Cities build bridges for Ukrainian refugees

28 February 2022

With around 500,000 Ukrainians estimated to have left the country in recent days, cities all over Europe, and especially in nations that border Ukraine, are stepping up their preparations to put in place reception structures for people fleeing conflict.

In Ukraine, the city of Lviv, in the West, has already witnessed thousands of people passing through on their way to Poland; while Kharkiv, on the other side of the country, has experienced days of heavy fighting, and Kyiv, the capital, remains under threat.

Speaking this weekend at the Mediterranean Forum, Dario Nardella, President of Eurocities and Mayor of Florence, led the gathering of 60 mayors in a minute of silence. “Cities don’t build walls, they build bridges,” he then said, citing a letter he sent to the mayors of Kyiv and Moscow asking them to join the mayors’ call “for an immediate ceasefire and return to diplomacy”.

City actions

Warsaw is among cities preparing support for Ukrainians. “The images of the bombed Ukrainian cities and people who lost everything in an instant are terrifying. Many of them will flee this terrible war to Poland, to Warsaw. We are getting ready to provide them with specific, not only symbolic, help. So that they would have a roof over their heads, find a job, send their children to schools or kindergartens, and even get vaccinated,’ says Rafał Trzaskowski, the Mayor of Warsaw, in a statement on the city website.

Gdansk is offering free public transport to all Ukrainian refugees, and has a set up a donation and collection point for locals to drop off items that might be useful for them.

Riga City Council has made €500,000 available to support Ukrainian refugees and condemned the Russian actions.

Meanwhile, Vilnius is preparing a humanitarian aid plan to accommodate Ukrainian families, ensuring that 1,000 people could be comfortably lodged, with a further 1,900 places available for people who would meet more basic needs for living.

Elsewhere, Prague has made 3,000 beds available for the first expected wave of refugees, and is asking residents to let it be known if they would have further capacity to house refugees in their homes. In addition, the city has also set up information kiosks, and prepared a basic information leaflet for Ukrainians to help orient them once in the city. “I would like to call on all Praguers to show their kindness and tolerance, both to the Ukrainians themselves and to the Russian families who have lived in Prague for a long time and are distancing themselves from Putin’s totalitarian establishment,” says Mayor Zdeněk Hřib on the city website.

Other large cities, such as Madrid and Hamburg are making their existing reception centres available for Ukrainians, and Berlin is preparing to build a dedicated centre.

In France, Lille has already promised 250 spots available for Ukrainians, should it be needed and other cities, such as Lyon, Nancy and Saint-Etienne also say they are ready to welcome refugees.

Solidarity cities

“The coordination of reception activities, and especially ensuring those cities that will welcome the first arrivals have sufficient capacity, and knowledge of how to do so, demands a European response,” says Katharina Bamberg, Eurocities Policy Advisor on Migration.

Indeed, at European level, the agenda is moving fast. Later in the week, the EU’s Justice and Home Affairs Council looks likely to alleviate the bureaucracy of welcoming those fleeing the war and integration efforts by making it possible for Ukrainian citizens to receive temporary protection of up to three years.

Moreover, financial resources are also being made available via the EU Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative to support the reception of refugees from Ukraine.

“To make this work on the ground, however, it’s crucial that cities will also have access to these monies,” Bamberg points out.

Time and again, including through the Solidarity Cities initiative, municipalities have proven their mettle, stepping up in times of crisis, to act where needed to support people of all walks of life.

As more and more refugees continue to pour out of Ukraine, cities are being asked to do so once again, while many are also preparing other solidarity actions.

Top photo by Leonhard Niederwimmer


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer