It's been 3 months of the full-scale war in Ukraine. The Armed Forces of Ukraine and our other heroes gradually liberate our cities and villages from the russian occupiers. But the devastation left by the russians is terrible.
For example, in Chuhuiv, Kharkiv oblast, two bridges, three apartment buildings and 15 private houses are completely destroyed, and 177 houses are partially damaged. This was recently reported by Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the Presidential Office.
The city has already changed forever, and even after full restoration it will no longer be what it once was (but that does not mean it will not be better 🙂). Roman Lykhachov, regional coordinator of the Transparent Cities program, shares his experience.
The city itself has not been under occupation for a single day. Chuhuiv is an ancient Cossack city which has a good location on the high ground, so the enemy did not manage to seize it during all the wars. By the way, the photo of a destroyed house in Chuhuiv spread around the world, and a portrait of a wounded teacher from Chuhuiv was sold for USD 100,000.
The war caught Chuhuiv on the morning of February 24th. Chuhuiv district borders with russia, and columns of armored vehicles and tanks immediately advanced from different directions. The bombing of bridges was able to stop the advance of the enemy, and part of the district was under occupation since the first day of the war. The city has the largest concentration of military units, it was here that the 92nd Brigade and the Aviation Brigade, other units, were deployed before the war, so the explosions began immediately, in the morning.
Activities of local authorities in war conditions
Of course, at first, not everyone knew what to do, as well as in other parts of the country. However, later, the local authorities established the city's defense together with the military, the territorial defense, and volunteers. They addressed the issue of its life support and protection of the population (in particular, through the arrangement of bomb shelters), as well as began cooperation with volunteers.
The bureaucracy is gone — any issue is now being resolved quickly. The war has also changed officials: the enemy is the same for everyone one and there can be no division, except for the division of problems to solve.
The format of the city council has also changed, it has become more accessible. Due to the martial law, it is difficult to pay an official visit to the officials, but more often you can find the authorities in the street, in bomb shelters, etc. In the conditions of war, sessions began to be held online; MPs who are at the front also participate in them.
Since the beginning of the war, all the usual information space of the authorities collapsed, it was later restored (in particular, on social networks), and now citizens know about all the news in the city. One of the most operational sources is the Facebook community, founded by volunteers of the Chuhuiv Human Rights Group.
By the way, many officials left on the first day of the war for another country and for the west of Ukraine and have not returned yet. I cannot “judge” them as people, but as officials they failed, since both in peacetime and in wartime they are responsible for the lives of people. Those officials who stayed are considered real heroes.
People in the city and their support
Many townspeople decided to stay in the city. And those who left began to return — we can see this by the number of citizens in the streets and the increase in the number of visitors to the Chuhuiv volunteer headquarters. Many people moved to Chuhuiv from the occupied territories. They come to us and say — let's do something. That is, people do not just say “do this or that,” but come with specific offers of assistance.
The issue of evacuation was taken over by volunteers to a greater extent. One day, we were able to evacuate almost 500 people. The number of those who wanted to go increased depending on the intensity of the shelling in the city. On social networks, our team helped people find who would take them, created safe ways, and dealt with settlement.
In the first months, there were major problems with medicines, food. Now both products and medicines have appeared in stores, not all, of course, and prices are very high, they have increased 3-4 times. Most townspeople have been out of work since 24 February, and unemployment has become a major factor in massive appeals for assistance.
The issue of food supply for the population is now critical, as the lack of jobs and higher prices increase the flow of customers to our humanitarian hub, and we cannot resolve this on our own, without the help of the international community. And people having no money to purchase hygiene products can lead to epidemics, and this is a real threat.
Critical infrastructure facilities are operational; however, damage occurs periodically due to artillery shelling. There are not many municipal workers in Chuhuiv, however, they work at the same level as our military heroes, constantly ensuring a normal life of residents.
I have been doing this since 2014, for me and my team, that was when the war started. We restored the work of the Chuhuiv volunteer headquarters in a few days — we already knew how to quickly organize, had premises, a team of volunteers. So, all those who did not go to the army became volunteers, and today the team consists of more than 50 initiative people.
Now, the Chuhuiv volunteer headquarters receives at least 200 visitors every day, but we also have pick-up points in different localities and unite many volunteer groups, up to 500 families per day receive our assistance. We also have a system of volunteer case management — this is when we undertake the support of lonely people, whom our volunteers visit from time to time and provide them with assistance. For example, our volunteers deliver groceries to a man with a disability who hasn't left the house since February 24.
The headquarters works with all categories, but it does not always make information about assistance for the military public. We find bulletproof vests and walkies, and whatever it takes to bring the victory closer. And providing for the civilian population is the key to a reliable rear for the army. We know the “guerrilla paths” to deliver humanitarian aid to the occupied territories of the Chuhuiv district, so even in these settlements people know about the work of the Chuhuiv volunteer headquarters and see that we care for them.
Establishing assistance supply channels was very difficult at first. Many did not want to go to Chuhuiv, for some it was a real miracle that the city stood and did not surrender. I remember how pleased I was with the first cargo that came from Kropyvnytskyi from Transparency International Ukraine and the Central Ukrainian Volunteer Organization — medicines, food, hygiene products. Then we established a supply.
It's hard not to be able to help everyone who needs your help — you don't always have enough resources or opportunities. For example, the lack of fuel is now a problem, so our volunteers are delivering help on foot and by bicycle, but this slows down the process. We also work with settlements that the Armed Forces free from enemies — there you see a real hunger, lack of hygiene and medicine. We understand that now we need to prepare for a long distance because the war will not end quickly, and we need to work for victory.
Unfortunately, there are still bureaucratic obstacles to volunteering. Many legislative changes for volunteer work have not been adopted, for example, regarding the supply of humanitarian assistance from abroad. There is still a lot of bureaucracy in the procurement from the accounts of a CSO.
Life of the city has to be restored. And these are not only humanitarian issues, but also the restoration of jobs and the municipal sphere, a large layer of psychological work, etc. There is a lot of work here for experienced international experts, so Chuhuiv awaits everyone willing to help!