22 July 2024
Oleksandr Lukashets, senior lieutenant and village head: "The war taught me to value what we have in the municipality"
Oleksandr Lukashets, senior lieutenant and village head: "The war taught me to value what we have in the municipality"

The head of the Derazhne municipality of Rivne Oblast fought for almost a year in the 14th Mechanised Brigade, and recently came back to work for local self-government

Text by: Dmytro Syniak

29-year-old Oleksandr Lukashets is one of the youngest municipal leaders of Rivne Oblast. Another unusual feature of his biography is that in 2016, after graduating from the Faculty of Geodesy of the Rivne National University of Water Management with a degree in Geodesy and Geocadastre, Oleksandr served for three years in the special public order unit "TOR" of the patrol police, where he performed "tasks associated with an increased risk to life and health". Later, inspired by the career of his father, who served as the head of the Derazhne village council in Rivne Oblast from 2006 to 2014, Oleksandr announced his candidacy for the 2020 local elections and won. The next day after the full-scale invasion began, he gave up the protection afforded him as a village head and volunteered for the frontline. But in early May this year, for personal reasons, he had to resign from the army and return to work. Oleksandr Lukashets told Decentralisation about the changes to his perception of local self-government and overall life.

Oleksandr Lukashets at the frontline


What is your experience of how the full-scale Russian invasion began?

I have known for a long time that a full-scale war was inevitable. I saw our eastern neighbours preparing for it thoroughly. Besides, it was obvious to me that so many troops and heavy equipment could not be brought to the Ukrainian border without any reason. In general, I believe that we, Ukrainians, are very fortunate to have this war now, i.e. that it has been postponed for 30 years. Because every year we became stronger, we formed a national idea and began to unite around it. In 2000 or even in 2010, Ukraine had no chance of surviving, people would not fight as fiercely as they do now.

What were the preparations of the Derazhne municipality for the war?

Realising that when the electricity went out, we simply wouldn't be able to fill up at the gas station, we took all the available fuel with coupons and put it into various barrels. Moreover, we fixed up all our shelters without any top-level orders. Some of those we forced to repair them laughed at me: "What have you got in mind? Nothing is going to happen!". But, as you can see, I was right. We also organised tactical medicine classes with a group of activists experienced in combat. And then it started: explosions near Lutsk and Rivne, explosions in neighbouring municipalities. Of course, our people did panic a bit, but I wouldn't say more than anywhere else. Instead, there were huge queues of volunteers at the local conscription office. The Derazhne village council facilitated the general mobilisation as much as possible. We even sent our administrators and accountants to distribute summonses, as the very existence of our state depended on the rate of mobilisation. I was also among the volunteers.

What was the reason for your decision to defend the state personally? After all, the work of a municipality head is also essential for defence, and you could legitimately avoid going to the front.

Firstly, I was confident in my deputy, the secretary of the village council, and in our entire staff. I knew that he could handle any job and cope with everything. Secondly, I believed it was my duty to set an example for the residents of my municipality, who should not say: "We are dying here, while officials are sitting in the rear!" Thirdly, I am a relatively young guy, and I had a military department behind me and even some combat experience, albeit as part of a police unit. People like me should primarily be at war, not just the fifty-plus men. By the way, many people were inspired by my example. Despite the fact that our municipality had only 6.3 thousand residents before the full-scale invasion, hundreds of men and women left for the front. And those who remained in the rear provided them with all the necessary supplies and volunteered. It goes on until now.

Resting between battles. Senior Lieutenant Oleksandr Lukashets is in the centre


How did it go for you at the front?

At first, I joined a guard company at the Kostopil conscription office, and three months later I became a machine gun platoon commander of the 14th Separate Mechanised Brigade, later fighting in Donetsk and Kharkiv oblasts. In particular, we were stationed a little north of Soledar, in the villages of Berestove and Rozdolivka. We had tough battles, and my longest period without rotation was 52 days. We also fought with the Muscovites in the suburbs of Kharkiv, holding the defence line behind the side road. And during our troops' counter-offensive, we reached the Ukrainian-Russian border near the villages of Neskuchne and Zelene. Once we had fortified our positions there, we handed them over to another unit and moved on to Kupyansk. At the time, we did not realise that we were part of the Ukrainian counter-offensive in Kharkiv Oblast. Our role in this operation was to draw the enemy's forces towards us with distractions. Due to our actions and other similar units, the enemy's defence line became weaker, and Ukrainian assault units succeeded to breach it. At first, I was a platoon commander, and then I acted as a company commander for six months after our company commander was wounded. I ended up as a senior lieutenant.

What problems did the Derazhne village council address in your absence?

First of all, they organised volunteer units, preparing for possible attacks from the north. Because our municipality is just a hundred kilometres from the Belarusian border. I should also say that no matter how positive we are about the volunteer formations of municipalities, they cannot resist the regular army without maximum coordination and support from professional military units. Having seen the war from within, I can responsibly state that the volunteer formations of municipalities are only suitable for protecting local overpasses, bridges, etc... Our village council also prepared to receive refugees and solve various evacuation problems. There were a lot of refugees, but it is hard to calculate their exact number, because most of them, after briefly staying with us, went to the west.

When did you return to work and what was the reason?

I returned on 10 May this year for personal reasons that I cannot discuss in the press. It turned out that I spent more than a year in the army, although I started fighting only on 17 July. This date is important to me because I am disgusted when some road and bridge guards brag about the way they fight or have fought. Such things should be separated. Because people with and without combat experience have a completely different perception of reality. People actually ready to die every second and who tried to destroy the enemy every single moment cannot, a priori, evaluate everything the same way as those who lived in the rear. Do you know what is the main difference between my work in local self-government and my service at the front? Being a village head, I have always understood that in 99% of cases I can fix all my mistakes. But at the front, every mistake costs lives and health of very specific people. There is usually no opportunity to fix mistakes at the front.

 With a comrade-in-arms. Oleksandr Lukashets is on the left


What is your vision of your municipality through the eyes of a veteran? What changes did you see in it?

It is even awkward to talk about this, because at the front I saw towns and villages destroyed to the ground, actually to the house foundations. Compared to them, our village seemed to me a paradise with an extremely well-developed infrastructure. And then I suddenly hear that some of the locals are unhappy that something has not been repaired or painted. In my heart, sometimes I am sincerely surprised by this: "What is there to repair? Everything is fine!". That is, once you have reassessed values, you cannot return to the normal point of view. Although, this does not necessarily mean that we do not repair anything and do not patch potholes on the roads. My attitude is just different now. I see that what we have is a great deal. And I would like all the residents of the municipality also learn to appreciate it.

How does your leadership style change from before the full-scale invasion to now?

Let my subordinates answer this question. I believe that now I am more clear about my priorities. Before the great war, we took care of everything on earth: roads, school roofs, paving on squares and sidewalks, etc. Now, our No. 1 priority is to win this war. This means that the municipality must help the military as much as possible and do everything to facilitate their service.

What are the efforts of the Derazhne municipality to achieve this?

My greatest pride is our contribution to the defence budget of Rivne Oblast. In fact, this is a fund contributed by all municipalities within their capabilities. This year, Derazhne village council paid UAH 1.08 million to the fund. This is quite a significant sum for us, considering the fact that the budget of the Derazhne village council reaches UAH 60 million, with only UAH 19.5 million of its own revenues. Our people also organise charity fairs occasionally, and use the proceeds to support their military friends through volunteers.



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