Last week, Dario Nardella, President of Eurocities and Mayor of Florence, led a delegation of eight European mayors to Ukraine, where they met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Vitali Klitschko, Mayor of Kyiv, on a diplomatic mission. Nardella signed a Memorandum of Understanding on behalf of Eurocities, to match the rebuilding needs of Ukrainian cities with other European cities. More about that here.
Following this visit, we caught up with the mayor for some further insight.
Mayor Nardella, can you please tell us a little more about this visit and why it was important?
Principally, I think we made an important and historical step in city diplomacy. Thanks to this agreement, we have the opportunity to engage more than 200 European cities to support in a concrete way many Ukrainian cities badly damaged or destroyed by the illegal Russian attack.
And, thanks to this initiative, we’re looking at a real new tool that not only positions Eurocities as a real stakeholder in the European-Ukraine relations, but that also represents a huge boost to the power of city diplomacy. It could well become the largest city-to-city collaboration plan, or recovery plan that we never yet launched in the history of Europe.
Our ambition is that different cities will be involved in the way that best suits them, and we will together mobilise to sustainably rebuild different elements of civic life, such as schools and hospitals, and act as matchmakers ourselves to help source appropriate funding.
What did President Zelenskyy say when you met about the importance of such local level action?
First of all, we were very touched by the consideration that President Zelenskyy gave to our group of European mayors. We well understood that he was very proud and happy to host us, also because he considers the support of European cities to be very important in this crucial time for Ukraine when the Russian military continues to progress day by day. And for our part, of course, we were very happy to be there, and to take the first steps in this collaboration, to start setting down via this agreement, exactly how such a cooperation can happen.
And then we also discussed several important points, such as the political role of European cities to help keep the level of public attention high, and to work with our national governments, so that Ukraine continues to receive the support needed, also on the international level.
Secondly, there is, of course, the concrete support that European cities can give to their Ukrainian counterparts. President Zelenskyy showed us his faster recovery plan, where they have already started mapping in a very detailed way, right down to the city level, all the damage that has occurred across their territory. So far, I believe, they have evidence for 84,000 buildings damaged or totally destroyed, including schools, hospitals and many aspects of public infrastructure, such as transport links, libraries etc. And it’s on many of these things that we, as European cities, would be able to offer our support.
Take a look here at the signed Memorandum of Understanding, which shares, in more detail, the aspirations of Eurocities for a sustainable rebuilding in Ukraine, with transparency and inclusivity at its core.
Thirdly, he asked for full support from us mayors, also for public communication, because as political leaders closest to European citizens and local communities, we can help ensure that truthful messages about the war are shared with people in our cities, about the issues and difficulties that Ukrainian people and Ukrainian institutions are facing.
Another point that we discussed with President Zelenskyy is the roles that European mayors through Eurocities could have to push the European institutions to accelerate the process of having Ukraine in the European Union.
We know how complex a task it is for the external countries to join the European Union, but we will also appraise the European institutions of the developments in our own project, and hopefully help accelerate Ukraine’s EU ascension process.
Currently, how do you think this plan will work in practice?
This is a very tough one, because it is the first time that we, as Eurocities, are engaging in such a project, which could be very complex.
The first step, to my mind, is to understand the current state of need for the Ukrainian cities, and then to probably select some cities that European mayors, and city administrations, would be able to support.
And obviously we must start from a city not currently occupied by the Russians – we also will still have to take a bit more time before we can really start. But, some of the cities that we visited, such as Irpin or Bucha, could be good sites to start such a rebuilding project. Both places suffered a lot of damage by the Russian occupation forces, but now they are free and they’re already thinking to the future.
The second step is a selection of projects. I mean the selection of the buildings and structures from the database that the Ukrainian authorities are updating week by week.
And considering the economic effort needed for the project we will have to keep contact with the local, regional, and national authorities through the Ukrainian President’s Office and our sister organisation, the Association of Ukrainian Cities. That will be extremely necessary to implement the projects and to follow the progress of various projects.
Given the difficulty of contributing financially, we are also thinking of parallel initiatives, such as involving some European architects, many of whom we are already in touch with from projects in our own cities.
In this way, we can experiment with new collaborations to help develop an innovative and sustainable rebuilding plan for the Ukrainian cities.
Do you already have some contacts with Ukrainian cities and Ukrainian mayors?
Yes, we do. In Eurocities we already have four Ukrainian cities who have been members since before the war. So, these channels were already quite developed. In addition, many of our member cities are twinned with different cities in Ukraine, so this already gives us a strong base to start from.
We will start from this base, from this contact that our member cities have already had with Ukrainian cities, and then we will also launch new collaborative partnerships especially for this city-to-city recovery project.
What do you expect from other cities in the Eurocities network?
I’m very positive and optimistic about the engagement of our colleagues. And, we already had a demonstration of this enthusiasm with this mission to Ukraine, where I travelled together with the mayors from Athens, Helsinki, Lyon, Marseille, Oslo, Riga, and Tirana. And we already received many messages from other colleagues who are ready to start work for this project.
I believe that we can be ambitious and reach 200 European cities. That’s not easy, but with strong commitment we will try to reach as many cities as possible in the next few months.