Residents charge their mobile phones in one of the streets in Balaklia, Kharkiv region, September 17, 2022© Getty Images

The first weeks after liberation

In September-October, during the counterattack, the Armed Forces liberated part of Kharkiv region captured by russian troops at the beginning of the full-scale invasion. The territory makes almost a third of the region. In addition to war crimes, during the assault the russians used the "scorched land tactics". They destroyed the critical infrastructure and residential buildings of the resisting cities.

Such tactics was used by russia during the assault of Mariupol, and when attacking Izium in Kharkiv region, which was eventually almost completely obliterated.

What is Ukraine doing to make people in the liberated territories meet this winter with electricity, gas, heat, medical care and medicines? They need to receive pensions and humanitarian aid, buy groceries and essentials from local stores. What state mechanisms have been activated in the de-occupied territory, and will the local government cope with the situation?

Military administrations in liberated territories: what are they and why

In early October, the President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine created military administrations of settlements in 13 liberated territorial communities of Kharkiv region and appointed their heads.12 military administrations have been chaired by the current heads of communities. The only exception was the Balakliia city community, where the former mayor, Ivan Stolbovyi, chose to collaborate with the occupiers in March.

According to Article 4 of the Law of Ukraine "On the Legal Regime of Martial Law", military administrations shall be created to ensure the operation of the laws of Ukraine, as well as for defense, civil protection, public security, protection of critical infrastructure, protection of rights and freedoms of citizens.They will operate in the liberated territories instead of city, town and village councils of territorial communities, which for various reasons cannot exercise their powers.

"In the settings where it is difficult to assemble the deputy corps of communities and ensure the implementation of the full range of powers of local self-government bodies, this is one of the adequate options for organizing work in the de-occupied territories," — said in a comment to the publication "Sloboda Krai" the expert on decentralization and local development of the Center for the Development of Local Self-Government, Viktor Nesterenko.

According to the expert, it concerns cases when local deputies had left the community and, therefore, it is impossible to assemble the session and make certain decisions. Moreover, according to the Law "On Local Self-Government", the head of the territorial community cannot make individual decisions. Therefore, military administrations shall be created to address such issues as the use of the budget, organization of government activities, energy supply, etc. It follows that the powers of local councils are suspended, the powers of deputies are transferred, and now the head of the military administration shall make individual decisions that the local council must approve.

In general, the newly established military administrations are designed to facilitate life in the liberated territories.This requires rebuilding critical infrastructure and improving the humanitarian situation. This includes de-mining of territories and clearing of roads; restoring mobile communications, electricity, water, gas and heat supply; restoring pharmacies, shops, hospitals, schools, banks, Centers for Administrative Services, as well as providing residents of the liberated territories with food supplies and other necessities.

How the liberated territories are restoring critical infrastructure

The critical infrastructure of the liberated territories in Kharkiv region was significantly damaged by the hostilities and by the management practices of the occupation troops. The city of Izium was the most severely affected. According to the mayor's office, it was 80% destroyed.According to Oleh Synehubov, head of Kharkiv RMA,  all critical infrastructure systems, including CHPs, substations, and heating network, were completely destroyed in the place, as he informed on the "United News" telethon. It will be hardly possible to supply heat to residential apartment buildings with the onset of winter, which may turn out to be very difficult. Therefore, the authorities focused their efforts on restoring gas supply to private households. The private sector is now home to the majority of the people who have stayed in the city.

Голова Харківської ОВА разом з Міністром охорони здоров'я України Віктором Ляшком відвідав мобільний шпиталь в Ізюмі

The Head of the Kharkiv City Department for Internal Affairs, along with the Minister of Health Care of Ukraine, Viktor Liashko, visited the mobile hospital in Izium. Kharkiv Regional State Administration/facebook

Oleh Sinehubov said that over 70% of private households in Izium use natural gas for heating, and the first 500 families already have heat supplied to their homes. In addition to gas, the authorities plan to use alternative energy sources to heat the housing of residents of Izium. In particular, there is a government program to provide free firewood to residents.

Also, according to the Mayor of Izium, due to the significant destruction of residential buildings and the onset of the cold season, free evacuation will be carried out for the winter period for all residents of the city choosing to do so. People will be settled in Kharkiv, Poltava, and other regions of Ukraine.

As for other liberated cities, in Balaklia, which was less affected, the situation with the condition of the heating network is much better than in Izium. According to the governor of the region, the authorities will do their best to fully restore it to ensure that people are warm in wintertime. In addition, in Balaklia, the situation with the electricity supply is better — it has been completely restored. 15,000 consumers have electricity supplied.

The authorities are also working to restore electricity supply in Izium. Half of the 10,000 consumers currently living in the city have access to electricity.The power supply has been restored at such important facilities as a bakery and a hospital. According to the head of the Kharkiv City Department for Internal Affairs, 90% of Izium residents will be have electricity supply by the end of October.

Звільнений Ізюм, 18 жовтня 2022

Liberated Izium, October, 18, 2022. Getty Images

"The work of stores, banking institutions, Ukrposhta, etc. depends primarily on the restoration of electricity supply. Within two weeks, other residents of Izium will also receive electricity. Of course, we are talking about the surviving infrastructure, "— Oleh Sinehubov emphasized.

By mid-October, electricity supply was partially restored in another liberated city, Kupyansk, where electricity is already available to more than four thousand consumers.The electricity was connected to the Kupiansk City Hospital and three schools. Works on connection of water supply facilities, as well as restoration of gas supply are in progress. On October, 17, power supply was restored in the city of Vovchansk and in the surrounding villages. A total of 7,700 consumers have been connected to power system.

Medical facilities and pharmacies are being restored in the de-occupied territories.Thus, of the four district hospitals in the liberated territories, only Kupyansk hospital stayed intact. Vovchansk CDH and Balakliia CDH suffered minor destruction, they mostly had the windows broken and the roof damaged. They also have their equipment intact, and partly, the medicines. The Izium CDH was literally destroyed, where the newly built reception department was obliterated .

The situation with the provision of medical care in Izium, where the situation is the most difficult, was commented by the head of the Kharkiv City Department of Internal Affairs, Oleh Siniehubov. "With the Minister of Health Care of Ukraine, Viktor Lyashko, we worked out a clear system for the algorithm of actions to be able to provide medical car in Izium. There is a network of health care facilities that have suffered different degrees of damage. We will work on their restoration, as well as deploy a mobile hospital where primary-level medical care will be provided, "said the official on the "United News" telethon.

He also emphasized that, for example, in Balakliia and Izium, the network of pharmacies is already resuming its operations. They will have a government program where people can get their prescription medications free of charge.

In addition to the medical infrastructure, educational institutions have also suffered serious destruction.In general, in Kharkiv region, 30% of educational institutions were affected by shelling. Some of them have been completely destroyed. For example, in Izium, only four of 11 schools survived.As for schoolchildren, according to the Kharkiv RMA, the liberated territories now have 2,500 pupils and 500 teachers.The authorities are working to restore the learning process that will take place in the online format, because of the shelling. To fully start this process, you need to restore the power supply, as well as the Internet connection. Currently, work in this area is underway. On October, 1, training was resumed in several villages of Chuhuiv district, and another village was added on October, 17.

Despite the good pace of recovery of critical infrastructure, this process is complicated since a large part of the territory has been mined. According to the State Emergency Service, 12,000 square kilometers of Kharkiv oblast, or almost 40% of the oblast territory, need to be cleared.

According to rescuers, full de-mining of the liberated territories may take more than one year. However, by the end of the year, the State Emergency Service plans to clear energy supply facilities, housing and communal services, educational and medical institutions, about 4,000 km of roads, as well as clear the territories under the power lines — another 50 km for inspection — and the entire housing stock.

Дорога біля Балаклії

The road near Balakliia. Getty Images

In parallel with the de-mining in Kharkiv region, the process of clearing roads from the consequences of hostilities (checkpoints, destroyed military equipment, etc.) and restoring connections between cities is ongoing. They prioritize the restoration of roads connecting local communities with Kharkiv to ensure the prompt delivery of humanitarian aid to people staying under occupation from the first days of the war.

"In particular, in the first days, more than 200 tons of food, hygiene products, warm clothes, and baby food have brought to Izium. We have established the Unified Humanitarian Coordination Center distributing humanitarian assistance from international and national partners to evenly cover the needs, "— commented Oleh Siniehubov.

Mobile connection and internet are coming back, too.Access to Ukrainian media has been restored, although blocked from the very beginning of the occupation. Because of this, the residents of the occupied territories lacked objective information about the military actions and efforts of the Ukrainian authorities to liberate their territories. To suppress the protests among the local population and force them to cooperate, the occupiers spread propaganda and misinformation, such as the narrative that Ukraine allegedly left the residents of the occupied territories, and russia came there forever. However, as we can see, as usually, none of them proved to be true.

About money: "Ukrposhta" resumed payments of pensions in cash

The occupiers wanted to cut off the occupied territories from the financial system of Ukraine and integrate them into their own economic space, so they established their payment systems in the occupied territories, imposed the rouble, and systematically disrupted the circulation of UAH.The russians blocked social benefits payments from Ukraine, including pensions, which deliberately created a humanitarian and financial crisis. When people found themselves without a source of income, the occupiers offered their financial support, but only if they accepted a russian passport. At the same time, the russians spread disinformation, and Ukraine refused to provide pensions for residents of the occupied regions. However, that is not true, because pension payments continued to accrue for both those who received cash and those who had issued bank cards.

Meanwhile, for many people who stayed under the occupation, the availability of funds in their own accounts did not mean a way out of a dire life circumstances. In fact, the only possible option to use their funds for people who could not leave to the government-controlled territories were the services of local "money-changers". However, the russians also tried to eliminate this opportunity to force people to switch to roubles.

One of the key priorities of Ukraine in the liberated territories, where, according to official data, about 40,000 pensioners were registered, was the restoration of payments of pensions in cash and the banks operations, so that people could withdraw cash and pay with their cards.

Cash payments are made by Ukrposhta, which on August, 1 had to suspend work in the temporarily occupied territories, given the security situation and the inability to physically send cash. Ukrposhta branches delivered pensions to pensioners who had not arranged their bank cards before.

To restore payments in the de-occupied territories, Ukrposhta organized the work of mobile branches, where, in addition to pensions, they paid a one-time financial assistance from the Red Cross, of UAH 1,200. With these measures, the government tries to eliminate the cash deficit caused by the actions of the occupation authorities, because not all residents agreed to the conditions of the occupiers and accept russian passports and roubles from their hands.

By the end of September, Ukraine had financed the payment of pensions in the liberated territories for previous periods. In Kharkiv region, 3.7 billion UAH were allocated for pension payments.In Balakliia and Shevchenkove districts, payments were made for the period until September, 30. Since October, the technical possibility has appeared in 18 settlements of Izium and Chuhuiiv districts. In addition, the payment of pensions for October has already begun.

Люди стоять у черзі за гуманітарною допомогою, 1 жовтня 2022 р., Куп'янськ

People stand in lines waiting for humanitarian aid, October 1, 2022, Kupiansk. Getty Images

However, not everyone has received access to cash payments yet."In some territories, we do not yet pay pensions, because we have not yet received permission from the military, in particular due to the de-mining of territories. Kharkiv region has actually been liberated by 100%, but there are still places where we are not allowed to go yet — Kupiansk, Borova, Dvorichna. In Izium, payments resumed through "Ukrposhta" on Friday, October, 14, "— commented Yurii Shparaha, Director of the Department of Social Protection of the Kharkiv RMA.

As for Ukrainian banks, although they tried to work during the occupation, they were forced to suspend their operations under pressure. Therefore, people could not withdraw money from bank cards or pay through terminals, — the occupier blocked Ukrainian mobile communication and the Internet access. By mid-October, the state-owned PrivatBank and Oschadbank had already started operating their branches and ATMs in the de-occupied territories. Other banks are considering doing so, too.

While the banking system is restoring work and it is not possible to withdraw cash at all places, the Ministry for the Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories has issued guidelines on how to get cash where ATMs do not yet operate. This can be done at the cash desk in supermarkets, pharmacies, or gas stations when paying for a purchase. It is also possible to withdraw funds through POS terminals in Ukrposhta.

This publication was prepared within the framework of the project "Civil Society for Ukraine's Post-war Recovery and EU-Readiness", which is implemented with the financial support of the European Union. Its content is the sole responsibility of the Civil Network OPORA and does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

Specially for Mirror Weekly

p.s. OPORA will tell about the search for collaborators and investigation of war crimes committed by the russian military in the liberated territories in a separate dedicated coverage, which we are already preparing for the Mirror Weekly.