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Expert.in.ua: Believing in the best

A deceptive aggression has brought the city forming enterprises in Ukraine to the brink of survival

Until recently, the residents of Pobuzke settlement enjoyed a sense of stability and security. The Pobuzky Ferronickel Plant, the sole industrial enterprise in the settlement, operated without interruption, upgraded their equipment with a good purpose, implemented both environmental and social projects, and supported the activities of medical, cultural and sports institutions. Remarkably, about 70 percent of the population of the settlement and the surrounding villages worked at the plant. On the other hand, the income of the settlement’s budget from the plant exceeded 72%, ensuring the planned growth and development of the community.

“When our investor, Solway International Group, came to our plant, our work included the implementation of the social policy based on the social responsibility principles.” – Denys Shevchenko, PFP’s General Director, remembers. – “In the last years, our social projects covered the whole territorial community of Pobuzke and all age groups. When we were expanding the assistance to people in need, we initiated the establishment of a charity fund “Development of Pobuzhya”, which provided aid directly to both the population and the institutions in the settlement and the community”.

Oksana Petruk, the deputy head of the Pobuzke settlement, described the plant’s contribution to the community in more detail:

“Thanks to the plant’s taxes, it was possible to pay salaries to the auxiliary personnel from our lyceum and its branches, to preschool institutions, to the settlement council, to the municipal institution “Social service center”, and to the municipal non-commercial enterprise “Municipal enterprise Blahoustriy”. Our hospital was completely supported thanks to budget revenues from PFP. Besides, the plant provides us with charitable assistance in the form of various projects, including roads, the replacement of windows in educational institutions with energy saving ones, and many other very important projects that benefit our community.”

The war forced us to make adjustments

The stable operation of the plant has suffered a violent blow since the beginning of Russian aggression. The effects have been ongoing. Due to the blockage of sea ports, we had to decrease our production amounts, and after the bombardment of the Ukrainian energy system – to suspend the operation of the primary manufacturing activities by force and to optimize the personnel.

“My husband has worked at the plant for about 20 years, namely as a smelter in the metallurgical shop. Now, he is in the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. I would like to note that the plant provides essential support to both our military and their families. When our guys went to the front, the plant not only offered financial assistance to them, but also provided them with military first-aid kits and equipment. The families also received 2/3 of the men’s salaries every month until the plant’s full shutdown. To this day, my husband has not been fired from the plant, but a salary is no longer paid to him.”  Olena Dudnyk, director of the pre-school institution “Orliatko” at Pobuzke settlement council, shares her observations.

The idle conditions at the plant were unavoidable, but it became possible to involve some employees in work on other objects: “Initially, these were the power shop, water treatment shop and other elements of the plant’s critical infrastructure.” – Denys Shevchenko explains. – “Those called to the Armed Forces of Ukraine and women on parental leave will fully keep their employment. All plant’s services and divisions will remain, though the number of employees will be reduced. This is a necessary step at this time, but we will do everything to bring the plant back to full-scale operations, when, and if, the situation improves”.

First Consequences

The shutdown of the plant has already had an affect on the community: “The life of our people has been reduced to essentials with the shutdown of our PFP because people not only from our settlement, but also from the region (both women and men) were employed at this enterprise. This full-scale unemployment forced people to leave the settlement.” – Olena Dudnyk admits. – “Especially, we can see this in the children’s institutions: there are less children due to the worsened demographic situation. Where we had eight age groups before, only four exist now. The occupancy level of groups changed as well: from 30 to 16-20 kids. In total, 161 kids participated in the kindergarten before PFP’s shutdown, of which only 81 remain for now.”

Oksana Petruk agrees with her: “The unemployment rate increased, and I think that we’ll face a significant fall in the demographic situation very soon due to the outflow of a large number of young people. The lack of work will result in poverty and dire financial struggle.”

At the same time, the plant’s management searches for ways to help the community in any way they can. “The plant is a city-forming enterprise for our region directly, and this is why it is very hard to overestimate its importance. If we speak about pre-school education – the direct sphere of our activities, – this is a constant help. When the plant operated stably, we always received aid: for material assistance, for repair works, etc.”, – states Kostiantyn Lisovenko, director of the center for children and youth arts in Pobuzke. – “Of course, the plant has not abandoned us. Yes, we received a stable monthly assistance earlier, but now the situation is different: they are undergoing very difficult times. However, the management tries to find even small opportunities to support our children at least a little.”

On a well-trodden path

The residents of Pobuzke have already faced the plant’s shutdown in the 1990s. “I remember times when PFP stopped their operations in the early years of independence. It was very difficult then, especially in winter. Now, I am also afraid that the situation could repeat.” – Halyna Biloskurska, director of Pobuzke library, remembers. – “In those times, many people left to go to villages and survived there. We also went to work at farms. We weeded sunflowers, beets and corn. But we were young then and could earn money in a different way. Now, only our pension can save us.”

According to local residents, the young people have already started to seek a better life. Those who had the opportunity went to other regions, or abroad. Others look for jobs in surrounding villages.

Kostiantyn Lisovenko believes that “Everyone has the same immediate future. Everybody works for victory and invests in their children and in their education as much as possible. As for the community, all efforts are aimed at the maximum reduction of costs and at saving the specialists. If the plant does not resume operations, the settlement may fall into a decline in a few years”.

However, the residents of Pobuzke are not losing hope for the recommencement of the plant’s operations. “Let the plant resume operations so people can live their normal life.” –  Halyna Biloskurska wishes.

Moreover, thanks to the joint intensive work of both PFP’s management and Solway Group, which has been ongoing for almost 20 years, it became possible to overcome the consequences of the crisis of the 90s.

The plant understands their responsibility to the community. Though it is impossible to restore the plant’s operations in full under present conditions, PFP’s management and Solway Group have not lost hope. “Now, we are reviewing alternative ways to resume the manufacturing process at PFP, but it is still too early to speak about it before we make a final decision.” – Denys Shevchenko said.

According to him, enterprise’s logistics opportunities changed when the war began, and, in such a way, it is necessary to consider all possible risks and to find new opportunities for the plant to operate for a long time into the future. That is what the specialists of both the plant and their investor, Solway International Group, are dealing with.