‘We want as much electric mobility as possible’

Interview with Andriy Sadovyi, Mayor of the Ukrainian city of Lviv, about the opportunities and challenges of cities in the near future.

Roman Baluk
Friederike Bauer

Andriy Sadovyi says it is a privilege to run what he considers one of the most beautiful cities in the world: he can work closely with its citizens and implement projects that really make a difference. What Lviv currently needs most is better and more sustainable public transport.

Published: 31 August 2020

How have you and your city fared so far during the coronavirus crisis?

So far so good. We locked the city down very early on. The infection rate is stable, and we are trying to test as many people as possible. We have 1,500-2,000 intensive care beds and have maintained that level over the last few months. All in all, our response to the pandemic so far has been calm and well planned.

Andriy Sadovyi, Mayor of the Ukrainian city of Lviv
Andriy Sadovyi, Mayor of the Ukrainian city of Lviv

Apart from the pandemic, what are the biggest challenges you face in Lviv?

First of all, we have to improve our healthcare. Lviv is home to one of Ukraine’s biggest hospitals, and it is a good hospital, but I want it to be even better – to become one of the best in the world. The pandemic has shown that when travel restrictions are in place, even people with a lot of money cannot go elsewhere for treatment. So, we need better healthcare in all areas. We are working on that.

What are other challenges the city faces?

We need to improve our public transport system. When I became mayor in 2007, public transport was only minimal, but it now accounts for about half of all traffic in Lviv. And we want to increase that further, so we are making plans. Next year, we expect to introduce 100 new trolley buses and 10 new trams. The European Investment Bank and the International Finance Corporation are providing support for the project.

What is the reason for the shift: congestion in the city, air pollution or CO2 emissions?

All three. We have reasonable air quality in Lviv – it’s not as bad as in Beijing, for instance – but it could be better. That’s one motivation for making transport more sustainable. And of course, we are also concerned about CO2 emissions. We’re not yet severely affected by climate change here – our climate is quite pleasant, in fact – but we are definitely in favour of reducing emissions, so we want as much electric mobility as possible.

What about cycling?

That’s very important, too. We currently have over 100 kilometres of cycle paths, but our goal is to increase that to 260 kilometres. We want to be like Copenhagen, the cycling capital of Europe. We also encourage people to walk as much as possible, so whenever we improve roads, we also include pedestrian areas.

Ukraine has undergone a decentralisation process over recent years. Has this process been of benefit to the cities?

It’s definitely the right path; cities have become more independent of the national government. We can now take more decisions at local level. But finance is still a problem. Not such much for Lviv, because we have been seeking international financing and development partners and we also have very good cooperation with GIZ, but it is an issue for Ukrainian municipalities in general.

What is your main source of income?

It’s income tax.

That means the economy has to flourish if your city is to have adequate financial resources. What are the major sectors in the city’s economy?

Tourism is our main source of earnings. Last year, half a million people visited Lviv, from other regions of Ukraine and from countries like Austria, Belarus, Hungary and Poland but also from further afield – Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. The number of tourists has been growing steadily over recent years. Of course, the coronavirus has put a temporary stop to that, so we are keenly awaiting the end of the pandemic and for the tourists to return so that the business of services, restaurants, cafés, souvenir sellers and so is picking up again.

Aside from tourism, what other issues are important to the city?

Education is important; we are home to a lot of universities and other educational institutions. But we are also strong in the food industry, in mechanical engineering, especially the manufacture of trams and trolleybuses, and in light industry. Overall, Lviv is a city of small and medium sized businesses.

Your city is only 60 kilometres from the border with the European Union. How important is that proximity for you?

We are definitely Western-oriented. I am a supporter of joining the EU. Therefore, Lviv is keen to start introducing EU standards in areas such as transport, health care and security even before Ukraine is eligible to become an EU candidate member. But we would need some support with that.

According to the UN, a liveable city needs to be economically viable and politically stable but also inclusive. How does Lviv do on that criterion?

In comparison with other cities in the Ukraine, we are probably doing quite well. However, Eastern European cities in general have some catching-up to do in terms of inclusivity. For example, we work hard to make sure that people with limited mobility feel comfortable in our city, but we still have some way to go. I think we are tolerant of everybody who lives here and visits us. That has to do with our diverse history: over the last 100 years, Lviv has belonged to six different countries, but our infrastructure is still not as good as it should be.

You have been in office since 2007 and during those years, you have been offered all kinds of posts in Kyiv, including that of Prime Minister. Yet you have decided to stay in Lviv. Why?

Here in my home city, I’m able to put my ideas into practice. A president or a chancellor may see the fruits of his or her work in five or ten years. A mayor can see his or her impact every day. And in Kyiv, you are much more dependent on oligarchs. I am a self-sufficient person and I take my lead solely from the community that elected me. That’s what makes this job unique - and I regard it as a privilege. I was born here and I love this city; in fact, I think it’s the most beautiful city in the world.

Is that a final decision?

To be independent? Yes.

No – the decision not to accept a job in Kyiv.

We will see.

Is there anything that you have always wanted to achieve but have not yet managed to?

We have achieved a lot. When I took over as mayor, Lviv had water for four hours in the morning and four hours in the evening. Now, we have water 24 hours a day. The infrastructure – roads, waste management and so on – was terrible. Now, things are much better, not perfect, but much better. One of our biggest problems is how long everything takes, because the ongoing war in the East is costing the country a lot. That’s why I would very much like to see peace in Ukraine.

And what are your dreams for your city?

One day I want Lviv to fly in the same orbit as Berlin, Munich or Barcelona.