Oleksandr Prokudin, Head of Kherson Regional Military Administration
Each community will have demining groups, because this work will take years
09.01.2024 19:29

We talk to Oleksandr Prokudin, the head of the Kherson Regional Military Administration (RMA), about how our soldiers on the left bank of the Dnipro are resisting the enemy, the cost of repairing shelters, relations with the regional council, how the number of sappers is being increased, and the government's experiment in Posad Pokrovsky. There are a lot of questions because the situation is dynamic, and the situation in the region is both war and reconstruction.


- At your final press conference at the end of last year, you said that Kherson region has been through fire and water. You know, Kherson residents sometimes take offense on social media because they feel that attacks on major cities in the country are written and talked about more than the shelling of Kherson, and that's why the world doesn't respond sufficiently to their suffering.

- I can't even compare Kherson region in terms of shelling with, say, cities like Lviv or Kyiv. Kherson, like Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Nikopol, Pokrovsk, Selydove, our native Beryslav and Chornobaivka, suffers from shelling every day. Over the past year, the invaders have fired 134,000 shells at peaceful settlements of the Kherson region! We were attacked 26,000 times! There is continuous shelling here, from which people do not have time to hide in bomb shelters.

- Since the de-occupation, how many civilians have been killed and wounded by shelling? What is the number of deaths due to the Russian explosion of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant, both on the right and left bank?

- Since the de-occupation of the right bank, 447 adults and 11 children have died as a result of Russian aggression. Another 1958 people [as of the morning of January 7 - author's note] were injured of varying severity. Of these, 85 are minors.

The explosion of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant killed 7 people on the right bank and injured 15. There are no accurate statistics for the left bank, which is currently temporarily occupied. According to our information, the number is many times, maybe ten times, higher.

- The military report fighting in the Krynky area on the left bank. What can you tell us about it?

- Our defenders on the left bank are engaged in heavy fighting with the enemy, who has ten times more personnel and, most importantly, equipment, as it is difficult for us to move ours there. And now our military are writing new pages in the art of warfare.

- And what is the Russians' "hodgepodge" on the other side of the border?

- "Organisms" have arrived there, quite a few of them, more than before. Most of them are paratroopers. However, according to our information, there are also mobilized and convicted people. The Russians do not have enough forces and means.


- If we are talking about the left bank, what is happening to our people there, are you monitoring the situation? Just to mention the latest: you reported the killing of a child by Russians...

- We are in contact with each community, we understand what is happening, and we also pass on information to the military command. However, in order not to put people in danger, we do not talk about this in public. In the occupied territories, Russians detain, torture, and kill people. Everyone is forced to get a passport. To visit a hospital, you need a Russian passport. To travel outside the district, you also need a passport. And, of course, they mobilize our men into the ranks of their army for "meat assaults". The enemy benefits from the deaths of Ukrainians, regardless of the side they fight on. Some of those mobilized immediately surrender to the Ukrainian military.

- Is this a forced mobilization?

- Yes, it is, they are taken away at gunpoint.

- Do you know the number of civilians abducted and held by Russians in Kherson region?

- We are currently aware of 922 Ukrainians who are being held captive by the Russians. These are only civilians from the Kherson region who have been identified. We managed to return 510 people to the government-controlled territory through an exchange. Unfortunately, there are facts of deaths of our people in captivity. The deaths of 27 people have been confirmed.

- Do you keep the issue of civilian exchange under control?

- We are constantly negotiating, and we provide lists and keep in touch. If we had Russian civilians in captivity, we would exchange them for ours. But we don't. The process is very difficult. But we manage to pull someone out.


- What is the population on the right bank and what is the population on the left bank?

- On the right bank there are 165-170,000, give or take 5,000, because the population is moving. On the left bank, this is a very, very approximate figure - 150,000.

- We mentioned the displacement: are there any plans to evacuate children from Kherson, since the city is not on the list of the 23 most threatened settlements?

- I keep emphasizing this: it is not safe for children to stay in Kherson at the moment. Kherson is located in the zone where evacuation is mandatory, but the city is not on the list of settlements where it is carried out forcibly. At the same time, at each regional defense council we hear from The Security Service (SBU), counterintelligence, and the military on this issue. If the situation is very acute, we will announce a forced evacuation.

- And what do you mean, is the situation in Kherson not already so?

- We shouldn't bring it to a situation where our military and police will have to take evacuation measures to the limit of their strength and capabilities to save the lives of families with children.

- Do the regional authorities monitor the situation with the evacuees - how do they live in other regions? For how long are families with children provided with housing and food?

- We are monitoring the situation. Different places have different lengths of stay, and then, if necessary, we move families with children to other cities. Some move on their own, some return home - we keep them away so that they don't risk their children. The process is very complicated. Now I am in touch with the leadership of Ivano-Frankivsk, Khmelnytsky, and Lviv regions, and we are jointly monitoring it.

As for food: some boarding schools provide three meals a day, while others we help with food packages - humanitarian aid. On top of that, everyone receives standard payments.


- The regional budget for 2024 - what are its components, what is it about, if you will?

- The total amount of the regional budget for 2024 is UAH 1 billion 601 million. This includes both own revenues and subventions from the state budget. Well, mostly subventions and grants.

There are 14 regional programs. One of them is to provide assistance to defenders of Ukraine - about UAH 70 million. UAH 204 million will be allocated for the maintenance of healthcare, sports, other institutions and utilities. UAH 187 million is allocated to finance measures to prevent and eliminate emergencies and create protective and fortification structures, which can be called the safety of citizens. A little over UAH 47 million was allocated for social development, and almost UAH 36 million for the development of Kherson region communities.

We live on the money we ask for - the state and other regions help us. We appeal to everyone. Only 5% of businesses have returned to the Kherson region.

- Despite this difficulty, the communities of the region support the Ukrainian military...

- Almost all communities, both currently occupied and already de-occupied, have joined in supporting the military. As well as the regional budget. We have invested in such a necessary and expensive thing as domed EVs and in attack fpv drones. We have purchased more than 50 vehicles, 220 boats, night vision devices, Mavics, anti-drone rifles and much more from the local budget and charitable donations. We are constantly donating, and this will not stop until we win.

- Speaking of the budget and its use, we should mention the Transparency and Accountability working group. How does it work? Have any violations been detected? In general, why do you need to create such groups specifically, since there are relevant controlling bodies?

- Yes, there are many relevant structures. But each one "misses" something, loses sight of it. We set up this group in October, and it includes representatives of Kharkiv Regional Military Administration, the police, the State Bureau of Investigation, the SBU, the State Audit Office, and the NGOs Stop Corruption and Pravo. Law. Spravedlyvist". The point is that they see possible violations even before the procurement, and this is a safeguard for us. Each of them can make a comment, and then we will stop and study the risks. Of course, this working group is not a substitute for professional anti-corruption structures, but for us it is control and transparency. There were, for example, purchases of equipment from some communities that we simply stopped, such as cars and other things that the community does not need now or at an inadequate price.

- And what about the Hyundai Tucson for the education department in the Kherson city community, which was reported in the media?

- The one that was purchased to "transport boilers"? I think that after such publicity, they will have no other option but to transfer the car to the needs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Public control is the most effective.


- There were also criticisms about the cost of repairing the storage facilities...

- As for the storage facilities, you can take any address and check it. No other region has such a price for repairs in our dangerous region: from 5 to 10,000 UAH per square meter, depending on the condition of the premises. At the same time, in other regions, prices start at UAH 18,000 per square meter. So let anyone check. By the way, while the Kherson RMA hires people from other regions for work, we now hire only residents of the region.

- Did you also check the tenders for storage facilities in the Kherson community?

- Yes, we did. They do not go beyond UAH 10,000 per square meter.

- By the way, if we recall the street shelters: during the shelling, one of them had its roof pierced through. Are they not designed for direct hits?

- Everything above the ground is not designed for a direct hit, it protects against shrapnel. However, I would like to say that such shelters have saved many lives - in fact, they have. We now have more than 250 mobile street shelters and about 300 shelters. The number is changing, we repair and commission new facilities every day.

- The other day you wrote that shelters have been set up in two educational institutions for more than UAH 12 million. When will there be any more classes, and we are already spending money...

- Of course, there are no students now. But now these shelters are for local residents, and various organizations are also working there. For example, when the Russians destroyed the treasury in Bilozertsi, we gave it shelter. By the way, those two shelters in educational institutions are not in Kherson.

- What is the point of restoring administrative buildings now, even further from the front?

- One hundred percent, it makes sense. These are funds from the reserve fund, state funds for reconstruction.

So why do we spend money in the Velyko-Oleksandrivska Hromada to restore the administrative building? Because it won't survive the winter if we don't at least cover the roof and windows. And there are no other administrative buildings there, except for the hospital. Not a single one. The total cost of the work is UAH 88 million, but this is a project with landscaping and Christmas trees. We will not do this, but only the necessary.


- Not long ago, you had another meeting with American businessman and philanthropist Howard Buffett, who helps the region, particularly farmers. Perhaps you can tell us more about the new arrangements, if any.

- We have an agreement that it will not be scattered across different projects. We are focusing on three areas: demining, supporting farmers (which he is currently doing by providing equipment - tractors, combines, seeders), and helping to build shelters in schools where they were not provided at all. When I presented my shelter project, he said that they build shelters in the United States in the same way, with the same cool shelters. The price of our project is much lower than theirs, and he agreed to build six such shelters in advance.

As for the agricultural machinery, fifty of our farmers rented it for free, and everything is clearly organized.

- It was reported that as of December 12, about 22% of the territory on the right bank had been cleared of mines. How do you plan to increase the number of sappers next year, as you said, to 1,500?

- Currently, more than 24.5% of the right bank has been cleared of mines. This is 168,000 hectares of territory, of which almost 144,000 hectares are agricultural land. More than 800 pyrotechnics inspect the Kherson region every day. For comparison, there were 80 of them in March last year. We plan to increase the number of sappers with the help of specialists from the Armed Forces, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and certified mine operators. In February, about a thousand of them will be working.

We are asking that one battalion, which is already undergoing training, be assigned to our region. These are military men. We are also asking the Ministry of Internal Affairs to add 10 teams through the State Emergency Service. And we are also training our own. We will definitely not stop at what the Armed Forces of Ukraine are allocating. We are asking for our own 124th Brigade of the Territorial Defense Forces (TDF).

We have now trained a demining group at the regional municipal emergency rescue service. And every community - every community - will have such groups, because demining takes years, we still find ammunition from the Second World War. We have to clean up the territories quickly, because our children will be walking through fields, forests, and plantations where everything is mined. Most likely, such groups will be organized on the basis of utility companies, and we are currently working on this. The State Emergency Service will train them, and then we will buy equipment and gear at the expense of the Howard Buffett Foundation or someone else.

- What about agriculture - are farmers already being reimbursed for demining if they hired licensed pyrotechnics, what are the prospects in this regard?

- We have now worked out this mechanism and plan to launch it. The government is also renewing the program of partial (25%) compensation for the cost of agricultural machinery and equipment in 2024. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and USAID are helping farmers with seeds of grain and industrial crops and fertilizers. The FAO will also provide modular granaries for Kherson region only, as almost all of our hangars have been destroyed. Affordable loans of 5-7-9% will be available for farmers.

You know, if we talk about farmers, they are most interested in demining. A farmer has all his equipment burned down, and instead of 4,000 hectares of land, he has only 1,000, and yet he somehow manages to get by. They are unbreakable. And they also help our soldiers in such conditions.

- In the field of international cooperation, is there any country that can be called the main one for Kherson region?

- We are now laying the foundation that will help us [when the security situation allows] to get on our feet in terms of international activities. Sweden and the Netherlands have been "assigned" to us. We are constantly in touch with the ambassadors of these countries.

We have signed memoranda with the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, the Polish city of Rzeszow, the Bulgarian city of Burgas, the Finnish city of Vaasa, and the Swedish city of Norrkoping. We have more plans, in particular, we are negotiating with the Canadian ambassador and plan to sign an agreement in March.


- Medical sphere. What are the most pressing problems now - apart from the shelling, of course?

- I have to say that 26 healthcare facilities on the right bank have been completely destroyed and 107 damaged. And the Russians continue to shell hospitals. Despite this, people receive medical services. Currently, 15 medical institutions have been repaired, 35 others have been partially repaired or are currently undergoing reconstruction. The entire medical sector is operating normally. Hospitals are provided with medicines, equipment and generators.

Of course, the shortage of medical staff is a problematic issue. There is a shortage of some specialists, especially narrow-profile ones - for example, an endocrinologist is needed in one of the city hospitals, and there is a need for surgeons.

However, we are working with the Ministry of Health to resolve personnel issues. Last year, we employed more than 230 medical workers from other regions. They come "on duty", they are good.

- And what about the reconstruction of the village of Posad Pokrovske, which was included in the government's project for the comprehensive restoration of settlements?

- Five houses have already been roofed. We have signed contracts for the construction of almost 130 houses, and we plan to hand them over in March-April, and the work is ongoing. I was there last week - they are laying water pipes.

- And what is that long fence in the village that my colleagues wrote about?

- This was done by the Recovery Agency, and it was not for budgetary funds, because we also asked them. It is behind this fence that the construction is taking place. By the way, some house designs are being changed, they want to build housing with bunkers and basements - a new reality.

- Mobilization - how is it going?

- Those people who have been at the front for two years need to rest, they need to be replaced. I visit the guys on the front lines all the time, they are tired.

The mobilization process is going on all over the country. Not as we would like, not as it was in the first days of the large-scale invasion. But, at the same time, it is not as bad as the IPSO "draws".

- You said that the Health Department of the RMA would take control of the work of the military medical commission (MMC). Are there any results of the inspections yet?

- We check every conclusion of the MMC to ensure that there is no corruption component. There is not a single confirmed fact of corruption yet. Our doctors do everything according to the law.

- It was said on social media that you have tense relations with the regional council, is it true?

- No, it is not. Not at all. We have nothing to share (laughs), we communicate. Now the situation is such that we have their powers, so there is no subject for disputes. I communicate with both Oleksandr (the head of the regional council, Oleksandr Samoilenko) and Yuriy (the first deputy head of the regional council, Yuriy Sobolevsky). We meet, they come to the Regional Defense Council and other meetings.

- In the summer, trains to Kherson were without air conditioning, is it possible to draw the attention of Ukrzaliznytsia to this problem?

- We'll look into it.

- You communicate with people who have survived the occupation, suffered from shelling, and were affected by the explosion of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station - which story has personally impressed you the most?

- For me, the trigger is something to do with children. The Russians have stolen the childhood of children, and there is no way to compensate for this. It is indescribably painful to see children in hospitals. A boy football player lost his arm during the shelling, he was fitted with a prosthesis, and he says: I will still play football. A three-year-old girl with multiple injuries... I was at the funeral of a boy, Hlib, who died on December 31: he came from Odesa to visit his mother and came under fire. I can't believe it...

What I remember about the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant is a woman and her children who were rescued by the defenders from Oleshky, a very serious operation. And when our soldiers were rescuing people from Kardashynka, the Russians shot them during the evacuation - from ambush, at close range...

- How do you rest, do you see your daughters?

- I communicate with my daughters via video, we do their homework. Unfortunately, they often have to wait until ten o'clock in the evening for me to get off work. And sometimes they fall asleep without me saying goodnight on the phone.

As for rest, everything is fine. Thanks to the strict schedule, I have time for exercise and shooting. I am learning English. I try to read at least 30 pages a day. But, I admit, I break this rule from time to time and fall asleep on the tenth page. I've been to Kyiv several times, and I sleep very poorly there, but in Kherson it's great. The fatigue is more emotional, because everything is hard to perceive...

Iryna Staroselets

Photos provided by RMA

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