Saturday, May 18, 2024

INTERVIEW with Odessa mayor Gennady Trukhanov

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Having secured his re-election to a third term in November 2020, Gennady Trukhanov spoke to New Europe about what he hopes to achieve for Odessa, one of Ukraine’s most important economic and cultural centers, during his new mandate.

New Europe (NE): You were re-elected as mayor of the city after successfully completing your previous mandate.  What is your motto about the present and future of your historic city?

Gennady Trukhanov (GT): I am really proud that Odessans have already entrusted me with the management of the city three times, especially in 2014, during one of the most difficult periods that Ukraine has experienced since gaining independence. Without a doubt, before that, not a single mayor had worked in the type of conditions that I had to face.  The change of state policy, a difficult economic situation … and, most importantly, military action in eastern Ukraine. Odessa accepted more than 30,000 internal migrants and refugees. The city actually became their second home

What did we have to work with at that time? The restoration of bomb shelters. Almost every week explosions occurred, and because of them we urgently had to look for resources to help people repair windows and flats. There was an atmosphere of anxiety and misunderstanding in the city.  Every day I met with different radical groups. I was negotiating with them and we were looking for a joint solution, which we eventually found in the end. As a result, we were able to preserve the main thing in the city – peace.

An overhead view of part of Odessa’s port.

If we talk about economic and household issues, we inherited the stewardship of a city that was in a very neglected state.  We are still trying to deal with the negative consequences of decisions that were handed down by previous authorities.  Nevertheless, over these seven and a half years, we have managed to move from pothole patching to implementing large infrastructure projects.  Among them are a new airfield complex, the creation of a pedestrian zone in Odessa city center, the creation of new parks, and a large-scale renovation of the richest historical and architectural heritage of our city.

This, perhaps, is the motto: ‘peace, development, preservation of our interculturalism and traditions’.

NE: The annual 5T conference was recently held in Odessa.  What lessons can be learned from the conference held this year?

GT: The International Investment Forum “Odessa 5T” is a product of the city’s development strategy.  We have identified five focus areas – tourism, transport, trade, technology and trust. These are, indeed, the strengths that have been inherent in our city since its foundation. We just focused the investor’s attention on them and helped determine the most profitable areas of investment in the city.  This year, the investment forum was attended by over 650 participants from Ukraine and 17 countries of the world.  In my opinion, in addition to its main task, the forum also became a platform for working out a national and international strategy for the development of society – the transition to a circular economy;  development of a grant culture; urban studies as a science that focuses on the development of urban systems and communities, and much more.

We do not plan to stop at what has already been achieved.  We will complete projects that are already being implemented, one of which is the creation of the “Zone of Priority Development in Odessa” industrial park.  And, of course, to move forward both in terms of the development of the city and the country and further participation in global world processes.

NE: This year, Greece is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Greek War of Independence that overthrew 400-years of occupation by the Ottoman Turks.  Odessa played a very important role in this historical event.  What are your comments about this?

GT: Odessa and Greece are linked, not only by warm and friendly relations, but also by a common history.  It was in Odessa that the Greek Revolution (against the Turks) started.  In turn, the Greeks played an important role in the construction and development of Odessa. Today, a large Greek diaspora lives in our city, and I am very pleased that we, the contemporary population of Odessa, support and develop those relations that were previously established by our ancestors.

A vivid example of our friendship is the Greek Park, which was gifted to us by the Greek diaspora.  This is a beautiful place, which from the moment of its opening, has been a major attraction for both Odessans and foreign guests to the city. On behalf of all residents of Odessa, I would like to congratulate all of the Greeks of the world on the 200th anniversary of independence and wish for further well-being, development and prosperity for Greece.

Odessa’s famed national opera house. Built in 1810, the current neo-Baroque structure dates from the 1870s and is regarded as one of the finest facilities for classical music in the world.

NE: Odesa is the gateway to the Black Sea and has a unique geopolitical position.  What problems do you face?

GT: When it comes to freight transportations, for the most part, it’s okay. Vessels are calling, the port is working at a profit, but the number of passenger transportations is practically reduced to zero.  We understand that considering the circumstances the world faces today, it is not in our power to influence the situation in any way.  But in case of the resumption of active calls of cruise ships, we are ready to provide informational support to tourists on the shore to make their journey even more enjoyable.  We saw this just the other day when the first cruise ship with passengers from the US and Canada entered Odessa since the beginning of the (COVID-19) pandemic.

Another particularly acute issue for the city is the modernization of coast protection structures, an integral part of which includes Odessa’s many beaches.  This project is large-scale and expensive. In fact, it’s far beyond the resources of the city’s budget.  Today we are actively searching for sources of funding. For our part, we are ready to take all the necessary measures that are needed to carry out the work.

NE: Coastal cities will face increased residual effects due to climate change. How do you prepare a city for climate resilience?

GT: Like any coastal city, we will be among the first to experience the impact of the climate crisis, which will be accompanied by threats from rising sea levels, coastal erosion, increased rainfall, increasingly frequent storm surges, and higher average air temperatures.

Today the world community is trying to reduce human influence on the climate; Odessa is no exception.  We participate in international conferences, attract experts, implement educational projects, join global initiatives and adhere to all recommendations.

Thus, within the framework of the Covenant of Mayors, the city has fulfilled all its obligations. As of 2020, we have reduced the consumption of various types of energy by 20%, thus contributing to the reduction of emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere.  This was achieved through the development of an urban electric transport system, the optimization of urban road infrastructure, modernization of lighting, the adoption of energy-efficient measures in houses and buildings, a transition to alternative energy sources, etc.  We are also modernizing the city’s green economy system with the adaptation of green spaces to the changing climatic conditions.

Odessa also pays special attention to wastewater treatment.  After all, after biological treatment stations, the water flows into the Black Sea.  In August 2021, industrial testing of the latest developments began in the city.  For this purpose, specialists from the Austrian company VTA AUSTRIA GmbH (BTA Austria), a world leader in the field of wastewater treatment, were invited.  To date, in Odessa, purified wastewater is classified as being for technical purposes. In the future, after the completion of the tests, we will be able to use it for the economic needs of the city, as in Europe, for washing the streets, watering lawns, parks, squares.

NE: Odessa, together with four other cities, participates in the “Black Sea Interreg” program for the circular economy.  It is a pioneering urban development initiative.  What are your expectations from this program?

GT: This project has an important mission – the management of waste and marine litter in the countries of the Black Sea basin, as well as the prevention of the appearance of new garbage.  If we do not act today, then the entire watery part of the planet will soon turn into an ocean of garbage.  I consider this to be a very urgent initiative, especially since waste is now considered a resource.

I am grateful for this opportunity to work on the problem together, uniting the efforts of 5 countries of the Black Sea region – Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Georgia and Ukraine.  And also for the generous support provided to Odessa. And also for the generous support provided to Odesa by the Honorary Director of the European Commission, George Kremlis.

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Former editor-in-chief of NE Global. Mr. Waller is a veteran journalist, analyst and political advisor, having spent 25 years covering the former Soviet Union, Europe and the Middle East.


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