Hand in hand, let’s rebuild Ukrainian cities
Before the arrival of winter, Ukraine is faced with an urgent need: to rebuild housing and equipment. As the brutal war of aggression waged by the Putin regime continues to take a heavy toll on people across the country, our resolve to show that Ukraine cannot be destroyed or subjugated remains undiminished.
Vasco Alves Cordeiro is President of the European Committee of the Regions. Vitali Klytschko is mayor of Kyiv and president of the Association of Ukrainian Cities.
When Putin brutally invaded Ukraine, millions of Ukrainians — women, children and the elderly — fled the bombings, atrocities and devastation and crossed the borders with only a few personal belongings.
At the same time, European cities and regions opened wide their doors, their schools and their public infrastructures to welcome those fleeing the war and to give them refuge.
In Florence, Marseilles, Banská Štiavnica and many other European cities, we come across children who have learned to say “hello, my name is…” in Ukrainian to greet their new friends. In Porto, Bucharest or Gdańsk, Ukrainian women prepare varenyky to their hosts, as a sign of gratitude for the haven of peace offered to them.
Driven by a wave of solidarity, European municipalities and regions have been on the front line to respond to the massive arrival of millions of Ukrainians. They have also responded by providing Ukraine with direct humanitarian aid. Alongside firefighters, NGOs and local populations, Italian or French citizens have sent vehicles and first aid kits to the Ukrainian border.
In several countries, many towns immediately contacted either the Ukrainian towns with which they were already twinned, or others which had been heavily bombed and which informed them of their basic needs for foodstuffs, water, clothing, equipment or means of transport. For example, the city of Mykolaiv received emergency rescue vehicles and municipal equipment from the city of Dortmund, while Sindelfingen delivered humanitarian aid to Zhytomyr and Kamin-Kachyrskyi.
The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) has supported and encouraged the idea put forward by the Association of Ukrainian Cities of organizing holiday camps for Ukrainian children in several European Union countries in order to allow physical and psychological recovery of children whose parents had to stay working in Ukraine. More than five hundred children have already traveled to Italy, France, Poland, Greece, Latvia and Majorca.
The appalling images of this war, especially those of Boutcha, Mariupol, Borodyanka, Irpin and Kharkiv, showed the world the scale of the destruction. Houses, residential buildings, schools, kindergartens, playgrounds, universities, hospitals — all burned to ashes!
While we are still suffering from strong summer heat, we must not lose sight of the approach of winter: if nothing is done, the rain and snow will quickly condemn all the damaged buildings.
The images of Ukraine today, the desolation of the devastated areas remind us of the darkest hours of our continent. However, the cities destroyed during the two world wars have been rebuilt: it will be the same for the Ukrainian cities!
The time has therefore come to make the “additional gesture” which will make a difference in terms of the support and solidarity of European regions and municipalities. Ukrainian cities need help and support to rebuild their facilities and transform rubble into adequate and sustainable housing and services. It is about allowing displaced Ukrainians to return to their homes.
City-to-city, region-to-region cooperation will be key to the success of this colossal reconstruction effort. European cities and regions not only have the necessary expertise and know-how, but also the will to share it with their Ukrainian counterparts.
A local solidarity movement is launched: Cascais in Portugal will rebuild a kindergarten in Irpin, the Île-de-France region will provide Tchernihiv with new housing and energy infrastructure, while Lublin will contribute to the reconstruction of Kharkiv and Rzeszów will help Zhytomyr. We need to empower other cities to do the same.
The European Union has heard President Volodymyr Zelensky’s call to associate, through partnerships, the towns and regions of the Union with the task of reconstruction.
This is why, with the participation of the Association of Ukrainian Cities, the European Committee of the Regions launched the European Alliance of Regions and Cities for the Reconstruction of Ukraine.
What we expect from the European Commission, Member States and all donors is clear: to give local authorities in the European Union the necessary financial means to help their Ukrainian counterparts to rebuild their equipment. A peer-to-peer approach seems the most relevant to enable capacity building and facilitate the exchange of know-how on an equal footing.
In order to provide technical assistance, we want to promote twinning programs with sufficient resources. All these actions will be marked with the seal of sustainability and good governance. On the priority list are not only the reconstruction of homes, schools and infrastructure, but also the restoration of civic institutions and local communities.
We encourage all local and regional authorities to participate in Ukraine’s reconstruction efforts. We also encourage all donors to devise solutions to facilitate the participation of sub-national public structures in order to help build a prosperous and sustainable future for Ukraine and to strengthen local democracy and the common values of the Union.
We have the opportunity to join in the courage and extraordinary efforts of our Ukrainian friends. To achieve our goals, let’s work together, hand in hand!
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