kharkiv City Council Oleksiy Kucher commented that there were certain coalition agreements between the ruling party and the Kernes bloc. There are no public signs of braking the monolith within the late mayor’s party project, and the niche of the low-impact opposition is occupied by the Shariy Party and the “Razom” (lit. – Together) bloc of Svitlychna.
In fact, the only big businessman in opposition to the city government is Oleksandr Feldman, a member of the Verkhovna Rada from the OPFL, who publicly speaks in support of Mykhailo Dobkin. In 2019, back in the days of Gennady Kernes, the Kharkiv City Council supported the construction of a new highway through the market, “Barabashovo” shopping center, owned by the politician. At the end of 2020, Ihor Terekhov continued the line of the former chief, having submitted the project of a multilevel road interchange for review at the city council session. This decision will cut the retail space, which has provoked mass protests by entrepreneurs in the city. Olexandr Feldman repeatedly labelled the construction of the road a tool of political pressure.
Olexandr Yaroslavsky, the owner of one of the country’s largest financial and industrial groups, DCH, has developed warm relations with local authorities. Ihor Terekhov is engaged in an image-building project to “restore” the “Metalist” football club (Kharkov). The actual owner of the club does not spare compliments to him. The bridge between the region’s big business, the presidential office, and the candidate can come from the implementation of the Yaroslavsky Creative Industries Cluster based on the Kharkiv Tractor Plant. It is a core of Volodymyr Zelensky’s project “Ukrainian Silicon Valley.”
Among the important businessmen, Ihor Terekhov was publicly supported by the founder of Mos City Group, Pavlo Fuks, who was a long-term partner of Gennady Kernes. The “oligarch” was sanctioned by the National Security and Defense Council in June, and his practical participation in financing the election campaign is still uncertain.
Negotiations about one candidate between the regional organizations of the parties “Accent,” “Holos,” “Democratic Ax,” “European Solidarity,” “National Corps,” and the “Right Sector” have not yet yielded any practical results. The only exception is the complete renewal of the local “Holos,” which, by the way, controls the quota of the head of the Kharkiv City TEC.
The lack of equally-weighted political alternatives comes from the long rule of the eccentric Gennady Kernes in Kharkiv.
Who wants to be the “new Kernes”?
Two months before the official start of the election process, OPORA compiled a list of potential candidates and analyzed the peculiarities of early campaigning.
Secretary of the Kharkiv City Council and the acting city mayor, Ihor Terekhov
Ihor Terekhov has been working in the Kharkiv Regional State Administration since 2006. Since 2010, he has been the Deputy Mayor of Kharkiv, and since the end of 2020 he has been the Secretary of the Kharkiv City Council. Member of the VII and VIII convocations of the Kharkiv City Council. The potential candidate is widely represented in the outdoor advertising segment; he is actively advertised; he does interviews on local television, and the materials are often accompanied by the brand of the Kernes Bloc – Successful Kharkiv party. In addition, the secretary of the city council often meets with city residents; holidays are organized under his patronage; and advertising in his favor is shared on his social media.
Oleksandr Feldman, a representative of the “Opposition Platform for Life” party in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, placed an outdoor advertisement with his image and criticism of the city council. His outdoor advertising is associated with another potential candidate, Mykhaylo Dobkin. Along with the outdoor advertising of Oleksandr Feldman, Mykhaylo Dobkin’s advertisements were placed on the buildings owned by AVEC and KO, in particular on the facade of the AVEC building and on the premises of the Barabashovo market. Feldman himself, on his own Facebook page, spoke in favor of Dobkin. It is noteworthy that all other advertisements by Feldman and Dobkin are placed in the suburbs at the entrance to Kharkiv, but the city itself is flooded by Ihor Terekhov’s advertisements.
Mykhaylo Dobkin, People’s Deputy of the 4th and 8th convocations
On January 1, Mykhaylo Dobkin announced about his intention to run for the post of Kharkiv mayor.
The Dobkin’s Time newspaper has been distributed in the city for the last few months. The potential candidate organized public events for the holidays, and used local media. Advertising on social media has been actively shared in favor of Mykhaylo Dobkin. On June, 19, three Dobkin Hubs opened in the city, which could be the offices of a potential candidate. However, the next morning, unidentified people painted all the hubs with the“Boring hub,” “No one will give the money,” and “All’s bullsh**.”
Dmytro Marynin, Deputy of the Kharkiv City Council of the 6th convocation
Dmytro Marynin has repeatedly stated on his Facebook page that he will run. The politician is a deputy of the Kharkiv City Council of the VI convocation from the Party of Regions. In 2010-2012, he held the position of advisor to the mayor on housing and utility services. He now declares himself an oppositionist to Kernes and his followers.
Deputy of the Kharkiv City Council, Alina Mustafayeva
The page Dmytro Nikonov (assistant to People’s Deputy, Oleksandr Kunytskyi) has posted on Facebook since January asking to decide the number of the candidate for the upcoming Kharkiv mayoral election by nominating Alina Mustafayeva as a candidate from the “Servant of the People” party.
From Mustafayeva’s own page, over three thousand dollars was spent for political advertising in June.
Deputy of the Kharkiv City Council, Anatoliy Rodzynsky
After the regular session of the Kharkiv City Council on July 14, Anatoliy Rodzynsky published a post on a Facebook page announcing the decision to run in the election. No pre-election activity had been observed for a potential candidate. The politician was a deputy of the Kharkiv City Council from the “Strong Ukraine” party, and now he represents the “Opposition Platform - For Life” party in the council. In 2015, he ran for Kharkiv mayor from the “People’s Control Public Movement” political party.
So far, this is all that can be said about the list and scale of early campaigns of candidates for the Kharkiv mayoral seat. In fact, the limited list of potential candidates and their activities says a lot about the upcoming election.
Media pain in Kharkiv
The common pain of Kharkiv (and not only) is the dependence of the media on political interests that are divided between spheres of influence.
Gennady Kernes left behind a media group from “Channel 7,” “Kharkov News,” “Vostochnyi Dozor” (lit. - Eastern Watch). ATN and “Glavnoye” are associated with Arsen Avakov; and the former co-founder of ATN LLC is the son of the former Minister of Internal Affairs, Oleksandr. The Simon TV channel of the “Obyectyv” media group belongs to the family of Oleksandr Davtyan, a former deputy of the Kharkiv City Council from the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko’s Solidarity party.
Channel R1 (TRK “Region”) was founded by the son-in-law of the late former head of the Kharkiv Regional State Administration Yevhen Kushnaryov, Oleksandr Kahanovsky. The same media company - TRK “Region” owns the “Vechirniy Kharkiv” newspaper. Currently, one of the co-founders of TRK Region LLC is Andriy Kryuchkov, who was an advisor to the head of the Kharkiv Regional State Administration, Ihor Raynin, in 2015-2016.
The newspaper and the Vremya media center belong to the People’s Deputy Oleksandr Feldman (“Opposition Platform – For Life”). Deputy of the Kharkiv Regional Council from the “Servant of the People,” General Director of “Turboatom” PJSC, Victor Subotin, is the owner of the “Status Quo” website. On June 9, information appeared about the establishment of a new channel in Kharkiv – Kharkiv.Live. The channel was created by the Live Network media holding owned by an MP from the “Opposition Platform – For Life” and a developer from Kyiv, Vadym Stolar.
Unfortunately, the division of the media in Ukraine according to the political interests of the owners leaves no chance for the practical implementation of the declarations of the Law “On Balanced and Objective Coverage of Elections.” During the new round of electoral reform, the parliament must pay serious attention to this problem.
Rather Than the Conclusion
Potential successors to Gennady Kernes may be inspired by examples of his convincing election victories. It depends only on the voters of the city and the central government whether they will try to win at the expense of administrative resources and material well-being of voters.
Kharkiv may become a testing ground for unscrupulous technologies on the eve of the national campaigns of 2023-2024. But in the interests of the country, it must set an example of a democratic change of government after many years of one-man rule.
Mykola Zinchenko, coordinator of OPORA election observation in Kharkiv region, exclusive for ZN.UA.