Kateryna Bandura for New Pathway – Ukrainian News.
Amid the indiscriminate bombing of civilians and civilian infrastructure, Ukrainian cities at the center of Russia’s war against Ukraine urge the West to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine. The shortage of supplies, interruptions of utilities and public services and constant attacks on humanitarian corridors are putting these communities under threat of humanitarian catastrophe.
“From the first day of the attack, Ukraine has sustained tragic consequences, including the destruction of municipal infrastructure, residential buildings, incredible humanitarian difficulties, and most importantly, the casualties among the civilians, including adults and children, as victims,” said Maksym Panchenko, journalist and analyst at Internews Ukraine on 9 March 2022 during an online conference organized by the Ministry for Communities and Territorial Development of Ukraine with the support of Internews Ukraine. “Today, we have assembled this conference in order to share with the media of the world the truth about what is going on on the ground in the Ukrainian cities.”
The key topic of the event was the challenges Ukrainian communities are facing amid the Russian attack on Ukraine. The conference was organized by Internews Ukraine with the support of the Ministry for Communities and Territorial Development of Ukraine.
The speakers provided international media with first-hand accounts of the Russian bombardment of Ukrainian cities, Russian war crimes, and violations of humanitarian law. They also emphasized the essential need to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine, as the only way to stop the inhumane bombing of Ukrainian cities which has already caused deaths of civilians.
Minister for Communities and Territories Development Oleksiy Chernyshov said that Ukrainian cities have been facing humanitarian problems and casualties among the civilian population since the first day of the war.
“We will need to rebuild our cities, we will need to rebuild the infrastructure. And I’m certain we shall do it very soon. But for that to happen, we need to overcome the challenge still looming over us,” Chernyshov said.
According to him, none of the Ukrainian mayors have left their cities, and they have been working since the first day of the war to ensure that their cities function and that their people are as protected as possible. However, establishing a no-fly zone over Ukrainian territory remains the most important issue, he said.
Below is an overview of the situation from the attending mayors.
According to Deputy Mayor Serhiy Orlov, city services such as sewage, electricity, and central heating have been completely cut off by the Russians.
“This is a real war crime. Putin wants to get the city regardless of the casualties and damage”, he said. “The city is being brought back to the medieval times by the Russians. People can cook only by fire, and mothers and newborn children are not getting food. This is a genocide against Ukrainians.”
Russia also deliberately bombarded and mined humanitarian corridors from Mariupol, making it impossible for civilians to either flee the city or receive supplies. Immediately after the press conference, the Russian army bombed a maternity hospital and a children’s hospital in Mariupol. The City Council reports that as of the morning of March 10, 17 people (children, women, doctors) had been injured in the bombing, while three had been killed, including one child.
Kharkiv is experiencing constant and deliberate destruction of critical infrastructure (heating stations, water supplies, etc). According to Mayor Ihor Terekhov, 600 residential buildings have been rendered uninhabitable by the constant Russian bombardment, forcing their residents to be evacuated. Mayor Terekhov explained that city service workers are also on the frontlines as they perform their duties maintaining the city’s communications amid constant shelling and bombing.
“This is a difficult time for us, but we are doing our best to keep the city functioning as normally as possible under wartime conditions,” Terekhov said.
The city is negotiating humanitarian aid from other cities in Ukraine and sister cities abroad, as well as assisting other cities in the Kharkiv region with evacuation. It is currently possible to leave Kharkiv by car or train, but both options are very risky while the bombardment continues.
“Russian fighter aircraft are flying very low, and you don’t know if their bombs will hit you or somewhere nearby. People who have survived this experience would only be in favor of a no-fly zone,” Mr. Terekhov added.
Merefa, a 20 thousand population community close to Kharkiv, is experiencing similar problems. According to Mayor Veniamin Sitov, as a result of nighttime aerial bombardment, the city lost a school, a kindergarten, and a local community center.
“We are receiving humanitarian help from other cities”, he says. “But at the same time, shops are only accepting cash, which is especially a problem for pensioners.”
Another affected city in the northeast of Ukraine is Sumy, which has already experienced four aerial bombings of residential buildings within the last week after the Russian military initially tried to capture the city with an armored assault. According to Mayor Oleksandr Lysenko, the city is facing a shortage of food and medicine, but managed to conduct one evacuation. A second was sabotaged by the Russian army.
He added, “We need to establish an external supply of aid. There are practically no stocks left in the city.”
According to him, it is difficult to do this now because the Russians are constantly shelling not only residential areas, but also individuals.
Trostyanets, Sumy region
At the same time, the city of Trostyanets in Sumy region is also running out of supplies of food and medication, while its social infrastructure is being completely destroyed. Russian soldiers are looting the city, stealing not only food but also all vehicles they can get their hands on, as well as occupying administrative and private buildings.
Mayor Yuriy Bova said that the Russians are not even letting residents access the cemetery: “For five days already, we haven’t been able to bury our dead! Russians built a checkpoint in front of the cemetery and shot at cars in funeral processions.”
Unlike the other cities featured in the conference, Zhytomyr, which is located west of the capital city of Kyiv, has not yet been invaded by Russian ground forces. Instead, it has been hit several times by bombs and missiles, which destroyed a school and a dormitory, as well as damaging a hospital and a kindergarten and hitting a fuel terminal.
Mayor Serhiy Sukhomlyn said that locals “have turned the city into a fortress” amid fears that the Russian army would attack. However, while they have experienced airstrikes, the city is still managing to properly run its public transport and serve as a transfer point for refugees from the eastern regions on their way to the west of Ukraine.
“We will never, ever surrender or do anything remotely similar,” said Maksym Panchenko.
This article is written under the Local Journalism Initiative agreement