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O. Omelchenko: Kyiv of Golden Domes is the most beautiful city in the world  interview with Kyivs mayor

 

Oleksandr Omelchenko, Kyiv Mayor,
who is praised by many as a good genius of the city and criticized by others for giving the historical city a new face, has kindly agreed to answer questions put to him by the Welcome to Ukraine magazine.

 

Mayor, some experts say that the central governments redistribution of the citys main sources of revenue hinders Kyiv from attaining a high financial rating. Has it become easier to form the city budget after parliament adopted the Law On the Capital of Ukraine, Hero-City of Kyiv? Or to use the funds the way you see fit?

As far as the municipal budget is concerned, it is formed and adhered to on the basis of the Budget Code of Ukraine. Revenues and expenditures are regulated by this Code with the Law On the Capital of Ukraine, Hero-City of Kyiv being taken into consideration. Kyiv has no advantages over other cities of Ukraine.

At the same time, the Laws of Ukraine on the State Budget of Ukraine for each given year included articles which provided for considerable chunk from the city budget to be channeled to the State Budget of Ukraine, and in this way Kyiv is the biggest donor to the state budget.

In fact, in 2000 and in 2001, that the first couple of years after the Law of Ukraine On the Capital of Ukraine, Hero-City of Kyiv was adopted, the city budget included the income tax collected from the private citizens and 50 percent tax on the revenues of companies and enterprises. In 2003, only the income tax collected from the private citizens is left in the budget of Kyiv. You may draw from this your own conclusions.

This year the city of Kyiv celebrates its 1520th anniversary. What has been done to make it a remarkable celebration?

First of all, I believe that our city is older than fifteen hundred years. The Day of Kyiv has become a popular holiday for all those who live in Kyiv or come to this city as guests. Incidentally Im convinced that Kyiv of Golden Domes is the most beautiful city in the world.

Kyiv has entered the new millennium as a powerful, political, scientific, educational, cultural and spiritual centre of Ukraine. The city has a great intellectual and industrial potential. Kyiv, as it befits a capital, plays a leading role in the building up of our country that became independent only twelve years ago. Kyiv retains leading position in all the spheres of the national economy. We have preserved stable rates of economic growth. Our city is probably the only one in Europe with practically no unemployment. The average wages in Kyiv are twice higher than in most of Ukraines regions.

We, celebrating the Day of Kyiv, feel it is our birthday party. And according to age-old tradition, presents are given at birthday parties. The biggest present this time went to the people of the Svyatoshynsky District where two new Metro stations were opened, Zhytomyrska and Akademmistechko. The length of this section of the subway line with these two stations is 3.4 kilometers. 385.08 million hryvnyas were allocated for building this new addition to the subway system. 127 companies took part in the construction directly or indirectly, with 94 of them from Kyiv. A new electric bus line has been unveiled in the same district to connect the last Metro station on the Svyatoshynsky subway line with outlying sections and house developments. Metro remains to be the most convenient means of transportation in Kyiv.

The central part of town has not been left without our attention either. In Besarabka, right in the heart of the city, a huge office complex is soon to be completed.

Kyiv is going through many changes  ruined churches are rebuilt; old buildings are renovated, the streets are prettified. Some of the new projects cause a storm of passionate debates. How are decisions taken which of the submitted projects will be carried out? Are the opinions of the citizens of Kyiv, historians, and art critics taken into account?

Kyiv is referred to in the chronicles as the mother of all Ruski (Eastern Slavic  tr) towns and at the same time it is the capital of a modern European state. It is not easy to unite the two aspects of our city, a modern megalopolis and its long history, to make Kyiv even more historically valuable with the help of European gloss, to emphasize the significance of Kyivs historical centre with new architectural additions. Its no secret that architects always argued about whether this or that new building would fit the existing cityscape or whether it was worth erecting it at all. Incidentally, today we consider some of the buildings which were once sharply criticized for being ugly or too eclectic to be architectural landmarks.

To give you a better idea how the popular opinions change with the passage of time, Ill cite an example of the House with Chimeras (WU featured an article dealing with this building in its previous issue  tr.) which was built in 19021903 by architect Wladislaw Horodecki in Bankova Street. This famous architect was accused of creating a highly eclectic building and of indulging his untrammelled fantasies. This building was even called a huge advert of cement produced by the Richter factory.

So, maybe its a bit too early to assess the creations of todays Kyivan architects? Maybe some more time is needed to appreciate properly what is being created today and how its stands in relation to the past creations? Kyiv has lived through several construction booms and every time there was a lot of criticism levelled on new architectural creations.

At present the Mistobudivna rada (City Construction Council) is the last resort  it is attached to the Chief Architect of the city and it decides whether this or that project will be carried out the way it has been suggested by architects who designed the project. But it has become a regular practice to offer the most important projects for the general public to see them first, for the historians, art critics and public organizations to express their opinions. Such major projects also go through a contest to determine which one of them is the best one. Such was the procedure, taken, for example, with the project of reconstruction of Maydan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square, central square of Kyiv  tr.)  the model to scale of the planned reconstruction was publicly displayed. The same was done with the Ekspo-Plaza exhibition centre.

The history of architecture shows that there is always a remarkable creator that stands behind a remarkable architectural landmark. The great things are usually created by creatively daring people. Lack of daring and too much caution in talking architectural and city-planning decisions result in the creation of technically correct but uninspired architectural creations. Daring projects have always caused much debate. Among the examples of such projects are the House with Chimeras and the reconstruction of Khreshchatyk, Kyivs main street, in the post-war years. Incidentally, if our forefathers were too cautious and used our todays building and construction regulations, they would not have built such marvels as St Andrews or Holy Sophia or many other great buildings.

Kyiv is no less eclectic in its architecture as any other city with a long history. But what makes Kyiv different from other great cities is the fact that its political destiny and development were interrupted for more than three centuries. Most of the historical sections of Kyiv date back only to the late nineteenth-early twentieth century with only a few buildings dating to earlier times. But architects and historians are of the opinion that the originality of Kyiv was never concentrated only in its architecture  it was the cityscape  its hills and river and parks  that makes it unique.

It would be strange if we failed to use modern technologies, materials and know-how available to us, all the more so in view of Kyivs urgent need in the activation of construction, reconstruction and renovation  with the history and culture of Kyiv never out of sight. If concrete had been known back in the tenth-twelfth centuries, then such a great architectural landmark of those times as the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra Monastery would have been built with concrete actively used.

In order to have money for the maintenance, reconstruction and restoration of the historical heritage, you have first to earn it, and money can be earned through new construction and investments into it. Its a normal process when a city is expending through new construction  it means it is a living city.

There are enough examples of successful reconstruction work and of new buildings which have enhanced the appearance of the historical sections of town rather than worsened them. What comes to mind first is the reconstruction of Sofiyska Square and Mykhaylivska Square, rebuilding of the Mykhaylivsky Zlatoverkhy (Golden-Domed) Cathedral, or the building at 2022 Volodymyrska Street where the erection of a new mansard was done in such a way so as it would match the general historical style of the place. But it must be admitted that no general concept of the way the historical sections of Kyiv should be preserved, has been worked out yet.

I dont think any architect would wish to purposefully harm the appearance of the existing architectural ensemble by new additions, but even a well-done reconstruction work or a new building erected in a historical part of town often causes sharp criticism, debates and attacks in the media. I think its a normal reaction since the people of Kyiv love their city and naturally they are not indifferent to what is being built in Kyiv. We are so lucky to live at the time when Kyiv is going through a new revival and we can hardly avoid debates over new construction. Such debates are even necessary and useful for the development of architecture in Kyiv. New principles of new construction in the historical sections should be probably introduced  such principles which would take into account all the aspects of modern life and changes that have come about in the economic system of Ukraine.

The Kyiv City State Administration has launched a large-scale campaign to turn the Ukrainian capital into a major world tourist centre. During an international tourist exhibition that was recently held in Kyiv, a joint meeting of some of the officials of the Kyiv City State Administration and of the State Tourist Administration took place. They discussed the present state and prospects of the tourist industry in Kyiv. Whats your own view of Kyivs tourist potential?

In the past few years, the attitude to tourism both on the part of the authorities and on the part of the Ukrainian society in general, has been changing for the better. Tourism is no longer regarded as just relaxation, entertainment, something that is not worth paying a serious attention to. Tourism is beginning to be looked upon as an important factor in forming the market mechanisms and contributing to the optimization of the economy.

The tourist sphere of Kyiv is an integral part of the Ukrainian system of tourism. The advantageous geographical position of the Ukrainian capital, a developed tourist infrastructure, considerable unique historical, cultural, natural and recreational resources, industriousness and hospitality of the people of Kyiv are all conducive to the development of tourism. Kyiv has a many-branched social infrastructure, it is a city of rich cultural traditions. The Holy Sophia Cathedral and the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra Monastery have been put on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. Taking all these things into consideration allows one to say that Kyiv is a major tourist centre of Ukraine with a great potential for further development.

Such leading world rating agencies as Standard & Poors and Moodys have given Kyiv high ratings. The Kyiv City State Administration planned to issue Euro bonds worth 150 million Euros this year. Have they been released yet?

We are indeed planning to issue Euro bonds but worth much more than 150 million and in the nearest future we shall determine how to use the means obtained and to what purpose.

But the issue of Euro bonds is only part of investments that flow into the economy of Kyiv. The Kyiv economic area, among all the other economic regions of Ukraine, is the most attractive for investments and investments continue to flow in  the volume of foreign investments in Kyivs economy for the first six months of 2003 reached 88.371 million US dollars which is 54.3 percent higher than for the same period of last year.

Foreign investors are particularly attracted by such branches as banking, petrochemical industry and construction. Metallurgy, printing business and production of building materials are the new branches, compared with 2002, which have begun to be invested in.

This year the biggest investment projects will be the construction of underground passages for pedestrians and underground shopping malls at the Metro stations Darnytsya, Lisova and Minska, and the reconstruction of the underground passage at the Universytet subway station. Two hypermarkets of the Cash&Carry chain are planned to be built, and negotiations were conducted with the German company Bauhaus for building several supermarkets of construction materials.

How are the municipal budget expenditures itemized? How much goes into the social and culture sphere, education, health care, transportation?

Budgets of all the levels are formed in strict correspondence with the requirements of the Budget Code of Ukraine, and Kyiv is not an exception. Last year the total budget of Kyiv was 3 billion and 88 million hryvnyas and the main expenditures were determined by the needs of the social sphere. 527.4 million went into education; 535.6 million into health care; 394 million into public assistance and social security; 301.2 million into house maintenance; 205 million into transportation, roads, and telecommunications; 81.2 into the support of culture and the arts. It shows our priorities.

We have special programmes to help those who receive the lowest wages, who have large families, the aged and orphans in other words all those who are socially handicapped. One of such programmes is called Turbota (Care). The financing of the material aid given to those in need is done from the city budget, and the volume of this financing has grown more than 60 times in the period from 1996 to 2002  from 1.6 million hryvnyas to 122 million. In 2003, the sum allotted to these needs has been increased to 126.2 million hryvnyas.

The main source of revenue for the municipal budget is the taxes the citizens of Kyiv pay. An average tax is now about 26.5 percent of their income. The newly adopted Law of Ukraine On the Income Tax to Be Paid by Natural Persons stipulates that the rate of taxation must be 13 percent. It means that the city of Kyiv will lose a lot of revenue but probably the lower taxes will stimulate the development of private businesses and encourage people to pay taxes on time and in full. Whats your view on this problem?

The main source of revenue for the city budget adopted for the year 2003 is the taxes paid by the citizens of Kyiv which constitute about 80 percent of the revenue. And it means we are interested in people having as large salaries and wages as possible. At present, the number of those who pay up to 40 percent or more of their income in taxes is rather considerable, and naturally, the reduction in the taxation rate down to 13 percent will positively affect the income of individual persons and negatively affect the revenue part of the budget. Even after the expansion of the taxation base and elimination of some of the privileges, the budget of Kyiv may lose more than 50 percent of what it gets from the paid income taxes. It is planned to receive almost 2.5 billion hryvnyas in taxes this year and as you can easily see the reduction of the rates of taxation will hit the budget hard. The Kyiv City State Administration is going to carefully explain this explanation to the private businessmen in Kyiv with the aim of expanding the taxation base, but, unfortunately, we expect considerable losses. We also hope that the state will not leave us alone in dealing with this problem and will do something to compensate the losses to the municipal budget of Kyiv.

A lot of investments are put into the construction of apartments and offices in Kyiv, but what about investments into the industries, into their development, into all kinds of enterprises?

The Kyiv City State Administration began its investment activity in the sphere of capital construction in 1997 with the construction of the shopping malls Kvadrat in Khreshchatyk, Maydan Nezalezhnosti and Ploshcha Slavy.

In 2001, the city administration made the next step by introducing a system of attracting internal investments through investment tenders. The reconstruction of Maydan Nezalezhnosti and of the section of Velyka Vasylkivska Street from Shevchenko Boulevard up to Tolstoy Square was done at the expense of investors and now we have such shopping malls as Hlobus, Metrohrad and Mandarin Plaza in Bessarabka which attract customers and which give jobs to so many people.

Investments are channeled into the social and economic development of Kyiv in the high priority spheres. Foreign investments are also a way of introducing the state-of-the-art technologies, international cooperation, that is, they are not only a source of financial resources, the cheapest one at that.

The biggest investments in 2003 went to the Myasopererobny zavod (Meat-processing factory), Lukoil-Ukrayina Company (petroleum chemical industry), Marbakh-Ukrayina Company (machine building), Vtormetal Company.

The subway system in Kyiv continues to be the most convenient means of transportation and its development is obviously one of the top priorities for the Kyiv City State Administration with 140 million hryvnyas allotted to it from the state budget in 2002. Will the Metro remain a budget priority in 2003?

The subway trains carry about 40 percent of all the passengers and commuters travelling by all the means of mass transportation in Kyiv, with one and a half million passengers using it daily. Five hundred thousand of these passengers have all kinds of privileges (pensioners, war veterans, etc.  tr).

The Kyiv subway system is made up of three lines, with the total length of 54.9 kilometers and 42 stations. The Kyiv Metro employs about seven thousand people.

The rates of the Metro expansion remain high  every year we put a new section and a new station into operation. The master plan of city development up to the year 2005 which is worked out by twenty research centres envisages the construction of a new railroad terminal, and the work on the construction of a new subway line, Podilsko-Vyhurivska, will begin as well as the construction of a new bridge across the Dnipro River.

The general plan of the Metro development, mapped up to the year 2010, is being fulfilled, and for the current year 117.9 million hryvnyas will go to the Metro from the city budget and 230 million will be obtained for the development of the subway system from other sources.

The cost of a trip in the Kyiv Metro seems to be the cheapest in the world  50 kopecks, or less than ten cents at the current rate of exchange, and cheaper than in Moscow and St Petersburg (20 and 30 cents correspondingly). With 35 percent of the passengers travelling free of charge and another twelve percent travelling at discounts, where does the Kyiv Metro get the money from to maintain this system? Does the Kyiv City State Administration cover the expenses?

In many countries of the world, the municipal mass transportation needs to be subsidized. In Kyiv, it has been calculated that the cost of a trip in the Metro should be one hryvnya 20 kopecks rather than just 50 kopecks as it is now, but we understand that for so many people such an increase would be a hard blow to the family budget.

Passengers can buy monthly tickets and in that case each trip will cost them cheaper than buying tokens each time they travel; the monthly ticket for college students reduces the cost of a trip to 20 kopecks and the monthly ticket for secondary school students brings the cost of one trip down to 10 kopecks.

The Metro is expected to receive 198 million hryvnyas in revenues by the end of 2003, with 157.8 million straight from selling tokens and tickets, and it means that the losses will amount to 47.9 million hryvnyas. And in addition to the maintenance, the subway system needs new carriages, new equipment, and so on. Unfortunately, the financial resources of the Kyiv City State Administration are limited and other sources of financing and economizing must be found. In the first three months of the current year, for example, 9 carriages were purchased for the Metro thanks to the credits from banks.

All sorts of measures are taken to minimize expenditures; the train schedules are optimized, and these concentrated efforts allow the Kyiv Metro to function smoothly and without any disruptions.

Im convinced that the subway system will continue to be developed in the future and that the time will come when all the districts of Kyiv and major housing developments will have convenient subway connections.

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