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Cities ongoing solidarity and support for Ukraine

As Russia’s war in Ukraine continues into its third year, the support of Europe’s cities for the Ukrainian people remains steadfast. City-to-city cooperation has continued to evolve through long established twinnings and newly formed partnerships, while bonds between mayors and cooperation through networks such as Eurocities have provided vital support throughout the conflict.

As Russia’s war in Ukraine continues into its third year, the support of Europe’s cities for the Ukrainian people remains steadfast. City-to-city cooperation has continued to evolve through long established twinnings and newly formed partnerships, while bonds between mayors and cooperation through networks such as Eurocities have provided vital support throughout the conflict.

In more than two years of Russian aggression, thousands of Ukrainians have lost their lives, families have been torn apart, and communities have been displaced, forced to flee their homes in search of safety and shelter.

Responding to the outbreak of the war, European cities opened their doors to millions of Ukrainian refugees, offering them essential support such as food, shelter, education, and employment opportunities. Emergency funding, aid and equipment was swiftly dispatched to assist their sister cities in Ukraine with vital supplies and medical assistance.

As the conflict has continued, cities are still playing a vital role in supporting Ukraine, helping migrants to integrate in urban areas and rebuild their lives. Cities are also taking part in initiatives to foster collaboration and aid in Ukraine’s recovery and stability.

In their responses to the 2024 Eurocities Pulse Mayors Survey, mayors frequently referenced the impacts of the Russian war in Ukraine.

And in February 2024, local authorities across Europe demonstrated their continued solidarity with the people of Ukraine by organising a series of symbolic public ceremonies and actions. These events also paid respect to the many people whose lives were lost in Kyiv’s Maidan Revolution in 2014, and the communities torn apart by Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

From public art, exhibitions and youth performances, to vigils and memorial services, the gatherings served as poignant reminders of the human cost of the conflict and made it clear that cities’ support will continue for as long as it is needed.

Continuing aid and integration of refugees

One of the crucial ways in which Europe’s cities have supported Ukraine is through humanitarian aid efforts.

As part of their twinning initiative with Kyiv, Leipzig sent five fire engines to Ukraine’s capital city in January of this year, thanks to the support of the German Federal Ministry and the Polish company MotoTruck.

The city of Bonn has twinned with the Ukrainian port city of Kherson, which suffered terrible flooding following the Russian destruction of the city’s dam. Supported by the aid organisation ‘Help – Hilfe zur Selbsthilfe,’ Bonn’s donation project is providing food, hygiene kits and drinking water to thousands of people, along with trucks, an ambulance and medical equipment for Kherson’s children’s hospital.

“As part of our solidarity partnership, we would like to support Kherson specifically with what is particularly needed and required there, and that is technical equipment,” said Katja Dörne, Mayor of Bonn.

In December 2023, the city of Turku sent two buses to the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, packed with aid supplies and winter football equipment, while the city of Ghent donated a large collection of laptops to Ukrainian refugees.

As part of its ongoing support for Ukraine, Eurocities also launched a crowdfunding initiative in February 2024 to address the urgent needs of cities in the Dnipropetrovsk region of Ukraine. Dnipropetrovsk has been one of the worst hit areas of Ukraine, with 56 medical facilities either partially or completely destroyed due to shelling.

The Eurocities crowdfunding initiative aimed to raise funds for three medical facilities in the region, with member cities and stakeholders invited to contribute. The German city of Frankfurt, for example, collected funds for the Kryvyi Professional Medical College.

European cities have also played a pivotal role in facilitating the integration of Ukrainian refugees in their communities, even though local budgets have been stretched. It is estimated that over eight million Ukrainians are now living as refugees in Europe, with many of them settling in urban communities.

Cities have implemented support services to help refugees access education, employment, healthcare, and housing. By offering opportunities for refugees to rebuild their lives and contribute to their new communities, local governments are not only providing essential support but also fostering a sense of belonging and solidarity.

“As President of Eurocities, I believe it is essential that cities in the rest of Europe continue supporting Ukraine by welcoming and helping refugees, by sending money or equipment to their cities in Ukraine,” said Burkhard Jung, Eurocities President and Mayor of Leipzig. “European cities stand with Ukraine.”

As President of Eurocities, I believe it is essential that cities in the rest of Europe continue supporting Ukraine by welcoming and helping refugees, by sending money or equipment to their cities in Ukraine.

– Burkhard Jung, Eurocities President and Mayor of Leipzig

The German city of Hanover has launched the InteGREAT app, which is providing important guidance and information to help Ukrainian refugees settle into local communities. The city’s training programme for intercultural teaching assistants is also helping Ukrainian children integrate in local schools.

Helsinki’s International House continues to welcome and integrate Ukrainian refugees, offering services such as counselling and jobs support, while the Lithuanian city of Vilnius has opened the ‘Centre for Ukrainian community,’ the first venue of its kind in Europe, where the Ukrainian community can hold cultural activities and receive support.

“We want to do everything we can to ensure that as many people as possible who have been forced to flee Ukraine can find opportunities in Helsinki,” says Juhana Vartiainen, Mayor of Helsinki.

In Riga, the City Council has established a Support Centre for Ukrainian Residents in the heart of the city. This unique one-stop agency offers a broad panel of services to refugees, from administrative to integration, and various areas of support from NGOs.

In Bilbao, one of the biggest milestones has been the involvement of the Ukrainian community in the Local Immigration Council of Bilbao City Council, a municipal council that supports the integration and participation of migrant populations. The council fosters solidarity and respect, while giving Ukrainians the opportunity to have their say on the formulation of public policies.

Meanwhile, in the Belgian city of Liege, the city’s Ukraine unit continues to be very active, moving from crisis management to a more comprehensive integration project for refugees.

In Lublin, two integration centres are operating, while a new accommodation space has recently been opened, while the Portuguese city of Guimaraes continues to work to welcome Ukrainian citizens, supporting efforts to provide accommodation and ensure integration.

And the Polish city of Rzeszow has launched its FENIKS International Integration Centre, a space for mutual integration and understanding.

Over time, our support has become much more versatile, and we have launched a set of integration services to enable Ukrainians to become an integral part of Latvian society, for as long as this support is needed.

– Linda Ozola, Deputy Mayor of Riga

Protecting the status of Ukrainian migrants

In September 2023, EU member states agreed to extend the Temporary Protection Directive for one more year, until March 2025. Activated in March 2022, the Directive supports the integration of Ukrainian nationals by providing them with immediate access to essential services and the labour market.

According to the Council of the European Union, more than 4.2 million people from Ukraine benefited from the mechanism up to November 2023. The Directive has undoubtedly had a hugely positive impact, but local authorities are concerned about what will happen when it runs out and how this will affect Ukrainians living in their cities.

In response, Eurocities and its members is calling for the EU and national governments to decide on the next steps required to ensure the residency and protection status of Ukrainian migrants.

Local governments are also demanding that the EU’s next funding period, running until 2027, provides additional, accessible funding to support the integration of Ukrainian refugees in urban communities.

Empowering Ukraine’s urban communities

In the medium to long term, the interactions between city authorities and connections between mayors will be essential in setting the course for reconstruction efforts in Ukraine.

This is why Europe’s cities have continued to call for better local involvement in the EU’s €50 billion Ukraine Facility, a four-year package of financial and technical support for Ukraine.

During 2023, Eurocities and its members called for the facility to provide cities and municipalities with the financial autonomy, resources and technical assistance they need to rebuild sustainable, green infrastructure for local people.

Finally launched by the European Commission in February 2024, the Ukraine Facility will help Ukraine in its recovery, reconstruction and modernisation efforts. As the new support mechanism’s technical support and funding are mobilised, Eurocities will continue to call on the EU to empower local authorities to implement sustainable, green recovery plans and actions.

Vitali Klitschko, the Mayor of Kyiv, stated: “Local governments and our people have a very important role in supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression.

“But we are also focused on reconstruction because Russia destroyed many of our cities and regions. We are preparing a lot of projects for the future recovery of Ukraine and to be part of the European family.”

Cities all over Ukraine have suffered immense losses due to the impact of the Russian war, now entering its third year. As a host city, Leipzig, like many others, has welcomed refugees and supported our sister cities in Ukraine. But the pain continues.

– Burkhard Jung, President of Eurocities and Mayor of Leipzig

Sustainable rebuilding of Ukraine’s cities

Recognising cities’ central role in Ukraine’s recovery, Eurocities set up a pilot project for the sustainable rebuilding of Ukrainian cities in 2023, involving 34 Eurocities member cities and 10 Ukrainian cities.

The project has been run in close collaboration with the Association of Ukrainian Cities with the aim to understand the needs of Ukrainian cities. It has mobilised peer learning and capacity building to promote a sustainable reconstruction of cities in Ukraine, matching urban expertise with local needs in Ukraine.

The project has been inspired by the objectives and policies of the European Green Deal, the values of the New European Bauhaus, and the guiding principles of the Ukraine Facility, gathering solutions that promote a decentralised, sustainable and climate-resilient reconstruction.

Throughout 2023, participating cities came together for a series of online workshops and practical exercises to further a vision of sustainable, green urban development and identify relevant practices, tools and methodologies to assist Ukrainian cities in their reconstruction planning.

As a result of the project, Eurocities launched a new toolkit in May 2024, which is available in both English and Ukrainian. The toolkit presents Ukrainian cities with a range of practices from other European cities that can inspire the development of comprehensive recovery and development strategies, boost funding opportunities and further develop partnerships between cities and other stakeholders.

The toolkit is structured along five main entry points that are critical for sustainable rebuilding: integrated urban planning, clean energy and energy efficiency, disaster risk reduction and resilience building, circularity, and sustainable urban mobility.

“When we begin our strategy for reconstructing and building resilience, we must definitely also focus on climate issues and implementing sustainable infrastructure that benefits our people,” said Serhii Morhunov, Mayor of the Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia.

We stand with the people of Ukraine in the fight for freedom and dignity and democracy, which are our common European values.

– Dario Nardella, Mayor of Florence

Preparing for the aftermath of war

Building on the results of the pilot project, in March 2024 Eurocities launched the second phase of the project, which will focus on five Ukrainian cities, Dnipro, Kryvyi Rih, Pavlohrad, Pokrovsk and Zaporizhzhia, supporting them to prepare their municipal recovery plans, development strategies and investment proposals.

The project will mobilise urban expertise to update and improve local recovery and development plans while contributing to enhancing the strategic capacity of Ukrainian cities to drive local recovery initiatives. It will also contribute to designing investment proposals critical to attracting donor funding to support a sustainable recovery.

The project results will support the EU’s wider reconstruction efforts, providing input into ongoing and upcoming initiatives to support Ukraine at EU and international level.

SUN4Ukraine: Climate neutrality for recovery

In addition to this work, Eurocities is also leading the new Horizon Europe-funded project SUN4Ukraine project which will support ten Ukrainian cities to develop climate neutrality plans that will aid with their reconstruction and partner them with EU Mission Cities who are striving to achieve climate neutrality by 2030.

The four-year SUN4Ukraine project will provide direct technical guidance to help the cities develop their plans, with a focus on greenhouse gas emissions data and projects, emissions reduction pathways and project assistance.

This will be accompanied by expert support on citizen and stakeholder engagement, governance and finance. Cities will take part in capacity building and twinning programmes with the EU Mission Cities, including study visits.