A revamp of Ukraine’s state-owned Ukroboronprom defense sector giant was on the agenda in early November during President Zelenskyy’s visit to Kharkiv Oblast to unveil the new head of the Regional Administration. Kharkiv is home to around 10% of the state-owned enterprises that compromise the Ukroboronprom concern, with the neglected status of many of these enterprises sparking concern from the President and leading to a lively dialogue with prominent Kharkiv-based Ukrainian businessman Oleksandr Yaroslavsky.

Following complaints over the condition of the region’s Ukroboronprom enterprises, President Zelenskyy invited newly appointed Regional Administration head Oleksiy Kucher to bring representatives of the business community together. “I’ve spoken to Oleksandr Yaroslavsky, but was not able to meet anyone else,” responded Governor Kucher.

President Zelenskyy then addressed Yaroslavsky directly and asked whether he could help improve conditions at the region’s state-owned defense sector enterprises. “We are talking about state-owned plants dating back in some cases to the nineteenth century. Conditions are terrible. Could you bring together the business community in order to create acceptable working conditions? As the state, we must also do our part, and it must happen before winter arrives. If you can resolve this issue, it would be a civic duty.”  

In response, Yaroslavsky drew parallels between the current situation at Kharkiv’s defense sector enterprises and the status of the iconic Kharkiv Tractor Plant when he took it on in 2016. On that occasion, he underlined, the state did not help but actively interfered. “We had to fight to restart production. The security services arrived and began to come up with all manner of crazy regulations. We were struggling for a year. However, there are now three thousand people working at Kharkiv Tractor Plant and receiving salaries.”

This provoked reassurances from President Zelenskyy, who said there would be not more visits from the security services and asked whether Yaroslavsky could bring together representatives from the Kharkiv business community. “We don’t need to bring together a lot of people,” he responded. “Whether it is football or something else, I always end up paying alone, regardless of how many people I’m able to gather. When you noticed me here today, I already anticipated that it could prove expensive,” he quipped.  

Yaroslavsky ended the dialogue with a commitment to support the state’s efforts to modernize the defense sector in Kharkiv region. “You can consider the issue closed,” he stated. “There is no need for any further legislation, no agitation or campaigning, no nothing. We will provide the help you need.” President Zelenskyy welcomed this response, concluding, “I will come back to Kharkiv as often as possible, since everything here can be resolved so quickly.”  

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