Head of Mykolaiv Regional Military Administration Vitaliy Kim is a politician who has become popular during the war. Nearly two years ago, when Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, he cheered and motivated Ukrainians with his daily videos, becoming one of their favorites.
This was at the time when the Russians tried to occupy Mykolaiv and mercilessly shelled it.
During one of these attacks, a Russian missile hit the building of Mykolaiv Regional Administration. Part of the building, including Kim’s office, was destroyed.
It had been Kim’s office since he began serving as the Mykolaiv region’s governor in 2020, another hat he’s still wearing.
From the moment of that attack, he gradually began to reduce his media presence, especially amid rumors about possible presidential ambitions. Despite this, Kim is still in the top three in the public trust rating among Ukrainians with a 64 percent approval rating.
In a conversation with Kyiv Post, Kim talked about the current situation in the region, the fight against Russian propaganda and mobilization in Ukraine.
What is the current situation in Mykolaiv and the region? How often do the Russians fire on the region?
“Two communities close to the temporarily occupied Kinburn Spit (the territory of the peninsula has been occupied since March 2022) come under Russian fire every day. Russian missiles and drones daily fly over Mykolaiv region. Sometimes they are “landed” here.
“If the subject is victims, then there are much fewer. Although the other day there were some injured due to [bombardment].
“So, the situation is much better than it was in 2022. But compared to other regions, we live in daily terror of constant bombing by the Russians.”
Does Mykolaiv remain a strategic goal of the Russians?
“According to the Russian strategic plans that we have seen, in 2022 they planned to occupy the south and cut off the country from the Black Sea. But thanks to our Armed Forces, thanks to the fact that there are many rivers in the region, the implementation of these plans is almost impossible.”
Does the threat remain?
“I always say that the probability of meeting a crocodile around the corner is 50 percent chance: you may meet it, or you may not. Therefore, the threat remains.
“The Russians need time to prepare for an offensive. It takes much time. If there is any movement, we will see it immediately. Currently, we do not see such preparation.”
What is the situation with gun layers and traitors in the region? How many people passing data to Russia do you catch every day?
“In 2023, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) detained 18 people on charges of treason. In addition, 59 collaborators were detained. That is, work in this direction is extending.
“If you divide the number of these people by the number of people living in the region, then we have very few traitors. If you estimate how much damage one traitor or collaborator can do, it is a lot.
“Therefore, the work continues, we catch them here. Let's put it this way, collaborators and traitors do not really want to work as agents in Mykolaiv.
“Mostly, these are recruited, offended, sick people, or supporters of the Soviet Union. That is, they do not understand what they are doing. For example, one of them decided that he was Agent 007.
“He had a very sad life, and therefore decided to get an adrenaline rush. Now, for playing Agent 007, he will be taught for 10-15 years that Agents 007 are only in movies.”
How sensitive is Mykolaiv region to Russian propaganda?
“First, the Russians are massively preparing for a very large-scale new wave of disinformation. It is scheduled for the end of March-April.
“Second, the Russians have lost the global propaganda war. The ‘Russian world’ did not work. That is, in general, people say, ‘Go away with your “Russian world.’
“Therefore, the Russians changed their tactics, using sensitive issues for Ukrainians through our media space. For example, that the state does nothing about the release of prisoners. This is not true, the state does a lot, and we exchange many POWs. We explain it, but the topic is sensitive. They play on the emotions of Ukrainians.
“Mykolaiv is quite calm about this. We also have a large media resource – Nikolaev Vanek channel on Telegram. It is working to prevent the Russians from winning this information war, so to speak. We keep our finger on the pulse.
“At the same time, we are all tired emotionally. Because of fatigue, people start reacting to such things.”
What is happening now with Mykolaiv port? Is it working? How large-scale is the destruction?
“It isn’t working, and I don’t want to talk about the destruction. I’ll answer in a different way: when the Russians are knocked out of the Kinburn Spit, we will open the port tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. We are ready to work, the infrastructure in the region has been restored by 99 percent. Now it is not safe.”
How much does the region lose due to the closed port?
“Approximately 30-40 percent of the region's economy was connected with the port logistics. Therefore, 30-40 percent simply aren’t working here, people who lost their jobs here have been transferred to other ports.
“We are losing a lot, including workforce, work experience, contracts and much more.”
This year there will one year since the Russians blew up Kakhovka HPP, leaving thousands of people homeless. This caused a major environmental hazard in southern Ukraine. Is Mykolaiv region still suffering from this tragedy?
“After Kakhovka HPP had been blown up, the issue of water arose. Mykolaiv had already suffered for a year due to water problems after the Russian shelling.
“Therefore, we were ready. We had developed logistics, and in a couple of months eliminated the consequences of the dam destruction, provided all people with water.”
What about ecology? How much was the nature affected in the region?
“The environment suffered the most due to military actions because explosives contain acids that harm the environment when detonated. These are losses of hundreds of billions of hryvnias – they will be calculated after the war.
“As for the blowing up of Kakhovka HPP, our region was lucky because there were no burial grounds or warehouses with harmful substances in the area of the flooding. Therefore, there was no direct damage.
Let's talk about a pleasant thing - the restoration of Mykolaiv region. You have repeatedly said that there is already aid from partners. Some countries even open offices in the region and are determined to support. How does the restoration work? Is it realistic to rebuild the region, given that the hostilities are not so far away?
“We actually restored about 30 percent of the destroyed infrastructure with the help of international partners and our state. For example, out of 20 destroyed bridges, 19 have been completely rebuilt.
“People saw that the bridge was destroyed, blown up, and thought that it would take 10 years to rebuild it. We restored some in two to three months.
“International companies come to accompany international representatives so that we could work on business projects here, despite military operations being underway.
“But to prepare the project for launch, it takes one and a half or two years. Therefore, we are starting this process now because we believe in our victory soon.
“We are preparing to rebuild not only the region, but also the south of Ukraine. We calculate what we, as the authorities, need to do for this.”
Do you expect more help from internal business or from international partners?
“From both. The fact is that international partners work according to their own programs that exist in their country. These are mainly social projects that help people, businesses, so that they can work. That is, international partners will help our enterprises restore the economy in each region.”
Which countries do you currently have the most active cooperation with?
“We cooperate with 20 countries. But Denmark is definitely our friend. Denmark opened its embassy in Mykolaiv. They really work very closely with us.
“We are working with Denmark on the future cooperation between the European Union and Ukraine so that we could take advantage of each other and rebuild our region together with Denmark in the future, for all the projects to be not only subsidized, but also productive.”
Why was Denmark interested? What made you so attractive to them?
“President Zelensky offered Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen to work with Mykolaiv, and they agreed.
“Next, my personal task is to obey the president’s orders. Therefore, we worked, as I believe, qualitatively. The president took note of this.”
Was there any conversation about offering Denmark residents to move to Mykolaiv region?
“There were no such conversations, but I know for sure that resettlement does not happen just like that. Taxes paid by the Danes are being used to rebuild the region.
“They should be encouraged to come to us and see what Mykolaiv region is like, what Ukraine is like. We will meet them here. So, the issue of tourism after the war is also important.”
You said Zelensky noted Mykolaiv region as one of the best examples of cooperation with international partners. What is your secret?
“We have organized a system that is very open to the Danes, to the local authorities, to the territorial communities. It’s transparent.
“In addition, we have a large team. It was not me who smiled at the partners and the work began. A large team of people who have many phone calls and video calls every day. That is, this is the work done by many professionals.”
You say that you have a large team that helps establish relations with our partners regarding the reconstruction of the Mykolaiv region. This is despite Ukraine losing a lot of its workforce in the war. How did you manage to keep a large team?
“Indeed, it’s critical for us. We understand that it will be difficult for certain sectors to recover after the war without the right number of people.
“Currently, 100,000 to 200,000 fewer people live in our region than before the war. All the same, almost the same number of people live here as before the Russian invasion due to displaced persons from Kherson region.
“As for the team, everyone made a decision on Feb. 24, 2022.
“We got together and said that whoever wants to can go. But everyone decided to stay. Therefore, after such a difficult decision made on Feb. 24, it makes no sense to change it now.
“Our region is resource-rich in such a way that these people return primarily not for money, but because they like it here. Many people returned to Mykolaiv, Mykolaiv region. This motivation is correct because we live here.”
Can you answer the question of how to bring people back?
“No, I cannot answer.
“It’s necessary to create conditions so that it is better here than anywhere else. It is difficult.
“We have limited resources. We have a lot of work to do. Our team will do everything for this, create the conditions and the jobs.
“I believe that we will succeed, and in five years, we will be able to offer quality jobs and the right regional policy.”
Last year, you said that the region showed very good mobilization results in November - almost 30,000 people were mobilized. We see the current situation happening all over Ukraine, the discrediting of mobilization, a long process of voting for the relevant draft law. It seems that nobody in Ukraine wants to fight. Meanwhile, according to your words, we see a completely different situation in Mykolaiv region. Why?
“Many regions show quite good rates of mobilization, many people were called up for military service. We had 34,000 volunteers because we are a little closer to hostilities, it hurts more, and we see that it must be done.
“There are people saying, ‘Yes, it’s necessary. Who will do it if not me?’ At the same time, there are those saying, ‘Let someone do it, but not me, I’m a little better than others, why should I fight?’
“Everyone wants the war to end, so that no one dies. But when there’s no choice and one has to do it, then people actually open up. When you have to, you make a difficult decision. I’m proud of Mykolaiv residents for their responsible attitude to the defense of the country.”
Posts slamming the government for failing in communication with Ukrainians regarding mobilization quite often appear on social networks. Do you agree with this statement?
“Look, you can’t do things perfectly; there is always space for improvement. I agree that better communication and engagement regarding mobilization is needed.
“At the same time, it’s necessary to understand that the enemy, playing on public sentiment, is on the other side. Therefore, unfortunately, we still react to the irritants used by Russia.
“When the war began, we were all united in our rush. But everyone gets tired. The guys on the front line have to be replaced, they need to rest. They go abroad with their family, and after two weeks, they want to go back, because they got enough rest. This is how it should happen.
“Any person needs to reboot to find strength and work further. This is what mobilization should be for.”
In 2022, they often called you Zelensky’s successor, the next president of Ukraine. How did you feel about such statements and what are your thoughts now?
“I’ve never had such plans and ambitions. Many people who know me say that I will not leave Mykolaiv region and will work here.”
When the war is over, what will you do the next day?
“I would go on vacation with my family for a month, but after two weeks, I would rush home.”
That is, did you hardly have any rest during these two years?
“I had some rest. There are weekends, I meet with friends. But I cannot distract myself from work.”
How do you relax?
“By doing other things. Now I am talking with you and relaxing.”
What do you miss most from your pre-war life?
“I miss peace. Whatever happens, it affects our nervous system. That's why people change, they treat all issues differently. Their priorities and values have changed.
“When we win, people will approach their lives differently. Our generation will understand what war is.”
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