Roman Minin mural - Artwork in Myrnograd, Donetsk Oblast (photo by Alisa Bankivska)

Promise in Two Cities of Ukraine

In the Lviv Oblast, along the forested western border of Ukraine, the city of Chervonograd stands as a union of diverse traditions. Palatial architecture sits among proletarian constructions, museums showcase artefacts historical and contemporary, and old religious centres and monuments gleam among the storefronts of modern businesses. Since the 1950s, the expansion of the city’s mining industry invited further enterprises, but the city's surge of growth and population have been declining as the mines have become unstable and unprofitable. Chervonograd is one of many cities affected by the closure or imminent closure of state-owned mines across Ukraine.

On the steppes of the eastern border in Donetsk Oblast, Myrnograd is the very definition of a “mining town”, having been born from and being deeply connected to mining for centuries. Along with the mines deteriorating, past prosperity dwindling, and rapid population loss, the city’s proximity to the current armed conflict at the border exacerbates an image of tragedy and heartbreak. Myrnograd's population is declining at a much more rapid pace than Chervonograd's – its current population is 47,460 citizens, compared to Chervonograd's 68,519 citizens. However, trends toward gastronomic ventures, the arts and unique sports show the people are proving their skill and are resolved to adapt to a changing future.

Miners and their families now face a transformation of identity. The establishment of more diverse economies in their cities ensures they will have a future independent of the mines. The formation of multiple industries within one community weaves a safety net in case one business or service falters, but even more importantly, the cultivation of a city full of leisure activities, development, education, culture and other opportunities creates a place where people choose to stay, live and flourish. We aim to assist the people of Chervonograd and Myrnograd in imagining what each of their own futures looks like by conducting pilot studies that consist of seven steps (read more at The Butterfly Effect: Piloting research to support the sustainable transformation of Ukraine's coal mining towns (undp.org). This blog post is about the results from Step 1: System Mapping.

System Mapping

System mapping is the creation of a map of all existing and planned organisations and initiatives related to possible transformative change in a city at different levels. “We distinguish at least five levels: the community level, small- and medium-sized initiatives, large-scale initiatives, public services and regulations. This is because transformation happens when there are initiatives at all those levels,” says Itziar Moreno, Scientific Director at the Agirre Lehendakaria Center* and a mentor of the “Butterfly Effect” Project. “Scientific results show that transformative change does not happen by introducing one big "unicorn" solution – we need transformation in a number of areas,” adds Oksana Udovyk, Head of Experimentation of the UNDP Accelerator Lab and initiator of the “Butterfly Effect” Project. Thus, to see the overall transition potential of a city from a mining industry to an alternative one, we need to identify and visualise all organizations and initiatives at five different levels. This means we look at the following elements:

1. Existing organizations’ community interests (companies, public institutions, NGOs)

2. Existing and planned initiatives by those organizations and similar on different levels mentioned earlier (community initiatives, start-ups growing organisations, stable alternative industries, public services, regulations)

* Agirre Lehendakaria Center (ALC) is a Basque Social Innovation Lab established in 2013 by the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) in partnership with AC4-Columbia University in New York. ALCK was created to better understand the Basque experience of socio-economic transformation from a multidisciplinary, systemic perspective. ALC fosters community transformation processes through open, Social Innovation Platforms based on culture as a driver of change. The main goal of the lab is putting into practice the findings from our research on systemic transformation, in order to address the most complex challenges that are facing society. The key differential element is the integration of culture, narratives and values from each community toward a holistic vision of Sustainable Human Development.

Data Collection and Methodology Explained

The tool we use to draft the system maps for the cities is called kumu.io, which outputs data in a visual format. Organisations operating in the city appear as interconnected dots, their relative size reflecting their prominence – whether by number of employees or profit.

To begin mapping, we collect and input data into kumu.io from available official sources. Our colleagues from the Centre for Innovations Development (CID) have developed a unified big data platform (economic profile of the communities), which provides up-to-date economic and social indicators of the communities based on systematised information generated from more than 100 official state sources. The economic profile of communities provides data on business entities, individual entrepreneurs, major taxpayers, active assets, debts, and so on. This allows us to “download” information about all private and public business entities functioning in the cities. We have not uploaded all organisations, as our selection criteria was to include the leading organisations by number of employees and the top organisations by profit. Kumu.io outputs each organisation as a dot on the map.

Fig. 1. Initial kumu.io visualisation of data.

Adding the number of employees and the profit to each organisation scales the dots relative to one another. Public and private organisations can be colour-coded for further division between entities.

Top main employers or employers with the highest profit are not the only organisations that are important to people. Adding organisations that do not show up in the top criteria but are significant to the daily lives of locals requires field research by social media and by visits to each city. By speaking with and listening to the people living through the transformation, we were able to collect data on other organisations and add new dots to kumu. With the database expanded to include small-scale operations, we could connect dots to illustrate relationships between organisations at all levels.

Fig. 2. Kumu.io visualisation of data including both large- and small-scale organisations, and linked by relationships to one another.

The data in the system maps can be organized in ways that change the visibility of dots. Organisations can be tagged with keywords, such as type of business or field of expertise. They can be filtered by sector or scale. They can be sorted by numbers, such as by employee count or profit. A continual updated review of the map with stakeholders cultivates a visual representation of their city as accurately as possible in each iteration.

First Results

Here are our first two maps:

Here is the summary of the CID unified big data platform analysis:

Moreover, together with results from CID unified big data platform and by looking at the created visualized kumu map, we were able to “bust” the main myths surrounding the coal mine phase-out in Ukraine.

Myth #1 – Coal mines are the main—if not the only—employer in the cities

When looking at the number of employees in each organisation in each city, the biggest dots appearing on our kumu map were the coal mines. Both cities have approximately the same number of mines, but Myrnograd relies more heavily on a single mine with a large number of employees, whereas Chervonograd spreads employees over several mines. However, Chervonograd reveals additional dots of comparable size to the mines. One of the city’s largest employers is Chervonogradska Central Hospital at 1,034 employees in 2018 and 987 in 2019. Kyiv-Zahid Trade Company; Kalyna Factory; the Chervonograd factory of lingerie, corsetry, bathing suits and other garments; Duna-Vest manufacturer of socks and tights; and the Chervonograd Steel Construction Plant all hold a high employee count not far behind the mines’.

Even though Mine Nadiya is one of the largest employers (726 people in 2019), their wage debts were UAH 1,553,484 on 17 November 2021.

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Fig. 3. Alternative big Chervonograd employers shown with data from the CID’s unified big data platform, https://cid.center/sme/
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Alternative Chervonograd big employers: visualisation in kumu
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The photo of one of the alternative city employers - Duna (photo by Oksana Udovyk)

 

 

Conversely, Myrnograd has only one alternative big employer: APK-Invest, an agricultural company producing grains and meat. APK-Invest employed 1,961 people in 2016 and 2,125 in 2019. The next closest large employer (not in Myrnograd but operating in the neighbouring city of Pokrovsk) is the international MetInvest group, which includes mining, steel enterprises and sales networks in Ukraine, Europe and the United States.

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Fig. 4. Alternative Myrnograd big employers shown with data from the CID’s unified big data platform, https://cid.center/sme/
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Alternative Myrnograd big employers: visualisation in kumu
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A screenshot of the webpage of the alternative city employee - APK invest

Despite the fact that MyrnogradVuhillya is one of the largest employers (3,859 people in 2019), their wage debts were UAH 816,142 on 17 November 2021.

Myth #2 – Coal mines are the main economic drivers in the cities

When looking at profit in Chervonograd and Myrnograd by organisation, the dots representing the mines suddenly disappear from the system maps. Instead, the map of Chervonograd reveals the most profitable organisations are in trade, metal, textiles and agro. Myrnograd’s most profitable organisation is in agro.

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Fig. 6. Profits in Chervonograd shown with data from the CID’s unified big data platform, https://cid.center/sme/
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Visualisation in kumu, with the size of the dots representing the size of the profit.

Among top three unprofitable entities are mines entities: Vizeiska Main (UAH -607.5 million as of 2020), Nadiya Main (UAH -36.5 million as of 2020) and Lviv Mine Company (UAH -16.5 million as of 2020).

In Myrnograd the entity that has the largest profit is APK Invest (agriculture economic cluster), UAH 372.3 million as of 2020.

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Fig. 7. Profits in Myrnograd shown with data from the CID’s unified big data platform, https://cid.center/sme/
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Visualisation in kumu, with the size of the dots representing the size of the profit.

Among top three unprofitable entities are mines: Myrnogradvuhillya (UAH -307.8 million as of 2020) and Vuglepromtrans (UAH -12.3 million as of 2020).

Fig. 8. Myrnograd's top unprofitable entities.

 

Myth #3 – Coal mines are the main contributors to the local budget

When looking at the revenues to the local budget, it can be seen that it is not only the mines that are the largest taxpayers. According to Ministry of Finance of Ukraine data some of the largest taxpayers to local budget​​ are agriculture entities – APK-Invest (UAH 98.6 million in 2021). At the same time one of the biggest debtors to the local budget are mines: Myrnogradvuhillya (UAH 79.4 million up to November 2021), Vuglebud (UAH 639,100 up to November 2021), subsection of Myrnogradvuhillya Kapitalna Mine (UAH 268,100 up to November 2021).

Fig. 9. Debtors to local budget are mostly mine entities.

The biggest debtors to the local budget in Chervonograd (among mines entities) are: Lviv Mine Company (UAH 44.6 million up to November 2021), a subsection of LvivVugillya (UAH 17.9 million up to November 2021), a subsection of Chervonograd Mine (UAH 5.9 million up to November 2021), a subsection of Velykomostivska Mine (UAH 3.1 million up to November 2021), and Nadiya Mine (UAH 2.9 million up to November 2021). See more details here (For Myrnograd and For Chervonograd).

 

Myth #4 – There is nothing else to build on for city development except its coal-related heritage

The main profit-making organisations are not the only economic drivers in the cities. “Transformation is not just about replacing a mine with a factory,” says Gorka Espiau Idoiaga, Director at the Agirre Lehendakaria Centre.

“True transformation starts within a community (its K-culture**) and always takes place on several interconnected levels: Community gardens growing into new tourist attraction parks at former coal mines, inviting citizen and guests of the town into a local open air swimming pool or a large food market created thanks to the new regulations specified for this region – this one of the possible scenarios – but it all has to start with what the locals are already good at or believe in.”

** K (Kultura in the Basque Language) = The system of beliefs and values that define us as a society — our origins, who we are, the way we think, what moves us and the reasons why. In short —it is our roots and all that has contributed to world views.

We have seen that for Myrnograd there is the only big company operation in the city: APK-Invest – agriculture. But if we look at all the activities in the city (if in kumu we tag each organization with every one of their activities), we will see that a significant number of small scale initiatives cluster around the following topics (meaning locals are good at them):

●  Food

●   IT/robotics

●   Sports

●   Street Art

Several organisations in the city are now involved with the Food Cluster of Eastern Ukraine, developing gastro-tourism options and supporting chef classes in coal mining schools. As the agro sector is Myrnograd’s leading employer and profit-making organisation, food enterprises seem to be a natural evolution of its strengths.

Outside of gastronomy, the Valeriy Dotsenko Secondary School of I-III Grades of Myrnograd City Council of Donetsk Region encourages students into a rounded STEAM education, including creativity in coding and robotics using Minecraft and Lego.

The famous Dotsenko motocross family have made motorbike sports accessible to children and young people in Myrnograd through their Pokrovsk motorcycle school, and it is very common to see motocross riders riding up and down large coal slag heaps.

Artistic ventures build a strong case for remembrance and keeping the past from disappearing. While Myrnograd moves forward, the presence of murals, museums and other exhibitions can preserve the city’s mining roots in the public conscience. Roman Minin, born in Myrnograd, is an artist of many media from stained glass to street art. His fusion of intricate Byzantine and chunky modern geometric shapes appears to speak to the country’s social, developmental and political climates. Several of his artworks feature the transformation of miners, highlighting the inevitability of change, and adaptability to it.

Roman Minin mural - Artwork in Myrnograd (photo by Alisa Bankivska)

Food Cluster in Myrnograd (photo shared by the Food Cluster - https://www.facebook.com/cxid.eco).

For Chervonograd, we have discovered not-so-obvious agents of transformation potentially arising from the following:

●  Church

●   Media clusters

●   Heritage tourism

Church and religion have been a bastion for community in Chervonograd throughout its history. The church continues to provide for the people today, embarking on initiatives such as social bakeries, green spaces for children to play in, and more. The church’s significance in the transformation of Chervonograd cannot be understated.

Churches in Chervonograd (photo by Alisa Bankivska).

Chervonograd City, Neo Radio Chervonograd, Echo Chervonograd, the News of Prubyzia newspaper and Byznet TV station are a selection of the media we have seen active in Chervonograd both in the media and in activism spaces.

Heritage tourism draws appeal to Chervonograd in particular, through tourist interest in Potocki Palace, formerly known by its Polish name Krystynopol. Additionally, the aforementioned churches and the city’s industrial history have attracted and continue to attract visitors.

Potocki Palace (photo by Alisa Bankivska).

How You Can Help

System mapping can help us visualise how the people of these two cities, armed with their own unique resources, can preserve their identity and dignity, nourish and grow their culture and solidarity, and ensure their sustainability throughout an era of decarbonisation.

The maps we have of Chervonograd and Myrnograd are still in their initial phases. Creating them is a joint effort not only by researchers and institutions, but by the general public. We are aware that we have very limited information and behind the official data there are a number of nuances that we did not discover even in our field visits and interviews. For example, all the grey zones of informality and alternative economy in the cities and much more are not visible in the official data.  We invite everyone interested to check the maps and to be a part of their transformation. You may make comments, suggest any new elements, or mention something that has yet to be taken into account by filling in the following online form.

Text: Oksana Udovyk, Kateryna Ivanchenko

Editing: Lily Ounekeo, Euan Macdonald 

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