Almost four months on from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, mayors across Europe are starting to look at how to deliver long-term support for cities decimated by the war.
Julia Zghurska, Deputy Head of the International Cooperation Office in the Ukrainian city of Kharviv, travelled for almost three days by train, car and plane to reach the Eurocities annual conference in Espoo, Finland. The long, difficult journey was worth it, she told capitaltribunenews.com at the event.
“It’s great to be here for a lot of reasons – we need to feel the support of Europeans, but also tell the truth of what’s happening in our country,” said Zghurska.
“Different [European] cities have reached out and asked us: ‘What kind of help do you need?’”
This direct co-operation is something Zghurska said is important to maintain, particularly as the war continues and the plight of Ukrainian cities may start to slip from Europe’s collective consciousness.
“We can understand that in some countries people may be getting tired of this situation, especially when we look at the economic impacts, but for Ukraine it’s much more difficult – we have no time to be tired.
“We need to speak with European cities directly because we know they want to help but some don’t know how.”
With Russian forces targeting municipal buildings and infrastructure in Ukraine, the knock-on effects have been dramatic, leading to shortages of everyday equipment and materials.
“Of course we have short-term needs like water, food and medicine, but also specific things like x-ray machines, electrical equipment and glass – there are a lot of buildings with no windows.”
“Our sister city Kaunas [Lithuania] just asked us: ‘do you need police cars?’, we said ‘yes of course, please send them!’
“The five cars were driven to Lviv, one of them by Kaunas’ Vice Mayor, Andrius Palionis.
“When our mayor heard this he was really inspired, he really felt the support.”
Dario Nardella, Eurocities President
To date, millions of refugees have been welcomed across the continent, and millions of euros in aid has been sent to those still in Ukraine.
Now the discusion is expanding to issues such as support for the country’s EU membership bid and long-term reconstruction.
Speaking to capitaltribunenews.com on the sidelines of the Eurocities gathering, Dario Nardella, Eurocities President and Mayor of Florence, emphasised how important these efforts are, and the priorities that lie ahead in the coming months.
“We’re [cities] already working on the emergency humanitarian side, especially in eastern Europe – in some Polish cities, Ukrainian refugees are now 25-30 percent of the population.
“But it’s not only here – cities all over Europe have taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees.
“Now we are already thinking about reconstruction – Ukrainian mayors have asked us for help, and we’ve had meetings with the General Secretary of the Ukrainian mayors’ association and the mayors of Melitopol and Bucha on how this might materialise.”
During the conference, the Eurocities Executive Committee agreed on a set of guidelines and principles for supporting reconstruction projects together with the Ukrainian cities, underpinning further discussions with the Association of Ukrainian Cities in the coming weeks.
As well as building on existing city-to-city collaborations with Ukrainian municipalities – including twinning relationships – the guidelines seek to boost new partnerships and focus on the needs of citizens in a sustainable way.
This city-to-city approach has already yielded results, with many picking up the phone and reaching out directly to their Ukrainian counterparts.
“If cities want to help us in any way, we’d ask them to just call [us],” said Zghurska.
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