Q: Kharkiv just concluded an international investment forum [which it hosted on May 31] to discuss the city’s potential for development and investment. What do you consider to be the main areas of opportunity and what makes the city attractive for investors?
A: We organise such forums with the aim of attracting investments in such sectors as hi-tech, IT, infrastructure and transportation. These all are very important for us. As to what makes Kharkiv attractive, [the answer is] it is the city itself: its location, environment and the opportunities it presents. We are open and happy to consider any project proposed. Investors can also be assured that their funds are secure here, and will be multiplied with good returns on investment.
Various rankings confirm Kharkiv’s attractiveness for investment, and the social and economic development the city is experiencing. We were pleased that Kharkiv was ranked number one by fDi Magazine [for cost effectiveness among large European cities in the European Cities & Regions of the Future 2018/19 rankings] – and not for the first time, as we have had success in these rankings on previous occasions.
We are continuing to develop and improve the city, with the support of international partners. We work a lot with the EBRD, the European Investment Bank and the World Bank. We receive large loan funds for our infrastructure projects, namely projects for solid waste recycling, water, energy and transport. Currently we are working on a large project with the World Bank for a new recycling plant and this will be a unique project for the whole country.
Q: A series of reforms were launched in Ukraine in 2014 to give additional power and resources to local authorities. How has this decentralisation impacted the city's ability to deliver on such projects and carry out its development plans?
A: Decentralisation is a great reform in the sense that it has increased our local budget. It should be called budget recentralisation, in fact. All the extra funds we received from the budget decentralisation, however, we had to spend on additional budget items that previously had been covered by the regional government, such as administration building costs, salaries for teachers and other public workers, travel vouchers for citizens who qualify for subsidised transport tickets, etc. We did not expect to spend our budget on this. At first it seemed fine, but later we realised that the extra revenues we received were equal to the extra expenditure we had to take on.
Q: What is your reaction to the recent presidential elections [won in a run-off race by comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, who took office May 20]? And what would you like to see from the new administration?
A: The elections showed that Ukrainian citizens were against the previous government [of Petro Poroshenko, who was defeated by Mr Zelensky] and its record over the past five years. The new president has not been long in his new status so we – at least, I myself – have not yet [had the chance to become familiar with] his new strategy and his politics. But one thing is clear: we are still a Europe-facing country, we are still looking to collaborate with the EU and the US.
We are all expecting a peaceful resolution regarding the situation in Donbass [and Luhansk, which have declared themselves independent territories, backed by Russia]. It should be a negotiation process, of course. The territory should be completely free from hostilities and returned to Ukraine.
Editor's note: The day after this interview, Mr Kernes officially launched a new political party along with the mayor of Odessa, which will compete in upcoming parliamentary elections.