DNIPROPETROVSK, Ukraine – Dnipropetrovsk may be Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s hometown, but it’s far from a bastion of support for her presidential bid. Many residents of the eastern industrial city seem to be inclined to support her top rival, ex-Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych, in the upcoming Jan. 17 presidential election. But the overwhelming mood is one familiar across the country: People are tired and apathetic toward politicians.
“As a woman she’s wonderful, as a prime minister – she is terrible,” said one middle-aged woman, reticent about giving her name but not an opinion. She lives at 26 Karl Marx Street, where Tymoshenko is still officially registered as a resident.
“But actually, I am disappointed in all of them,” she added, expressing a common sentiment.
The building’s caretaker, Olga Galska, who also lives in the neighborhood, was indignant about all the candidates. “They’re presenting beautiful programs, and I am just wondering where you have been for the last five years, why you had not said ‘Vitya [Yushchenko] … let us help you!’’’ she said. “Instead, they’re showing off expensive ties in the Verkhovna Rada and we here are surviving. As soon as they said they were planning to raise salaries by Hr 5, all the prices shot up! Sugar is Hr 7.49 now – it’s outrageous!”
The city’s newspapers are full of accounts of collapsing infrastructure, flooding basements and residents injured by chunks of plaster falling off walls. Even the building where neighbors say Tymoshenko had bought a flat about 15 years ago is cracking, despite being located on the main street of the city.
The city council, controlled by an alliance of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions and former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko’s faction, are accused of corruption and land grabs. A local election will happen in May and city issues seem to be far from the top of the council members’ agenda.
Dnipropetrovsk, a large industrial city of more than a million people, was also seriously hit by the economic crisis. Many of its former job-providing giants, like missile plant Pivdenmash, are struggling to land new orders.
At the same time, national leaders, including Tymoshenko, seem to bring no solutions during their frequent visits, just more promises. During the last few years, Tymoshenko twice promised to finance finishing construction of the metro in Dnipropetrovsk, which for many years has had problems with jams in the city center, according to Olga Paliy, a city resident.
Mayor Ivan Kulichenko, who has been at the head of the city for 10 years, has also repeatedly claimed that much of the tax money collected locally is also sent on to the central government, leaving the local coffers bare and unable to meet the infrastructure expenses.
Tymoshenko’s promise of a metro was not delivered, but remembered, and the residents say many hold a grudge against Tymoshenko for this and other failures, and are still feeling nostalgic for the old times when the city had a master, Pavlo Lazarenko, who knew how to get things done.
“A simple person doesn’t care who owns Krasnaya Liniya [a prestigious district], but they do care what state the roads are in,” said Paliy. She said, as a result, many people feel nostalgic about the era of Lazarenko, who once was dubbed “the master of the city” for his tight control of the place.
Born in the village of Karpovka in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, Lazarenko was the president’s representative in the oblast in 1992-95, and then governor of the oblast briefly in 1995. He was feared and revered in the whole region, and his faction won 15 percent of seats on the Dnipropetrovsk city council during the latest 2006 election, despite the fact that he has spent the last decade in a U.S. prison.
“During the Lazarenko era, it was him alone who could steal,” said Paliy. “But he also did things.”
Tymoshenko’s rival Yanukovych, who comes from the eastern industrial Donbas region, strikes many chords with the industrial city residents. “For many Yanukovych is associated with the east, and Yulia [Tymoshyenko] – with Maidan [the 2004 Orange Revolution],” said Oleksandr Smirnov, head of the Dnipropetrovsk branch of Horshenin Institute, a think tank.
The east is expected to vote for Yanukovych overwhelmingly. According to the latest poll figures released by Research and Branding on Nov. 25, 49 percent of voters in nine eastern and southern regions were ready to vote for Yanukovych, and only 5 percent were planning to vote for Tymoshenko.
Katya Gorchinskaya can be reached at email@example.com.