The Ukraine war story you haven’t heard about  

17 February 2023

Hope is alive beyond the battlefields in Ukraine, the smashed buildings, the cramped bomb shelters.  

Amid ruins and despair, European cities are holding the candle of solidarity and keeping its flame alive. 

As Russia’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine grinds on into a second year, Eurocities’ municipalities continue to welcome refugees, send aid, and plan Ukraine’s sustainable reconstruction.

Offering direct relief to people is cities’ top priority – because beside weapons and combat planes, war is about humans losing their loved ones, surgeons operating without electricity, refugees leaving their shattered past behind to find an uncertain future across the border.  

Since the first days of the Russian invasion, Eurocities rallied to provide assistance to its four Ukrainian members (Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv and Odessa) and countless other municipalities in the war-torn country.

Eurocities members have been acting as hubs for humanitarian aid, delivering truckloads of supplies including food, hospital beds, clothes, heating and medical equipment. With the war still raging on, cities’ show of solidarity will continue unabated for as long as needed. 

Here’s a recap of lesser-known stories and initiatives. 

People gathered in Seville attend the CitiesWithUkraine demonstration_March 2022
In Seville, Mayor Antonio Muñoz spoke to a crowd

Let there be light 

How do 10 million people live without electricity? Last autumn, months of Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure damaged or destroyed over 30% of Ukraine’s power stations, plunging the country into darkness. The prospect of entire cities and villages operating in pitch black and without heat seemed unimaginable to the rest of Europe.  

Heeding Ukrainian authorities’ call for help, on 23 November Dario Nardella, President of Eurocities, and Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament, jointly launched the Generators of Hope campaign. The initiative ensured that essential equipment could continue to operate Ukraine, in places like hospitals, schools, water facilities and relief centres.  

Roberta METSOLA, EP President meets with Dario NARDELLA, President of Eurocities
Roberta Metsola and Dario Nardella on the launch of the Generators of Hope campaign.

Since the end of last year, cities has delivered over 300 generators to power life-saving medical machines, incubators in neonatal units and providing electricity to the local population.

Cities like Turku, Leipzig, Florence, Constanta, Riga, Freiburg, Rome, Leipzig, Ghent, Arezzo and Hannover are among those that contributed to this effort.

Local governments and the EU Civil Protection continue to team up, to collect donations and transport generators them to the war-torn country.  

Rebuilding the future 

On 19 August, mayors from European cities travelled to Kyiv to sign a political agreement to support the sustainable rebuilding in Ukraine. The accord outlined plans to match rebuilding needs in the country with capabilities of other European municipalities.  

European mayors during their meeting with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy in Kyiv
European mayors during their meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv

The delegation included leaders from Florence, Athens, Helsinki, Lyon, Marseille, Oslo, Riga, Tirana, Kyiv, as well as the Eurocities Secretary General. In Kyiv, they personally introduced the plan to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and to Kyiv Mayor, Vitali Klitschko.  

Although the Russia-Ukraine conflict shows no signs of abating, signatories agreed that it’s never too early to lay the foundations of a better future. 

The move provided inspiration for a post-conflict era in Ukraine that would be as climate friendly as in other cities on the continent.

As part of that pledge, a new Eurocities pilot project kicked off on 7 February 2023: Thanks to the  ’Sustainable rebuilding of Ukrainian Cities,  municipalities will build a community of practice to help their Ukrainian counterparts with sustainable reconstruction efforts, matching urban expertise with local needs.  

The initiative will define a reconstruction model closely mirroring the objectives of the European Green Deal and the principles of the New European Bauhaus. 

Among other actions, ‘Sustainable rebuilding of Ukrainian Cities’ will mobilise expertise through city-to-city peer-learning and capacity building as well as share methodologies to assist local governments in Ukraine for their sustainable future.   

Ukrainian refugees arriving in the Polish city of Rzeszow
Ukrainian refugees arriving in the Polish city of Rzeszow.© Grzegorz Bukala / UM Rzeszow

Refugees welcome

According to recent UN estimates, since February last year some eight million Ukrainians have crossed national borders and fled to other European countries.

From Warsaw to Hanover, from Helsinki to Timisoara, Eurocities members have been quick to respond: they first put in place reception centres to provide refugees with accommodation and basic provisions, before gradually integrating them into the local social, educational and work structure.

New EU regulation swiftly approved last spring helped cities in this effort. The EU Temporary Protection Directive granted temporary protection to Ukrainians for up to three years. Thanks to it, refugees received a residence permit that gave them access to education and the labour market.   

Over the following months, city-to-city cooperation among Eurocities members helped to provide essential services and formulate policies that best addressed refugees’ needs.

Dario Nardella, Mayor of Florence, waves a large peace flag on the stage in front of the assembled crowd in Piazza Santa Croce for the #CitiesWithUkraine
Dario Nardella, Mayor of Florence and President of Eurocities during the 12 March 2022 gathering in support of Ukraine.

Solidarity in action

On 12 March last year, thousands of people took to cities’ public squares in a show of solidary with Ukraine. More than 150 cities across Europe participated in the #CitiesWithUkraine initiative launched by Eurocities.

Local leaders and demonstrators gathered to call for peace in Ukraine and to oppose Russia’s assault on democracy and freedom. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy strengthened those messages in a live address to a 35,000-strong crowd in Florence.  

In a parallel initiative, blue and yellow lights – the colours of the Ukrainian flag – beamed on city landmarks across Europe. Along those symbolic actions, municipalities offered emergency assistance and relief to people in Ukraine in countless ways: from setting up donation campaigns to delivering relief goods like food, clothes, ambulances, and other vital medical supplies. 

To learn more about a year of Eurocities’ initiatives on Ukraine, click here.


Daniela Berretta Eurocities Writer