'We want to be back in dialogue now!'

Stadtentwässerung Dresden maintains a utility partnership with the Lvivvodokanal water company in Lviv, Ukraine as part of the BMZ-funded 'Utility platform for strengthening partnerships of municipal utilities worldwide'. In her interview, Ms Kristin Michalek-Götz, Head of International Projects at Stadtentwässerung Dresden, describes the joint work and how the war has changed it.

Kristin Michalek-Götz (left) has been in intensive exchange with her interpreter Olga Galema (right) during the past weeks. | Photo: Kristin Michalek-Götz

Ms Michalek-Götz, Lviv has been in the midst of war for almost six weeks. Please tell us briefly what you had agreed with your partner organisations up until the war broke out, how the work went there, and what has been planned and implemented so far.

Kristin Michalek-Götz: We started active project work in January 2021. Due to the pandemic, we chose to communicate chiefly online. In the first six months, it was primarily a matter of getting to know each other and sorting out the final formalities. Once we had completed these first steps, four working groups were formed and organised in line with Lviv's needs, which we had identified. Our first joint focus was on cost-covering tariffs. Our second focus was on plant and process optimisation, which we further subdivided into water supply and asset management. The third focus was needs-based human resources management. Stadtentwässerung Dresden has the lead role in Germany. We also have two other partners: Berliner Wasserbetriebe and Stadtentwässerungsbetriebe Köln.

The pandemic made our work a bit more difficult. That's why it was a bit bumpy at the beginning. Nonetheless it was a very good exchange. It comprised above all a first comprehensive baseline analysis for each working group. For example, the groups determined the staff structure (age, hierarchy, qualification level), as well as the plant structure and location at the sewage treatment plant.

In September 2021, Mr Lenk, our project manager for the utility partnership, and I had the opportunity to travel to Lviv for three days. There we were able to participate in the Eco Forum, among other things. This is a large plenum and forum for Ukrainian water associations. It was three intensive days in which we were able to gain very profound insights within a few hours – in direct dialogue with our Ukrainian colleagues. This all took place during a guided tour of the administration building, the customer centre and the wastewater treatment plant and, of course, at the Eco Forum. It was very exciting and intensive. We came back with these impressions, talked to our working groups and showed them some visuals. The level of motivation has clearly increased. There were also various other workshops. Some of these were organised by the Service Agency. Others were organised internally by our colleagues, who gave expert presentations. So we worked very intensively and well together.

In November 2021, we had the opportunity to expand our partnership to include two more water companies from the cities of Ternopil and Nadvirna, as well as the Ukrovodokanalekologiya water utility association. The challenges for water utilities in Ukraine are thematically very similar. We were raring to go, and our colleagues from Ternopil, Nadvirna and Ukrovodokanalekologiya had already been involved in some of our workshops. The first agreements had already been reached. And then came the war.

What is the situation now? What have you heard from these three municipalities?

Kristin Michalek-Götz: The project activities were initially reduced to a minimum. First we wanted to give our colleagues space to deal with these frightening, uncertain changes themselves. But we quickly received requests for technical equipment and support. We remain in close touch with three contacts. They also tell me that the work is continuing. The Ukrainians are very conscientious and are keeping the plant running. They go about their work and try to live a certain normality under these changed conditions. This is also a sheer necessity: first of all, to survive the war every day anew, and secondly, because sewage disposal and water supply are very important for citizens. All the more so, because Lviv has now become a hub and has to cope with about 200,000 additional people.

Do you know if they are still able to maintain the water supply? Or are parts of the water infrastructure already destroyed?

Kristin Michalek-Götz: The water supply is still running without problems. But they are expecting increasing difficulties because, for example, there are bottlenecks in the supply of some chemicals, such as chlorine and flocculants. The same is true for the fuel supply. This is due to the increase in the shelling of fuel depots. So far, everything is still running, but there is a quiet worry that this can no longer be maintained for weeks.

Further information:

Stadtentwässerung Dresden – Lvivvodokanal

Stadtentwässerung Dresden - Ternopil Vodokanal and Nadvirna Vodokanal

About the Utility platform for strengthening partnerships of municipal utilities worldwide.

What have you been able to do for your partners so far?

Kristin Michalek-Götz: After this war broke out in February, it quickly became clear that people needed relief supplies, especially technical equipment. Stadtentwässerung Dresden promptly launched an appeal, to which many utilities responded. They gave donations in kind, such as emergency generators and pumps. We then sent five lorries to Ukraine on our own initiative, and fortunately they made it to Lviv with almost no problems worth mentioning. There our partners took delivery of the consignment, and divided it up. One part went to Ternopil, the other remained in Lviv. Nadvirna is smaller and had managed well until then with the resources already available.

But the aid deliveries are logistically very demanding – simply in terms of the structures you need to keep running. A municipal drainage utility quickly reaches its limits. Because, quite simply, there is business to take care of every day – as much as you want to help, and do help. At the beginning, the situation was very uncertain. Will it go through at all? It was by no means a simple matter.

In the meantime, we have since received requests for expert dialogue from both Lviv and Ternopil. It started on a mundane level with the connection of emergency generators. Now it also extends to topics such as blackout plans, i.e. which units and technical equipment are recommended for which situations, which practices are appropriate and which staff need to be deployed. This has further strengthened the bond between our partners and ourselves.

We also have a positive, unusual example from our Asset Management group. There is a young engineer who was so conscientious. Eventually, through our interpreter Ms Olga Galema, he asked if we could have another working meeting. Stadtentwässerungsbetriebe Köln is in charge of the Asset Management working group. We immediately spoke to each other on the phone and asked ourselves: 'Can we even do that? Wouldn't it be disrespectful, when they actually have other problems right now?'

However, Mr Bilynskyy, my counterpart in Lvivvodokanal, was so motivated and told us: 'No, we want to be back in dialogue now!' The working group is trying to meet virtually every fortnight and actually pick up on the same topics seamlessly and continue the joint work. That left us speechless, but of course it's also a really great feeling!

Regaining normality, relatively speaking....

Kristin Michalek-Götz: That's very important. They are simply thinking a little further ahead into the future. Dialogue is what this partnership thrives on. We have since gained so much knowledge for ourselves. It's quite awesome. It makes us happy because it strengthens our ties of friendship.

In addition to the aid programmes and the technical equipment, which is absolutely important, we have noticed that this mental support is very key So now I'm in touch with our interpreter every evening and we've arranged a virtual hug. She tells me: 'Everything is OK!' or 'It was exhausting. I'm not feeling well right now. There were air-raid sirens again all night.' Just sharing that with people who are not directly affected by it for the time being helps immensely. It gives you a lot of strength to see that the outside world takes an interest, even if the help can only be limited at the moment.

We hope that the war will end and that our partnership will live on – even beyond the official project period. The partnership is what connects us all, and it stands on very solid ground despite all the adversities. That’s the beauty of it.

Ms Michalek-Götz, thank you very much for the interview.

Burkhard Vielhaber | Redaktion Betreiberplattform

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