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Ukraine's cities and regions stepping up search for international partnerships  

​Reform and reconstruction cannot be divided, national government minister tells European partners at meeting focused on identifying needs of cities and regions as they look towards recovery and reconstruction phase.

Leading regional and local politicians from Ukraine told the European Alliance of Cities and Regions for the Reconstruction of Ukraine on 6 July that they are increasingly able to focus on recovery and reconstruction efforts rather than emergency humanitarian needs, and identified a range of areas – from de-mining to urban re-development and economic cooperation – where they are seeking international partners.

The meeting was intended to bring together partners in the Alliance – leaders of territorial associations, local-government representatives, and institutional partners – to identify strategic joint priorities and coordinate their actions over the next year. It followed two weeks after the Ukraine Recovery Conference in London, the largest international gathering of its kind this year, at which the European Commission presented a proposal for a €50 billion package of grants and loans to support Ukraine's reconstruction through to 2027, conditioning the plan on local and regional governments being fully involved.

Decentralisation and EU-related reforms were central topics at the meeting. The President of the European Committee of the Regions and host of the meeting, Vasco Alves Cordeiro, noted that the European Commission is insisting that "the preparation and implementation of Ukraine's plan for these funds should be done in consultation with regional, local, urban and other public authorities". Similarly, Bernd Vöhringer, President of the Congress of Europe's Chamber of Local Authorities, drew attention to the Reykjavik Principles of Democracy adopted in May 2023 by national leaders from the Council of Europe's member states. The principles emphasise the joint responsibility of national, local, and regional authorities in strengthening democracy and good governance, and in enabling democratic participation.

Reconstruction and reform "cannot be divided", said Oleksandra Azarkhina, Ukraine's Deputy Minister for Communities, Territories and Infrastructure Development, in a speech that set out how central government is coordinating actions and collecting requests and ideas from sub-national governments, the business community and civil society through an online platform, Dream. Most projects in 2022 were "linked to survival", such as providing housing and re-building bridges, but Ukraine is now in a position to "prioritise within the priorities" identified through the Dream platform and through the Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment (RDNA2) undertaken by the government in collaboration with the European Commission, World Bank and United Nations.

The scale of the problems was evident in contributions by every Ukrainian speaker, including by the mayor of Mariupol, whose city has been destroyed and occupied by Russia, and the chairman of the Chamber of Regions of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, who said that some rural communities and their economies have been so destroyed that their long-term viability is questionable.

The message that every Ukrainian region has come under attack was reinforced by the news, just hours earlier, that Russia had fired missiles into residential buildings in Lviv, killing six. Lviv lies 1,000 kilometres or more from the points of contact between Russian and Ukrainian troops. President Cordeiro also drew attention to the direct personal impacts of the war, citing a recent survey by the Kyiv Mohyla Institute of Sociology that found that 78% of Ukrainians have a relative or friend who has been injured or killed during the war.

Ukrainian contributors spoke about the reconstruction and reform processes going hand in hand, while highlighting the international partnerships that they have or are seeking.

Ivan Slobodianyk, chairman of the All-Ukrainian Association of Communities, said that "if at the beginning of cooperation we talked about the provision of humanitarian assistance, then the emphasis is shifting towards close cooperation regarding economic recovery and reconstruction. This is especially important for Ukrainian rural areas in the course of the European integration process."

Sergii Chernov, president of the Ukrainian Association of District and Regional Councils, said that an immediate priority for his association is its work with the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Association to enable the transfer of grain. Other priorities include de-mining – for which the association is looking for partners from the EU – and establishing legislation to ease cross-border cooperation, as well as helping local authorities bring their standards up to EU levels to fulfil what he described as their key role, "to build Ukraine back better".

Viktor Mykyta from the Chamber of Regions of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities said that Ukraine needs to build its economic infrastructure and that international support via something like the post-World War Two 'Marshall Plan' should start with the economy. Ukraine's regional authorities "have created conditions to help companies continue their work" and are hosting many businesses that have re-located. They are also negotiating with central government on "legislative initiatives" to help local economies and are "very interested" in establishing partnerships with European regions and municipalities.

A particularly close developing partnership is in the city of Mykolaiv, which, according to Mayor Oleksandr Sienkevych, was the target of four to 38 Russian missiles every day for 229 consecutive days. Mayor Sienkevych said that Denmark has "adopted" the city and the region of Mykolaiv and that the cooperation with Denmark is proving "very fruitful". Restoring water supplies and infrastructure is a particular immediate challenge. He also highlighted the city's work with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), which has been helping architects, engineers and other experts to draw up a masterplan for the city of Mykolaiv (as well as Kharkiv). "Life is coming back to the city," he said.

The southern port city of Mariupol, once an industrial centre, faces an even greater challenge. It is now under Russian occupation, 50% of its buildings have been destroyed and 90% have been damaged, while 22,000 inhabitants have been killed – a figure that is twice as high as the number killed in World War Two. However, Mariupol's mayor-in-exile, Vadym Boychenko, emphasised that plans for the city's post-occupation reconstruction are developing in an inclusive way, drawing on ideas from the 300,000 inhabitants who have fled. Mariupol's city administration has established I'Mariupol centres in 22 municipalities that are hosting people displaced from the city, and it has solicited ideas and feedback for 154 projects using the network.

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