DNIPRO, Ukraine — Three weeks before the Oct. 25 local elections, there are no street ads for the president’s Servant of the People party in Dnipro, a city of 1 million residents located 500 kilometers southeast of Kyiv.

President Volodymyr Zelensky’s party controls the majority of seats in parliament, but reportedly is unofficially banned from advertising in Ukraine’s fourth largest city.

That’s not surprising, since Dnipro Mayor Borys Filatov has strained relations with Zelensky, whom he says he advised not to run for the presidency.

Filatov accuses the central government of deliberately sabotaging the city’s development to topple his ratings. The mayor also accuses the president of “selling” his party’s regional branch to oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, Filatov’s opponent and former boss.


Both the President’s Office and Kolomoisky didn’t reply to a request for comment.

Filatov’s critics say that all decisions in the city — even who appears on street ads — go through the mayor and his close friend, controversial businessman Hennadiy Korban.

Despite having no ads on the streets of Dnipro, Servant of the People remains the main competitor to Filatov’s Proposition party in the region. In the mayoral race, however, the polls show Filatov as the clear favorite.

“The local elections will be a cold shower for Zelensky,” Filatov told the Kyiv Post during an interview in Dnipro on Oct. 5. “They clashed with all the mayors, now they are facing not just one, but a thousand battles around the country.” 

Oligarch’s watch

The city of Dnipro, which shrugged off the Communist “petrovsk” part of its name in 2016, is known for producing a stunning number of influential people who seem to care very little about their hometown.

Dnipro and its Dnipropetrovsk Oblast have given Ukraine three prime ministers, two presidents and three top oligarchs, including Kolomoisky. Part of the oligarch’s business empire is in the city. So are the headquarters of now state-owned PrivatBank, the 2016 privatization of which Kolomoisky is challenging.


Unlike many businesspeople, who left Dnipro for bigger opportunities in Kyiv, Filatov and Korban stayed put. 

For many years, the well-known local duo worked with Kolomoisky. They helped control and grow his business empire in the city and grew their own portfolios in the process, adding a number of expensive commercial real estate assets to it.

The two entered public administration in 2014, when Kolomoisky was appointed governor of his native Dnipropetrovsk Oblast to help curb Russia’s invasion in eastern Ukraine.

Filatov and Korban became Kolomoisky’s deputy governors. The three sponsored volunteer battalions fighting against Russia 100 kilometers east of the city in the Donbas. 

A year later, in 2015, Filatov was elected the mayor of Dnipro, defeating a pro-Russian candidate.

Today Filatov is a still-popular mayor running for re-election, while his friend Korban is often accused by the media of being the “shadow mayor.”

But this election is a lot different from 2015. Now, the main battle is between the deeply rooted local duo, Filatov and Korban, and their heavyweight former partner, Kolomoisky.


Split with Kolomoisky

Filatov met with the Kyiv Post at an inconspicuous eatery in the city center. 

For many mayors, who are at odds with the central government, it is typical to defiantly disobey quarantine measures, but Filatov is serious about the coronavirus. At the interview, he wore a mask, didn’t shake hands and put on the light with his elbow. 

Dnipro Mayor Borys Filatov talks to the Kyiv Post in Dnipro, on Oct. 5, 2020. (Oleg Petrasiuk)

At the beginning of the pandemic, Filatov said that he ordered city employees to dig 600 graves at the Dnipro cemetery for future coronavirus victims. It had little practical purpose (the number of recorded deaths in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast hadn’t yet reached 200), but the move signaled the seriousness of the situation.   

Still, the city didn’t cancel its mass “City Day” festivities in September, sparking outrage in Kyiv. 

As the interview began, the mayor couldn’t hide his resentment towards oligarch Kolomoisky with whom he split in 2016. 

“Everything that Kolomoisky touched in this city has turned into ashes,” Filatov says of his former partner and boss. “As a mayor, I can’t turn a blind eye to that.”

Filatov’s relationship with Kolomoisky turned sour when, according to Filatov, the oligarch abandoned their friend Korban when he was being prosecuted for political reasons.  


In 2015, Kolomoisky’s relations with then-President Petro Poroshenko deteriorated. The pro-government coalition in parliament lowered the number of people required for a quorum in state-owned companies, taking away Kolomoisky’s control of Ukrnafta, an oil producer.

Kolomoisky resigned as governor and began publicly attacking the president. One of his influence tools was Ukrop, a new party he sponsored. Authorities cracked down on it. Korban, who ran the party, was arrested on charges of kidnapping, theft and organized crime.

He denied it all and claimed it was political persecution. Korban spent half a year behind bars awaiting trial. Most charges were later dropped. But that case drove a wedge between Kolomoisky and his allies in Dnipro.

“When Korban was thrown behind bars on political charges, Kolomoisky ditched him,” says Filatov.

The mayor also claims Kolomoisky failed to meet some financial obligations to him, although that seems to worry him less.

“A long time ago, I owned 25% of news outlet UNIAN, and Kolomoisky still owes me the money for my share,” says Filatov.  

Korban controversy

Filatov’s friend and partner Korban, whose arrest cracked the duo’s relationship with Kolomoisky, is back in Dnipro and works closely with Filatov — too closely, critics say. Local activists and journalists claim that Korban de facto runs the city together with Filatov.

Korban is officially employed as the head of the mayor’s office public council, an advisory body. But his influence appears to stretch far beyond it.


“I don’t hide the fact that Korban is practically my personal advisor,” says Filatov. Korban turned down a request to comment for this story. 

There are also allegations of corruption, which both deny.

In 2018, Public Control, a local watchdog, published a three-part investigation tying road repair projects in the city to Korban and his business partners.

Korban sued Public Control for defamation, but lost in the Supreme Court.

“In the past five years, Korban has drastically increased his influence and standing in the city,” says Tatiana Tertychko, Public Control’s coordinator now running on the ticket of the low-profile Democratic Alliance party. 

Olga Vladymyrova, a local journalist running for the city council on the Voice party ticket, recalls cases when it appeared that Korban was running Dnipro with Filatov. 

“When the issue arose that several music schools and kindergartens need to be modernized, it was Korban who summoned principals to the mayor’s office for a meeting,” says Vladymyrova. “The mayor’s office told us that Korban was there as a compassionate citizen.” 

No one understands the nature of Korban’s power, she adds.


“He’s not an official, not a lawmaker, he’s not a member of the mayor’s office, he’s simply Korban,” she says.

Vladymyrova is the former head of local TV Channel 9, owned by Kolomoisky. 

Filatov believes that Korban has been “demonized” and cites internal polls that say he has a high negative rating.

In a recent interview with TV host Natalia Vlashchenko, Korban said that, after his short stint in public politics ended in jail, he prefers to stay behind the scene. In another interview, he admitted that his leaving politics was a condition for getting only a suspended sentence in 2016. 

Sidelining Zelensky

Filatov’s other battlefront is against the central government, which he believes represents Kolomoisky’s interests.

Filatov’s relationship with Zelensky was bad from the start. Filatov was publicly supportive of Poroshenko’s re-election bid. After taking office, Zelensky began publicly attacking city heads, including Filatov, largely to score points in the July 2019 parliamentary elections. 

“Zelensky, who says to everyone that Kolomoisky doesn’t have any influence over him, has sold his Servant of the People’s party branch in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast to Kolomoisky and businessman Alexander Petrovsky,” claims Filatov. Petrovsky is one of the most influential and most secretive businessmen in the city.

Tertychko also says that it is “a known fact” in the city that the local Servant of the People party branch is associated with Petrovsky, but she cannot offer any proof. 

Neither Petrovsky nor Kolomoisky could be reached for comment. Zelensky’s office didn’t respond before publication time. 

Filatov’s claims are based on the fact that the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast branch of Servant of the People is led by Svyatoslav Oliynyk, a long-time associate of Kolomoisky. 

Oliynyk served as the third deputy governor under Kolomoisky along with Filatov and Korban, but, unlike the duo, he never fell out with the oligarch. He used to represent the oligarch’s companies in court as a lawyer.

In a September 2019 interview with Glavcom news outlet, Oliynyk defended Kolomoisky and his influence on lawmakers from the president’s party.

“If some of them listen to him, that’s because Kolomoisky isn’t an enemy of the state,” said Oliynyk. “Kolomoisky has the same interests as the state.”   

There is another trace of Kolomoisky in the local Servant of the People branch. A lawmaker known for backing the oligarch’s interests in the parliament could have been nominated for mayor.

Activist Vyacheslav Poezdnyk, who works for Servant of the People’s online campaign in the city, told the Kyiv Post that the party was choosing between two candidates to nominate for mayor — Serhiy Ryzhenko, head doctor of a city hospital, and Maksym Buzhansky, a Servant of the People lawmaker who consistently backs the oligarch’s agenda together with several other members of the faction. 

“The party ditched the idea of running Buzhansky because of his high negative ratings,” said Poezdnyk. 

Eventually, the ruling party nominated Ryzhenko. But at best, he can count on making it into the second round. He is polling at 7%, while Filatov is at 48%, according to a poll by the Rating Group.

In the city council race, Filatov’s Proposition, a party uniting several Ukrainian mayors, is likely to receive 28% of the vote, while Servant of the People polls at 15%.

However, Servant of the People has a better chance in the race for the oblast council, where it is polling neck and neck with Proposition. 

Mayoral party

The Proposition party, unofficially dubbed the “Party of Mayors,” was created by Filatov prior to the local election and is the frontrunner in several regional capitals.

After parliament passed a new electoral law banning independent candidates, mayors began looking for parties to spearhead for the local elections. In May, talks about a so-called “party of mayors,” which would unite all powerful city heads with no party affiliation, circulated widely.

By then, most mayors of big cities were in strained relations with Zelensky and the central government. Since taking office, the president has constantly attacked regional officials.

However, Filatov is the only mayor of a major city who has joined the project.

“If people expected all the mayors of regional capitals to join, it’s not our illusion, it’s theirs,” says Filatov. “(Kyiv Mayor Vitali) Klitschko was offered to join, he said: ‘Yes, I support you, but I have my own party.’”

Filatov says he and Klitschko have similar political views, but different approaches.

“Klitschko as a boxer thinks that he should lead and we should assist him. For us, we’re a team, like in soccer,” he says.

According to Filatov, the party nominated 100 candidates for the posts of city mayors and village heads and, in some cases, even supported candidates challenging incumbent mayors. Still, Filatov admits that he was forced to form a party because of the election system.

“Unfortunately, national parties drove local councils under the party umbrellas, meaning that if you want to enter a city council you need a party to back you,” he says.

According to the latest polls, Filatov’s party is strong in regions where a popular mayor of the regional capital joined it — like in Kropyvnytskyi and Zhytomyr. The party is expected to win in at least three regional capitals, including Dnipro, and become a strong force in multiple regional councils.

“It’s easier for us, because each mayor leads his campaign independently, we don’t have party instructions on how to campaign or with whom to work within the city council,” says Filatov.

Slow pace of development

Despite Filatov’s high popularity in the city, there are plenty of problems yet to be resolved. The city has poor roads, obsolete buildings and its major construction projects have been stalled for years, sometimes decades.

Poezdnyk says that Filatov is riding the wave of Ukraine’s decentralization drive, which has given mayors more money to disburse on city projects. Filatov says that his popularity isn’t tied to the fact that the city budget has more money due to the reform. 

“In 2015, passionate people came to power on the local level,” says Filatov. Because of that, he says, in all major cities incumbent mayors are expected to win.

Tertychko accuses the mayor of beginning major construction projects prior to the election. 

Since the start of the decentralization reform, which began the same year that Filatov was elected mayor, city budgets have been able to keep most of the taxes paid in the city, substantially expanding the financial capacities of Ukrainian cities.

Because Dnipro is home to some of Ukraine’s major corporations — PrivatBank, Ukraine’s largest bank; the country’s largest supermarket chain ATB; aerospace firm Firefly — the city’s budget has increased sixfold since 2013 and now stands at Hr 13 billion ($500 million).

“We are practically the capital of Ukrainian retail,” says Filatov. “We are a financial capital.”

Today, the city’s biggest project is the construction of three metro stations, which would significantly add to the existing six stations built in the 1990s. The construction of the new stations has stalled for more than 20 years due to a lack of funding. 

In 2017, the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank lent 300 million euros to construct the three stations. But even with the money, the construction remained stalled for a year.

Filatov accused the central government of blocking permits required to start the construction. His critics fired back, saying that Limak, the Turkish company chosen to construct the metro, violated construction norms.

“The company has built the Istanbul Airport, the railway terminal in Ankara and it’s only in Dnipro where it can’t finish its project because it became a hostage of political decisions,” says Filatov.

The construction eventually resumed, yet Filatov says it won’t be finished by 2023 as initially planned.

The metro project is also stalling other things. Walking with the Kyiv Post through the city’s main street, Filatov points at badly broken pavement and explains that the city won’t be fixing the pavement until the metro line under the road is finished. He claims the construction may break it again.   

The mayor acknowledges that there are a lot of problems yet to be resolved, but he says the city is moving in the right direction.

“The biggest question is about infrastructure. People will find how to earn a living, how to invest, how to create jobs. The goal of the city is to provide them with comfortable conditions: roads, offices, places for recreation, kindergartens for their kids, schools, medical facilities,” says Filatov.

Need to rebuild

Major infrastructure projects are an ongoing struggle for the city, which, according to the  mayor, is cut off from the rest of the country. 

“The city is without an airport and a proper beltway — it’s basically an enclave,” he says. 

Both projects are concentrated outside the city limits and are under the oblast’s jurisdiction.

In September, millionaire Oleksandr Yaroslavsky, head of DCH Group, pledged to invest $100 million in the construction of a new Dnipro airport terminal after the government would reconstruct the runway.

Filatov doesn’t believe it will be done soon. For the past several years, the government has been unable to take possession of a land plot near the old Soviet-style airport to increase its capacity and build a proper runway. 

“It’s pure incompetence,” says the mayor, pointing a finger at the governing Servant of the People party. 

Dnipro Mayor Borys Filatov talks to the Kyiv Post in Dnipro, on Oct. 5, 2020. (Oleg Petrasiuk)

According to Filatov, the biggest problem is that, despite the ongoing decentralization reform, cities are still heavily dependent on the government for permits and rulings.

“We must allow cities and large territorial entities to participate in external borrowing. For that, we need to change the municipal code,” says Filatov. “(European) cities are working successfully with international financial institutions, yet here the Finance Ministry must sign each piece of paper.”

Talking about his achievements, Filatov says that new municipal transport has been purchased, apartment buildings are being refurbished and streets are being paved. However, his main accomplishment is that it has become easier to breathe in industrial Dnipro.

“People began dancing salsa in the streets, street musicians began playing, there was never anything like this,” says Filatov. “We managed to change the mentality of people — not everywhere, not everyone, but we’ve succeeded.”

Filatov’s critics say that the improvements in the city were only seen in the run-up to the local elections and are still less than expected from him.

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