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CEMR stands behind Ukraine and calls for the release of captured mayors

On the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the Russian aggression in Ukraine, the Council of European Cities and Regions (CEMR) demands the release of five abducted Ukrainian mayors. 

In a statement released by CEMR’s Secretariat, the CEMR president Gunn Marit Helgesen strongly condemns the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty: “One year after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, let me reiterate my steadfast support for our Ukrainian peers, especially for the detained local leaders.” 

Gunn Marit Helgesen reminds us of the abduction of Ukrainian local government representatives: “Over the past year, 35 Ukrainian mayors have been abducted and five are still being held by Russian forces. Targeting local elected representatives is an attack on the very foundations of our Europe, a Europe rooted in respect for the rule of law and freedom. There can be no free Europe without a free Ukraine”.

In light of the anniversary, CEMR also released a declaration (ENFRUA) reiterating its full support of Ukraine and its people. The organisation denounces the violence targeting innocent civilians, but also the local and regional elected representatives that are being held captive: “We reaffirm our full commitment to supporting the Ukrainian people and local and regional elected representatives in their path to victory and reconstruction.” CEMR therefore joins the international community that firmly supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and calls upon the Russian Federation to stop its illegal war.

Financial and humanitarian help

In the last year, CEMR and other partner organisations have continuously shown their support for Ukraine. To do so, they have taken many actions. Amongst them is the mobilisation of humanitarian aid. One of the partner organisations, the Association of Towns and Communities of Slovakia (ZMOS) allocated €50,000 in humanitarian aid. ZMOS also sent thousands of packages of various medical supplies, such as bandages, plasters, gauze compresses, and disinfectants, as well as thousands of packages of personal hygiene kits and emergency sleeping bags.

Other members of CEMR, municipalities and regions, Non-Governmental Organisations, and citizens have offered their financial help, too. One of the smallest municipalities in Estonia, the municipality of Tõrva, transferred €10,000 from its local budget and collected more than €2,000 euros from citizens to support their twin city in Ukraine – Baranivka. 

Welcoming refugees

The municipalities also helped by taking in refugees from war-torn Ukraine. CEMR and European municipalities and regions have coordinated their efforts to assist them as effectively as possible. Providing housing, opening schools to Ukrainian children, navigating the administrative processes and teaching the refugees new languages proved to be essential. 

The city of Tbilisi made public transport free for all Ukrainian citizens, along with all municipal services and cultural, sports and educational centres. In addition, the municipality organised a blood donation campaign. 

Helpful initiatives and partnerships 

Showing support by maintaining existing partnerships and creating new ones was another step taken by some European municipalities. Within the Bridges of Trust initiative, the district municipality of Ukmergė in Lithuania signed a partnership agreement with the Ukrainian Korosten municipality to strengthen their relationship.

The mayor of Korosten Volodymyr Moskalenko praised the partnership: “Each of our conversations comes down to the question ‘How can we help you?’” According to him, “the city has found true friends”. 

What about the future? 

Because the Russian attack has left many Ukrainian cities in ruins, reconstruction is going to be key in the coming years. Some efforts are already underway, but as most of them are organised on a regional level, CEMR is asking its members for support and further help for Ukraine. 

By fully supporting CEMR’s flagship partnership initiative with Ukrainian municipalities that are currently implemented with the support of the U-Lead with Europe programme, other local associations can help with the rebuilding process in Ukraine and further develop international cooperation at the municipal level.