The Ukrainian delegation meets with local officeholders. From left, Valeriy Oliynyk, Petro Vorona, Councilman Douglas Thompson, Oleksii Gavrilov, Councilman Robert Wittenstein, Councilman Danny Ross, Natalia Geffse, Mayor Ken Wright, Yuriy Mukha, Councilwoman Adrian Bonser, Oleh Khomych, Councilman John Heneghan, Councilman Denis Shortal and State Rep. Tom Taylor.

By Maggie Lee

Dunwoody political leaders recently hosted five counterparts from Ukraine, who came away a bit surprised by the political system they came to study.

“You have a high level of sophistication, [and] it is very expensive,” said facilitator Valeriy Oliynyk, charged with guiding his compatriots on the eight-day visit to metro Atlanta governments.

“The size of the state and local budget, even with the same population” as similar places in Ukraine, was an eye-opener for the visiting lawmakers, Oliynyk explained. In Ukraine, taxes are much lower, he said, but there are far fewer services.

The five Ukranian elected leaders among them represent two regions, two of the country’s main parties and have variously been elected to city, regional and party posts.

They came through a U.S. government-sponsored program that brings elected officials from the former Soviet Union on short study trips in the U.S. They were accompanied by Oliynyk and a translator.

State Rep. Tom Taylor, R-Dunwoody, accompanied the delegation to the state Capitol. They had a lunch meeting with Democrat and Republican politicians and lobbyists from both the AFL-CIO and business.

Oliynyk said the Ukranians were “surprised by the complexity,” of the relationships among federal, state and local government and outsiders like business and lobbyists. Ukraine’s regional legislatures have fewer responsibilities and duties than those in the U.S., he said. The central government and its unicameral legislature are relatively more powerful.

Indeed, the delegation interviewed people from Dunwoody City Hall, attended a Dunwoody City Council meeting, met with representatives of the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts and the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, among others.

Taylor’s guests watched state House floor debate for a few hours as well. “They said it was confusing,” said freshman Taylor, “and there wasn’t a freshman on the floor who wasn’t thinking the same thing.”

Dunwoody was perhaps an apt destination, as there are new municipalities developing in the delegates’ parts of Ukraine.

So, “they were very interested in city government,” said Taylor, adding that they insisted on lunch with Dunwoody’s finance director to continue quizzing him.

“In general it seems,” said Oliynyk, “people go into government [in the U.S.] because they want to serve. And they are accountable.”

By contrast, “we have a problem with corruption in Ukraine.”

Indeed, Taylor observed that Ukraine is developing a liberal democracy in a country where not all citizens are interested in such a system. “We’re worried about water,” Taylor said. “They’re worried about national sovereignty and freedom.”

Their Dunwoody visit was arranged by the Atlanta office of Friendship Force, a non-profit that for more than 30 years has helped arrange learning exchanges between Americans and people from other countries.

Through the program that funded the trip, since 1999, some 15,000 political leaders from the former Soviet Union have come to study their U.S. counterparts.