Germany might not share a border with Ukraine like Poland or Romania, who are stepping up their efforts to welcome Ukrainian refugees, but that doesn’t mean German cities are not ready to express their solidarity, join forces and not only send assistance but also welcome their share of refugees.
In Hanover, civil society, city administration and local stakeholders are joining forces to welcome Ukrainian refugees. Frankfurt am Main, Dortmund and Cologne are also planning and executing actions in support of Ukraine.
Several actions, demonstrations and concerts took place and are planned for the future, as well as which, cities are stepping up to provide the best care possible for those in need and to welcome as many Ukrainian refugees as possible.
Hanover is an example welcoming refugees
“Hanover is the hub for the reception and the relocation of Ukrainian refugees in Germany,” explains Marie Bullet, Head of International Relations of the City of Hanover.
She adds that “special trains are arriving directly from Poland or other federal states to Hanover, where Ukrainian refugees are being taken care of in two exhibition halls rented by the Federal State of Lower Saxony and the Hanover region, and then eventually orientated to other cities and places in Germany. The city administration opened a desk directly in the exhibition halls to provide comprehensive information to people fleeing Ukraine.”
Hanover has created special structures within the administration to coordinate the activities and ensure a swift decision-making process. The cities has also brought a dedicated website online for Ukrainian people and for citizens and local stakeholders wishing to help.
Bullet also says that “the most pressing challenge is the accommodation of the refugees.” Therefore, the city “is exploring all options, like buildings from the fire department, emergency shelters or the rental of exhibition halls, hotels and youth hostels, residential homes and empty flats.”
Beyond the accommodation, the city administration is dealing with a vast array of issues like care and health care of Ukrainian people, resident status, integration and in particular the early integration of Ukrainian children in the local kindergartens and schools – in a similar fashion to what the Polish city of Lodz is doing, by trying to provide education for refugee children so they won’t fall behind.
All those efforts are being carried out by the city administration along with the civil society, NGOs, religious communities, the housing sector, private enterprises, universities and scientific institutions. A collective effort that has also promoted a peace rally and protests against the war.
On 13 March, says Bullet, “the city of Hanover organised a peace rally in front of the Aegidienkirche. Hundreds of people participated and called for peace in Ukraine. In the past days and weeks, several other peace rallies took place in the city, organised for instance by young people from the Fridays for Future movement or by schoolchildren.”
The Aegidienkirche is a church in Hanover that was destroyed in World War II and left in ruins as a war memorial. It couldn’t be more symbolic.
Hanover’s Fire and Rescue department delivered relief goods and diverse items to support the efforts of the Polish city of Poznan on 22 March. On their way back, they also brought around 100 refugees wishing to travel to Germany.
Cologne and Dortmund are working hard to support aid efforts
In Cologne, Mayor Henriette Reker notes that “everyone fleeing from war, is welcome in Cologne. It’s marvellous that the citizens of Cologne show overwhelming solidarity and support for Ukrainians arriving in Cologne and for those staying in their country.”
The German-Ukrainian Association ‘Blue-Yellow Cross’ has piled up several tons of donations in order to bring it to the Polish-Ukrainian border. As of 3 March, 2022, more than 200 refugees have arrived in Cologne. The Housing Department coordinates the accommodation of assigned and otherwise arriving refugees in Cologne.
Following initial demonstrations to show solidarity with Ukraine where Mayor Thomas Westphal also appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to “stop this war!”, the City of Dortmund has set up comprehensive measures of support for the Ukrainian people.
Dortmund has established four teams within the city administration to deal with refugees and humanitarian aid; the threat of possible cyber-attacks; energy supply; and the development of the financial markets.
The team on ‘Refugees and humanitarian aid’ will be in charge of providing support in Ukraine but also to people coming from Ukraine to Dortmund. The city administration works in close cooperation with the Dortmund welfare organisations (German Red Cross Dortmund, Caritas Dortmund, AWO Dortmund etc.).
The social welfare office has also set up an e-mail address (email@example.com) to facilitate initial contact with people affected by the war in Ukraine and an info point has also been set up in the Berswordt Hall since 2 March. More people come by every day.
As of 8 March, hundreds of refugees have arrived in Dortmund. Exact numbers are not available as many of them stay with relatives or friends. However, two-thirds of the 300 apartments for Ukrainian refugees have already been allocated and more will be made available.
Donations to help people in Ukraine are collected by various organisations e.g. the Westfalenhallen group, a subsidiary of the City of Dortmund, the association ‘Grenzenlose Wärme’ and the football club Borussia Dortmund.
Frankfurt promotes culture for peace
Frankfurt, in co-operation with the International Piano Forum Frankfurt, held a charity concert for peace and mutual international understanding in St. Paul’s Church on 13 March.
Ukrainian pianist Alexej Gorlatsch and Russian pianist Sergey Belyavsky performed together showcasing mutual international understanding in times of crisis and war. The benefits of the charity concert will be donated to aid Ukrainian refugees.
As to the EU-wide solidary action, Mayor of Frankfurt, Peter Feldmann said that “we decided to have the activity not in front of City Hall but rather in St. Paul’s Church because which building would be more fitting than St. Paul’s Church—the cradle of German democracy—as a symbol against war.”
Deputy Mayor Ina Hauck added that she was “delighted that the pianists Alexej Gorlatsch and Sergey Belyavsky joined this Europe-wide call for mutual international understanding after the concert. The two of them symbolize the understanding and wish of the peoples for peace of two nations which are currently at war.”
The city is also counting on the help of volunteers to welcome Ukrainian refugees through ‘Frankfurt Hilft,’ the coordination interface of the city of Frankfurt am Main for volunteer work in the area of refugees and people without a permanent address. It works closely with full-time and voluntary actors in accommodation, advice centres and initiatives.
As the crisis deepens and the war continues in Ukraine, more efforts from cities are expected all over Germany, with the help of civil society, as the influx of refugees increases and the need for humanitarian aid becomes even more pressing.