Ukraine Freedom Statue
Monument of Independence, Kyiv, Ukraine

Ukrainian Local Government: Independence, Decentralization, and Innovation

Ukrainian local governments have made massive strides since the country gained independence in 1991. In its earlier years of independence, Ukraine still governed in a more centralized manner reflecting its Soviet past. After Russia invaded in 2014, government leaders recognized the need for stronger, empowered local and regional governments and enacted comprehensive decentralization legislation in 2015. Since then, Ukraine has realized significant uptakes in innovation, effective service delivery, and trust among residents.

Ukraine Administrative Service Center

Decentralization in Ukraine ushered in broader powers and resources to municipalities, helping residents to have access to convenient and high-quality services at the local level, especially through Administrative Service Centers (ASCs), locally known and pronounced as SNAPs. With support from the United States and European Union, these service centers were built as a system of convenient government offices, utilizing electronic services, including an online queue, to provide efficient and easy access to registration of biometric residency documents, driver's license and vehicle registration, and business and real estate registration, among other services. Even in the face of Russia’s invasion in 2022, these ASCs adapted to continue prioritizing efficient and safe service delivery by creating the safest possible working conditions (particularly during air alerts), adapting to work during blackouts, introducing services to residents living abroad, and providing new social services.

In an effort to continuously innovate and improve service delivery, e-governance has become a flagship priority for Ukraine, with its goal of becoming the world’s leading country in electronic service delivery. One way it is realizing this goal is through the use of the Diia app, a mobile application with access to residents’ digital documents as well as a single portal of public services for the population and businesses. The main goal of this service is to make 100% of public services available online.

While e-governance and effective service delivery continue to be top priorities for Ukrainian local governments, the sobering reality of needing to lead communities through a time of war greatly impacts day-to-day management. Service never stops and communities must continue to be managed since at any given moment, air raid alerts can ring out, signaling everyone to seek shelter. Even on people’s phones, sirens and warnings in Ukrainian and English, with the English language version accompanied by the voice of beloved Star Wars actor Mark Hamill, warning everyone within earshot to take cover. For Bogdan Kelichavyi, mayor of Kopychyntsi, Ukraine and vice president of the All-Ukrainian Association of OTG (OTG), he recognizes the importance of the adaptability of Ukrainian local leaders, and he sees these unique and challenging times as an opportunity to share their newfound experience in agility and crisis management with other communities around the world.

“The modern local government leaders of Ukraine surely didn’t expect to manage their municipalities during war time. COVID already seemed to be a big enough challenge. But when the difficult times came—we had to stay with our people and provide them with all the necessary assistance. I hope that the experience we gained will never be needed in any free and democratic country, but we are open to sharing and developing partnerships with other municipalities worldwide.”

ICMA’s Relationship with Ukrainian Local Government Associations

Long before the war ushered in a completely new set of challenges to Ukrainian local governments, ICMA established and maintained ongoing relationships with two Ukrainian local government associations that have served as the professional bodies in Ukraine since the country gained its independence in 1991. The Association of Ukrainian Cities (AUC) and the All-Ukrainian Association of OTG (OTG) have both supported and continue to support the efforts of Ukrainian local government even through these trying times.

AUC, founded in 1992, unites more than 1000 Ukrainian communities where more than 90% of the Ukrainian population resides, serving as an influential nongovernmental, nonprofit, and nonpartisan organization representing the position and advocating for the interests of Ukrainian local governance. Correspondingly, the OTG, founded in 2016 after the enactment of decentralization legislation, unites more than 790 Ukrainian communities as an all-Ukrainian association of local self-government promoting best practices of the modern and innovative management of communities, as well as protecting their legal rights and interests, ensuring the practical implementation of reforms and positive changes in each community. Both associations and all Ukrainian local governments face the unique challenge of continuing to serve the communities they represent in the midst of war and ongoing threats to their governance. The work done by each of these associations and the strides made by Ukrainian local governments are of great importance to the state of democratic local institutions, as well as ICMA and its staff who have worked firsthand with Ukrainian local governments and the professionals that serve them.

ICMA’s Past Work with Ukraine

Since establishing and fostering these relationships with AUC and OTG, ICMA has engaged in various forms of knowledge exchange with Ukrainian local government professionals and the associations that represent them. These mutual exchanges have brought fresh perspectives to both the Ukrainian local government professionals and ICMA members who have participated, solidifying the value of global knowledge exchange and the parallels of good governance practices around the world.

DOBRE at the Kentucky State Capital Building

In the United States: From 2018 through 2019, ICMA participated in and facilitated exchanges with more than 200 Ukrainian local government professionals. Ukrainian participation in ICMA-led study tours and the ICMA Annual Conference were popular avenues of professional exchanges during this time. ICMA specifically contributed to USAID’s Decentralization Offering Better Results and Efficiency (DOBRE) program by hosting 54 Ukrainian local government professionals to attend ICMA’s annual conference in Nashville, Tennessee, followed by a post-conference study tour to multiple communities, ending at ICMA headquarters. The DOBRE program offered Ukrainian participants opportunities to engage with various stakeholders in rural America on the topics of economic development, tourism, agricultural development, entrepreneurship development, and creation of public spaces. Throughout the programming, the Ukrainians participated in activities that expanded their technical knowledge in these areas, while offering new perspectives and helpful insights to their host communities, resulting in a successful exchange. Learn more about global exchange opportunities open to ICMA members: The Tranter-Leong Fellowship and the John Garvey Scholarship.

In Europe: From 2019 through 2023, the ICMA Europe Summit has been consistently attended by 20 Ukrainian local government professionals, specifically leaders of Ukrainian local government associations, AUC and OTG. Study tours were also planned for 60 Ukrainian local government leaders to take place in Romania, Slovakia, and Latvia, but needed to be postponed due to the war. Projects with these associations have also been pre-planned and are ready for submittal and launch when it is reasonably safe and stable enough to proceed. These projects predominantly focus on international cooperation between organizations or communities in different areas, such as social or economic development, tourism, knowledge exchange, governance best practices, and more.

During COVID-19: With the onset of COVID-19, local governments and local government associations alike had to pivot to meet the challenges associated with managing a community through a global pandemic. In response, OTG held a virtual conference in April 2020 with thousands of attendees and speakers from 10 countries. ICMA identified and provided speakers for this event from the United States, Canada, Belgium, South Africa, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Israel, and Palestine. After the success of this event, OTG took it a step further by hosting an in-person conference in Kyiv in August 2020, with ICMA being the only OTG partner organization to send an in-person attendee. This was one of the first social distancing conferences of its kind, demonstrating timely, actionable practices of how different local governments were operating during COVID. This conference was not only a success in its timely programming, but also in its utilization of preventative measures, yielding no reported cases of COVID after the event.

ICMA’s Current Work with Ukraine

The resilience and agility Ukrainian local governments had to utilize throughout COVID was put to the test again when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. ICMA responded to this with a show of support to both of the Ukrainian local government associations, AUC and OTG, along with continued involvement and collaboration with Ukrainian local government professionals and the associations that represent them.

In the United States: ICMA organized a Ukraine meeting at the 2023 ICMA Annual Conference in Austin, Texas, which had 47 attendees, including three Ukrainian attendees who presented to the audience. ICMA provided an overview of ICMA member support to Ukrainian communities and a discussion of the needs of Ukrainian communities, particularly in the form of capacity building. With many local government staff fighting on the frontlines or having moved overseas, the remaining onsite staff need capacity building to continue to provide services. Following the conference, Ukrainian attendees joined ICMA for a study tour of various cities in Texas, participating in best practice knowledge exchange, focusing on locally led redevelopment of former abandoned industrial sites in both Seguin and Fort Worth, Texas. In the spirit of continued knowledge exchange between Ukrainian and U.S. local governments, ICMA and AUC are facilitating a new city partnership in 2024 between Annapolis, Maryland, and Yuzhne, Ukraine.

In Europe: In November 2023, ICMA attended the ReBuild Ukraine Conference in Warsaw, Poland, meeting with several Ukrainian cities as well as Ukraine’s two local government associations. Further exemplifying the need for services and community management to continue even in times of crisis, these cities expressed interest in learning more about brownfields redevelopment, how to provide services for returning veterans, project management, and more. In an additional show of support, ICMA traveled to Kyiv, Ukraine, for the 2023 OTG Annual Conference. While in Ukraine, ICMA engaged with multiple Ukrainian cities on USAID funded programs. These Ukrainian cities, Vinnytsia, Ternopil, and Zakarpatia, all serve as regional bodies of the OTG association and agreed with ICMA on specific goals for 2024, including study tours, joint proposal writing for the regions, and a search for city partnerships both within the United States and Europe.

ICMA at ReBuild Ukraine Conference
ICMA and OTG staff at the ReBuild Ukraine Conference in Warsaw, Poland

What’s Next

Ukraine’s story is one of ongoing strength and resilience. Ukrainian local government professionals will continue to embody the servant leader mindset, heeding the call for their communities and adapting to the ever-changing landscape.

ICMA members are no strangers to adapting to change in times of crisis, given the communities they lead are often the front lines of support during emergencies of all kinds. Rebuilding and providing services are what many communities must go through at some point, whether due to a natural or man-made disaster. ICMA will continue to engage with and support Ukrainian local government professionals and their professional associations, OTG and AUC, especially as they look to rebuild their communities.

Getting Involved

In an effort to support the need for medical supplies for Ukrainian hospitals and housing renovations for displaced Ukrainian residents, the Ukrainian Relief Effort was founded with help from Brit Fontenot, ICMA member and director of economic development and community relations in Bozeman, Montana, and Bogdan Kelichavyi, vice president of OTG and mayor of Kopychyntsi, Ukraine. Learn more about the direct support this organization offers and how to aid these efforts.

For other ways to support Ukrainian local government in their efforts to rebuild their communities and maintain their local governance models, reach out to Laura Hagg, ICMA director of capacity development and governance, at and Peter Agh, managing director of ICMA Europe, at

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