On March 30, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine called the extra-ordinary elections of the mayor of Kharkiv for October 31, 2021. The extraordinary elections will be held because of the death of Hennady Kernes, the elected mayor in the 2020 local elections. The election process will be conducted in accordance with the regulations and provisions of the Electoral Code of Ukraine. The official election phase shall begin fifty days before election day, on September 11.

At the beginning of the election process, the activity of potential electoral subjects has been intense. The potential candidates focused a large part of their early campaigning on social media; and it has become the most popular form of public activity. Over the recent month, over USD 21,000 was spent by Kharkiv politicians in Facebook and Instagram for promoted ads. In addition to their own accounts, the pages of mass media, of NGOs, and local self-government bodies have been used on social media to promote posts related to the activities of potential candidates. Social media have become a platform for the systematic sharing of materials with signs of black PR against potential candidates. Ihor Terekhov, Mykhailo Dobkin, and Yulia Svitlychna were the top actors of such activities. The focus of the messages was very different: from the past "merits" of the candidates to any of their current activities, and sometimes they even contained openly discriminatory intentions.

According to OPORA, the systemic early campaign, which manifested itself in various forms of public activity, was carried out by three potential candidates. The total number of probable candidates at the beginning of the election process is eight. A comprehensive analysis of various forms of public activity shows that direct communication with voters and representation in local media have also become popular among potential candidates. To interact directly with voters, potential candidates actively meet with citizens, participate in public events; they open their political offices, and provide a variety of services. An important element in the early campaigning activities of potential candidates was the use of mass media. Materials with signs of campaigning appeared intensively in the local media at the stage of early campaigning, but OPORA observers note a clear affiliation of certain media to specific candidates. It once again highlights the problem of ensuring equal rights for future electoral actors.

Lack of equal and unimpeded access to all forms of public activity, as well as recorded signs of administrative resources and campaigning-related philanthropy, can undermine political competition in the election race. Future actors in the electoral process should make every effort to uphold the democratic principles of elections, as well as to comply with security requirements. Obstruction to the lawful activities of the electoral subjects and violent confrontations between the candidates shall be unacceptable. Obstacles to one of the potential candidates by setting fire to the campaigners' personal cars, flooding them with the brilliant-green liquid, and damaging election offices should be properly investigated in order to identify commissioners and their motives and prevent the recurrence of any further offenses. Given the proximity to the border with Russia and the available facts of  detained groups of people whose goal was to destabilize the socio-political situation in the region, the election process necessitates proper performance of law enforcement agencies.

On the eve of the election process, the regional leadership of the National Police and the Kharkiv Regional State Administration have been replaced. Acting Head of the regional state administration, Oleksandr Skakun, stated that the main objective was to ensure fair elections in the city. On the one hand, implementing important personnel changes related to the start of the election campaign may indicate preparation for counteracting the expected risks of destabilizing the election process. On the other hand, it shows the intention to strengthen the agency's control in the election process. OPORA emphasizes the need to protect the voting rights of citizens and effectively respond to violations as a priority for law enforcement agencies.

Regarding the proper organization of the election process of the extraordinary elections, OPORA observers note the absence of risks in the work of the Kharkiv City Commission. However, in the conditions of the quarantine, the members of the commission should pay attention to the observance of anti-epidemic measures set by the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. As to local authorities, they should assist the election commission, within their powers, in exercising their authority, in particular with regard to the provision of personal protective equipment.

The course of early campaigning in Kharkiv

OPORA's observation at the stage of the early campaign of the extra-ordinary mayoral elections shows the probable nomination of eight candidates. OPORA observers note that six candidates were actively campaigning: Secretary of the Kharkiv City Council, Ihor Terekhov; a People's Deputy of the 4th and 8th convocations, Mykhailo Dobkin; Kharkiv City Council deputy of the 6th convocation, Dmytro Marinin; chairman of the National Corps in Kharkiv, Kostiantyn Nemichev; and the incumbent Kharkiv city councilors, Anatoliy Rodzynsky and Alina Mustafayeva. Two other potential candidates, a People's Deputy, Yulia Svitlychna, and Kharkiv Oblast Council Deputy, Oleksandr Skoryk, have not been active until the start of the election process in the city, but an analysis of public information indicates that they are likely to stand in this election.

Yulia Svitlychna's nomination had no public confirmation, but on the eve of the official election phase, black PR began to appear against her, and the potential candidate began to more actively run social media and attend cultural events in the city. In particular, gender-biased comments about Yulia Svitlychna's inability to nominate herself due to the fact that she recently gave birth to her child, and due to the alleged connection of a potential candidate with suspected public activist, Artur Gaziev, were actively shared on social netowrks and in mass media.

The local organization of the “European Solidarity” party withdrew from negotiations between representatives of a number of political parties ("Accent," "Holos," "Democratic Ax," "National Corps," "Right Sector") when they intended to nominate a single candidate, and decided to support their own candidate. On September 4, at the forum "From the Foundation of Statehood to Ukraine of the Future", the leader of the “European Solidarity” party, Petro Poroshenko, supported the decision of the regional branch to nominate Oleksandr Skoryk as a candidate. At the stage of the early campaign, the potential candidate did not show any public activity.

According to OPORA observations, the most active early campaign was conducted by an acting Kharkiv Mayor, Ihor Terekhov. The potential candidate has actively held meetings with voters, opened infrastructure facilities, and has a large number of outdoor advertisements with the politician's name. Terekhov's campaign engaged a large amount of budget resources of the city that are used for the reconstruction of the zoo, construction of sports grounds and stadiums, the official opening of which is taking place with signs of early campaigning. In April, the city council’s website announced the purchase of about 500 Turkish buses for municipal routes; and in late August, the first buses went on the routes. The event had an active media coverage with an emphasis on the personal merits of Ihor Terekhov in a positive decision for the procurement of buses. Moreover, on the eve of the official part of the election, local authorities launched the Kharkiv Citizen Card project. It combines a ticket for municipal transport, various discounts, and benefits, designed primarily for schoolchildren, their parents, and workers of municipal companies. This project has been planned for several years but it was introduced in June 2021, and announced by Ihor Terekhov at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Kharkiv City Council. To receive the card, you need to fill out a questionnaire with a big amount of personal data, which caused concern among the subjects of the early campaign about the risks of "draining" and transferring data to third parties. In addition, the website of the "card" emphasizes the information why Terekhov presented this project. Furthermore, it emphasized his long-term support of all socially-oriented youth initiatives. Multiple materials have appeared in the local media supporting Ihor Terekhov, in particular in “Kharkiv News,” a municipal entity of the Kharkiv City Council. A lot of news promote Ihor Terekhov and degrade Mykhailo Dobkin and Yulia Svitlychna. A similar situation is also observed in the online outlet, "Redpost. Kharkiv News ”and "The First Capital City.” A big share of the candidate’s early campaign is concentrated in social media. Many Facebook pages positively cover the initiatives and positions of potential participants in the electoral race – “The First Capital City” (costs for the last month are USD 1,700), “Kharkov News” (costs for the last month are USD 1,900), “Redpost” (costs for the last month is USD 2,100). Most of the advertising on these pages concerns criticism of Mykhailo Dobkin, poll results in favor of Ihor Terekhov and his greetings. The pages of Kharkiv district administrations and some representatives of local self-government bodies have been particularly active supporting the potential candidate on social media. Thus, on the Facebook page “Yuri Sydorenko “Sparkling Cider,” the director of the Department of Information and Public Relations of the City Council, Yuri Sydorenko, posted videos criticizing Mikhaylo Dobkin. The pages of city administrations advertise information about Ihor Terekhov's meetings with voters.

Another active potential candidate is Mykhaylo Dobkin. He announced his candidacy for the mayoral seat as early as on January, 01, 2021. At the stage of early campaigning, the potential candidate actively held meetings with voters in the yards of residential buildings; newspapers and leaflets were distributed on his behalf. According to the content of the early campaigning, Mykhailo Dobkin focused on issues of language, religion, high tariffs, and the terrible state of housing and utility services. He collected complaints from city residents about problems and promised to fix them after his victory. He also promised to engage business for the construction of new boiler facilities; he supported the strike of workers at the aircraft plant who were not paid wages. There are 5 offices of the politician in the city that work with voters and children. The “Dobkin Hubs” teach children the Ukrainian language for free, and offer some Tik-Tok video-making classes. In addition, the city has a large number of tents that organize competitions for children, with gifts. He has actively used advertising on social media. The Facebook page of “Nash Dom - Kharkiv,” of Mykhailo Dobkin’s non-governmental organization of the same name, spent USD 3,200 in August to promote posts inviting to join the page and about changes that await Kharkiv in the future, about the initiatives of the leader of the “Our House Kharkiv” NGO, Mykhailo Dobkin that began operating in the city in the summer. In addition, some of the posts were advertised by the “Our Children” project, by pages of the “The First Free channel” and RegioNews.ua. The latter spent USD 3,420 on advertising all the posts in August. In terms of content, the pages shared information promoting Mykhailo Dobkin or criticized Ihor Terekhov, accused him of alcohol abuse, and promoted themselves through referring to the late Hennady Kernes.

Dmytro Marynin carried out a relatively active early campaigning activities, repeatedly emphasizing his mayoral intentions in social media. The potential candidate has been meeting with voters, participated in public events, and opened his political office in the city. He is represented in local media, such as the “ATN,” “The First Free channel,” and RegioNewsUa. He used social media quite intensively to communicate with voters. On August 30, a potential candidate Kostiantin Nemichev, the head of the National Corps in Kharkiv, won in the negotiations about a single candidate from a number of political forces, such as the “Accent,” “Holos,” he “Democratic Ax,” “National Corps,” the “Right Sector,” and “European Solidarity.” The candidate’s activity is mainly concentrated in outdoor advertising and social media. The potential candidate began ordering Facebook ads in mid-August, which cost over USD 800 for several posts, mostly with nomination information.

The activity of the potential candidate, Anatoliy Rodzynsky, who announced his intention to run in the election back in July, unfolded mainly on social media. During the early campaign, the politician focused on making provocative videos against the current city government and disseminated them through advertising tools. Thus, in his videos, a potential candidate showed how he attached a memorial plaque for Hennady Kernes on the city council building, he updated about Hennady Kernes' parrot, and posted a video with his song about Kharkiv. At the same time, in his own campaign and election promises, the potential candidate focused on renovating all communal buildings, on cutting the utility bills, on free electric transport and medicines for Kharkiv residents. Advertising on Facebook has also become the main form of public activity for potential candidate Alina Mustafayeva. Alina Mustafayeva spent almost USD 4,000 on social media advertising in August. Most of the posts are links to videos where the potential candidate criticizes the city authorities, including Kharkiv City Council Secretary, Ihor Terekhov. She focuses on the terrible condition of houses and entrance halls, on logistics issues, in particular on the ill-considered reconstruction of Zhuravlivsky Descent. She highlights the problem of alcoholism, medical problems, lack of salaries in hospitals, and corruption in the city council. In some of the posts, she positions herself as a nominee from the “Servant of the People” political party and conducts a poll about her support, in contrast to two other potential candidates, Ihor Terekhov and Mykhailo Dobkin. At the same time, the “Servant of the People” party stated that it would not nominate their candidate in the early elections, but some deputies from the party could self-nominate themselves. The deputy also advertised her own streams on YouTube, in particular, the new column “Deputy Races” which first issue hosted a City Council Deputy, Oleksandr Kotukov. In addition, OPORA observers recorded the placement of images of a potential candidate in taxis and at charging stations for electric vehicles.

Risks Of Violations Of Democratic Principles Of Elections

An analysis of the early campaign in Kharkiv points to risks in ensuring a competitive election process. The threat of restricting political competition can be traced to unequal access to various forms of public activity, signs of the use of administrative resources, and material incentives for voters. Kharkiv has a diverse and developed media market that plays a significant role in the socio-political life of the city. However, not all political actors have free access to local media. OPORA observers note that the Kharkiv media market belongs to several spheres of influence, and certain potential candidates exclusively use certain media that at the same time promote black PR against the rival candidates. In the context of the election process, the law guarantees equal access of all candidates and nominees to the media, regardless of their form of ownership, which should cover candidates’ comments on election events in a balanced way and set the same price for campaign materials for all actors. Similarly, election law establishes freedom of campaign and equal access to its lawful forms. Restrictions or obstacles to the campaign of candidates are unacceptable in ensuring the equality of rights of future electoral actors. OPORA observers record the placement of Mykhailo Dobkin’s outdoor advertising only on Oleksandr Feldman’s buildings and in the suburbs of Kharkiv, although Dobkin did not publicly state any restrictions. At the same time, a potential candidate Dmytro Marinin informed on his Facebook page that advertising agencies refused to place his ads on outdoor advertising boards in the city.

Signs of administrative resources and violations of the principle of political neutrality by local governments are a distinct negative factor for the democracy of elections. Observations show an increase in information materials focusing on Ihor Terekhov on the website of the Kharkiv City Council, and the pages of city district administrations on Facebook spend money on the promotion of posts about meetings of the potential candidate with voters. The website of “Kharkivskie Izvestia,” subordinate to the city council, published a large number of positive materials in favor of Ihor Terekhov. During the early campaign, a large number of local budget resources was involved in the reconstruction of the zoo, construction of new stadiums, sports grounds, urban parks in the city, purchase of buses for municipal routes, accompanied by mentions of a potential candidate or by his personal attendance during official parts of opening ceremonies. At the same time, on September 1, OPORA observers recorded the distribution of calendars at school No. 131 with the politician’s name and the inscription “Successful Kharkiv,” consonant with the name of the “Kernes Bloc - Successful Kharkiv” party. The same branding was used for gifts distributed at festive events on the occasion of City Day in August. In the context of the election process, the legislation provides for an equal and impartial attitude of local governments, central government and municipal enterprises, institutions, establishments, organizations, their officials, and public servants towards the candidates. As to the distribution of election campaign materials during events organized by local governments, it is strictly prohibited. In the informal stage of the election process, there have been no formal violations of the election law, but such non-compliance with election standards gives an unjustified advantage to an individual candidate. In addition, we emphasize that the Law of Ukraine “On Education” provides for non-interference of political parties in educational activities and prohibits the distribution of printed materials that contain names, or symbols, or surnames, names, and patronymics of elected officials consonant with political parties.

We pay special attention to the cases of pre-election charity, which are traced in the early campaign of one of the candidates. OPORA observers noted the provision of free services for children in the Dobkin Hubs and the organization of competitions for them in tents around the city, offering presents as awards. At the stage of the early campaign, there have been no legal grounds to report to the police, but such activities will show signs of voter bribery during the official part of the extra-ordinary elections. The situation with the involvement of children in the provision of free services creates obstacles to the inescapable punishment in cases of voter bribery, as children are not voters. However, pre-election charity for children targets their parents. Such conclusions have been drawn by the Supreme Administrative Court of Ukraine. It posits that the actions of candidates with the distribution of gifts to children, accompanied by campaigning, are carried out in order to encourage their parents, who are obliged to support the child until adulthood and bear financial responsibility for them, to vote for a certain candidate.

Evaluation Of The Stage Of Announcing The Start Of Election Process

The Kharkiv City Territorial Election Commission is a permanent body formed during the 2020 local elections. Outside the election process, the city commission ensures the process of replacing deputies of the local council, conducts replacements in the district TECs in the city, considers documents, appeals, etc. The meeting of the commission to announce the start of the election process was a kind of first procedure for organizing early mayoral elections. OPORA observers attended the commission’s meeting to assess the probable risks to proper organization of the work of the administrative body.

The Kharkiv City TEC complied with the legal requirements for announcing the start of the election process (by 5 September inclusive) and held a relevant meeting on 2 September. OPORA observers note no problems with attendance. The meeting of the commission was authorized, which was attended by 12 members of the commissions. 6 members of the commission were absent: Tamara Ivanisenko (“European Solidarity”), Konstantin Ilyin (“Accent”), Oleh Mishchenko (“Holos”), Tetiana Panyok (“New Faces”), Mykyta Tsyhankov (“National Democratic Union “Ukraine”); Natalia Yuklyaevska (“Opposition Platform – For Life”). The key reasons for the absence of the commissioners were employment at the main place of work, personal circumstances, or vacations. However, it became known that the member of the commission Oleh Mishchenko refused to work due to family circumstances, whom the CEC replaced at its meeting on September 3.

The meeting of the city commission took place without conflicts or incidents, decisions were made by the majority of the commissioners. In addition to announcing the start of the election process, the Kharkiv City TEC approved changes in the composition of district territorial commissions in the city (from the submitting subjects “Time for Change,” “Patriots,” “Ukrop,” “For the Future,” “Servant of the People,” “Batkivshchyna”), approved the schedule of shifts of commission members and appointed curators for district commissions in the city. The Kharkiv City TEC also noted the absence of logistics problems. The commission was provided with everything necessary in the inter-election period and is ready to hold early elections in accordance with the CEC Resolution on logistics. It should be noted that most of the commissioners attending the meeting did not comply with the requirements of the Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine No. 1236 on anti-epidemic measures during the elections. In particular, protective face masks and antiseptics were not used, temperature screening was not performed, social distance was observed partially. The election process begins in the absence of strict quarantine requirements, but neglect of anti-epidemic measures carries risks to the health of citizens in the later stages of the extra-ordinary elections.

Party Representation, Rotations And Experience Of Commission Members

In the Kharkiv City TEC, the parties with the factions in the Verkhovna Rada of the current convocation are the most represented – “Servant of the People,” “Batkivshchyna” AU, “Opposition Platform – For Life,” “HOLOS,” and the “European Solidarity.” According to the Electoral Code of Ukraine, they have two persons each. The commission also includes a party that has a parliamentary group – For the Future (1 person). In addition, the parties “Public Control” AU, “New Politics,” “Accent,” “New Faces,” “Solidarity of Women of Ukraine,” “National Democratic Union of Ukraine” and “Kernes Bloc – Successful Kharkiv” have one member each. The chairman of the commission comes from the “Holos” party, the deputy chairperson is from the “Batkivshchyna” party, and the secretary is from the “Servant of the People.”

Since the end of the 2020 local elections, political parties have made a total of 10 replacements in the Kharkiv City TEC. The largest number of replacements were from the parliamentary parties “Holos” and “Servant of the People” – three replacements, each. Two replacements were made by the “Public Control” party; and one for each of the the “Batkivshchyna” party and the “Accent” party. As of the beginning of the early mayoral election process, the total number of TECs had been renewed by ab. 30%. 80% of the members have prior experience in election commissions. In particular, 13 members of the commission have experience in the Kharkiv City TEC in the 2020 local elections. In addition, 10 members of the commission worked in territorial or district election commissions in the presidential elections, in elections of people’s deputies and at local elections in previous years.

First name and last name

Position

Nominating entity

Electoral experience

Olena

Matvienko

Chairperson

 

Holos

Member of the Kharkiv City TEC since August 18, 2020

Appointed chairperson on August 20, 2021

Svitlana Zharikova

Deputy chairperson

All-Ukrainian Union “Batkivshchyna”

Deputy Chairman of the Kharkiv City TEC since August 18, 2020

Deputy Chairperson of DEC No.172 in the 2019 parliamentary elections from the “Internet Party of Ukraine” political party

The head of DEC No.172 in the 2012 parliamentary elections from Natalia Korolevska’s party “Ukraine – Go Forward!”

Kateryna Shalupnya

Secretary

Servant of the People

Member of the Kharkiv City TEC since its formation on August 10, 2020 from the “Holos” party. On August 18, 2020, the powers were terminated before term. Resumed membership in the commission since August 20, 2021

Roman Holovko

Commissioner

“Public Control” AU

Member of the Kharkiv City TEC since August 18, 2020. Term of office was terminated on April 7, 2021. Resumed membership in the commission from June 3, 2021

Valery Zhuravlyov

Commissioner

Opposition Platform – For life

Member of the Kharkiv City TEC since its establishment on August 10, 2020.

Member of DEC No.175 in the 2019 parliamentary elections from the “Popular Front”

Member of the Kharkiv Regional TEC in the 2010 election from the “Popular Party”

Tamara Ivanisenko

Commissioner

European Solidarity

Member of the Kharkiv City TEC since its formation on August 10, 2020.

Member of DEC No.168 in the 2019 presidential election from Ruslan Ryhovanov.

Member of DEC No.168 in the 2014 parliamentary elections from the Green Planet Ukrainian Party

Artem Matviyenko

Commissioner

Accent

Included in the city Kharkiv city TEC on September 3, 2021. He has been a member of the city election commission since December 29, 2020

Nadiya Larikova

Commissioner

“New Politics” party

Member of the Kharkiv City TEC since August 18, 2020

Member of DEC No.174 from the “Popular Party” faction in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine in the 2012 parliamentary elections

Olena Marakina

Commissioner

European Solidarity

Member of the Kharkiv City TEC since its formation on August 10, 2020

Khrystyna Mishustina

Commissioner

Servant of the People

Member of the Kharkiv City TEC since August 20, 2021

Kateryna Sosina

Commissioner

Holos

Included in the city TEC on September 3, 2021, the same resolution terminated her powers as a member of the Kharkiv district TEC, where she was under the quota of the Accent party

Тетяна Paniok

Commissioner

“New Faces”

Member of the Kharkiv City TEC since its formation on August 10, 2020

Member of the Kharkiv City TEC in the 2015 local elections from the Popular Front party

Member of DEC No.169 in the 2012 elections of People’s Deputies of Ukraine from BYuT - Batkivshchyna

Member of DEC No.173 in the early elections of people’s deputies of Ukraine on September 30, 2007 from the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc parliamentary faction

Olexandr Samorodin

Commissioner

Solidarity of Women of Ukraine

Member of the Kharkiv City TEC since October 4, 2020

Member of DEC No.151 in the 2016 by-elections from the United Country political party

Mykhailo Sakhan

Commissioner

“For the Future”

Member of the Kharkiv City TEC since September 8, 2020

Secretary of DEC No.173 in the 2019 presidential election from Volodymyr Zelensky

Member of the Kharkiv City TEC in the 2015 local elections from the UKRAINIAN ASSOCIATION OF PATRIOTS - UKROP

Member of DEC No.174 in the 2014 parliamentary elections from the All-Ukrainian Batkivshchyna political party

Olexandra Seleznyova

Commissioner

“Kernes Bloc - Successful Kharkiv”

Member of the Kharkiv City TEC since its formation on August 10, 2020

Chairman of DEC No.172 in the 2019 presidential election from Petro Poroshenko

Member of DEC No.172 in the 2012 parliamentary elections of the Popular Party faction in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine

Tetiana Solovyova

Commissioner

All-Ukrainian Union “Batkivshchyna”

Member of the Kharkiv City TEC since August 20, 2021

Mykyta Tsyhankov

Commissioner

National Democratic Union of Ukraine

Member of the Kharkiv City TEC since August 18, 2020

Natalia Yuklyayevska

Commissioner

Opposition Platform - For Life

Member of the Kharkiv City TEC since its formation on August 10, 2020

Chairman of the Frunzenskiy district election commission in Kharkiv in the 2015 local elections

Recommendations

To the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, National Police of Ukraine:

  • To promptly take preventive actions in order to create safe conditions for public pre-election events and prevent illegal actions by participants in mass events that could destabilize the legal course of the election process
  • To exercise proper supervision and control over the observance of anti-epidemic measures without the application of restrictions or obstacles to the current activities of electoral subjects and in the course of their pre-election activities.

To officials of central and local authorities, and local governments:

  • To avoid cases of misuse of administrative resources, to avoid the use of official measures related to the performance of official duties, or those that are carried out within the budget funding for the pre-election purposes of candidates or parties.
  • To refrain from actions that may show signs of politically motivated interference in the electoral process and unequal or biased treatment of political parties and candidates
  • To work with the Territorial Election Commission to develop a plan of anti-epidemiological measures, including scenarios for responding to the risks of deterioration of the epidemic situation in the context of the election campaign and the election day, as well as to establish a system of informing voters and other participants about quarantine requirements and restrictions.

To the Central Election Commission

  • The CEC should also ensure that potential participants in the election process are informed about the responsibility for violations and the illegal nature of current campaigning, accompanied by charitable aid and other forms of material incentives for voters.