Response to Russian Violence

The Situation in Ukraine's Most Damaged Communities

Amid the indiscriminate bombing of civilians and civilian infrastructure, Ukrainian cities at the center of Russia’s war on Ukraine are urging the West to establish a no-fly zone over the territory of Ukraine. The shortage of supplies, interruptions of utilities and public services, and the constant attacks on humanitarian corridors are putting these communities under threat of humanitarian catastrophe.

These are the insights which local leaders from communities affected by the war shared with the international media on 9 March 2022 during an online conference organized by the Ministry for Communities and Territorial Development of Ukraine with the support of Internews Ukraine. The key topic of the event was the challenges Ukrainian communities are facing amid the Russian attack on Ukraine.


The speakers, including the Minister for Communities and Territories Development of Ukraine Oleksiy Chernyshov, Mayor of Zhytomyr Serhiy Sukhomlyn, Mayor of Kharkiv Ihor Terekhov, Mayor of Trostianets (Sumy region) Yuriy Bova, Deputy Mayor of Mariupol Serhiy Orlov, and Mayor of Merefa (Kharkiv region) Veniamin Sitov, provided international media with first-hand accounts of the Russian bombardment of Ukrainian cities, Russian war crimes, and violations of humanitarian law. They also emphasized the essential need to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine, as this is the only way to stop the inhuman bombing of Ukrainian cities which has already caused deaths of civilians.

Oleksiy Chernyshov, the Minister for Communities and Territories Development, underscored that "since the first day of the war, the Ukrainian cities were hit the most as they have been facing the humanitarian problems and casualties among the civilian population." According to him, none of the Ukrainian mayors have left their cities, and they have been working since the first day of the war to ensure that their cities function and that their people are as protected as possible, even though during bombardments, some city services are not working at full capacity. The Ukrainian government is working with communities and has planned a number of supportive measures to ensure that they continue functioning during the war. At the same time, according to Mr. Chernyshov, the most important issue for Ukraine is establishing a no-fly zone over Ukrainian territory because the bombing of civilian infrastructure and the civilian population in Ukraine by the Russian military should be considered a war crime and a violation of humanitarian laws, and the citizens of Ukraine must be protected.

According to Serhiy Orlov, the Deputy Mayor of Mariupol, which is now encircled by the Russian army in Donbas, city services such as sewage, electricity, and central heating have been completely cut off by Russians. “This is a real war crime. Putin wants to get the city regardless of the casualties and damage”, he says. “The city is being brought back to the medieval times by the Russians. People can cook only by fire, and mothers and newborn children are not getting food. This is a genocide against Ukrainians,” he added. Humanitarian corridors from Mariupol have also been deliberately bombarded and mined by Russia, making it impossible for civilians to either flee the city or receive supplies. [Immediately after the press conference, the Russian army bombed a maternity hospital and a children's hospital in Mariupol. The City Council reports that as of the morning of 10 March, 17 people (children, women, doctors) had been injured, while three had been killed, including one child].

Kharkiv, for its part, is experiencing constant and deliberate destruction of critical infrastructure (heating stations, water supplies, etc). According to Mayor Ihor Terekhov, 400 residential buildings have been rendered uninhabitable by the constant Russian bombardment, forcing their residents to be evacuated. Mayor Terekhov explained that city service workers are also on the frontline as they perform their duties maintaining the city’s communications amid constant shelling and bombing. “This is a difficult time for us, but we are doing our best to keep the city functioning as normally as possible under wartime conditions,” Mr Terekhov said. The city is negotiating humanitarian aid from other cities in Ukraine and sister cities abroad, as well as assisting other cities in Kharkiv region with evacuation. It is currently possible to leave Kharkiv by car or train, but both options are very risky while the bombardment continues. "Russian fighter aircraft are flying very low, and you don't know if their bombs will hit you or somewhere nearby. People who have survived this experience would only be in favor of a no-fly zone," Mr. Terekhov added.

Merefa, a 20 thousand population community close to Kharkiv, is experiencing similar problems. According to Mayor Veniamin Sitov, as a result of nighttime aerial bombardment, the city lost a school, a kindergarten, and a local community center. “We are receiving humanitarian help from other cities”, he says. “But at the same time, shops are only accepting cash, which is especially a problem for pensioners.

Another affected city in the Northeast of Ukraine is Sumy, which has already experienced four aerial bombings of residential buildings within the last week after the Russian military initially tried to capture the city with an armored assault. According to Mayor Oleksandr Lysenko, the city is facing a shortage of food and medicine, but managed to conduct one evacuation. A second was sabotaged by the Russian army. He adds, “We need to establish an external supply of aid. There are practically no stocks left in the city." According to him, it is difficult to do this now because the Russians are constantly shelling not only residential areas, but also individuals.

At the same time, the city of Trostyanets in Sumy region is also running out of supplies of food and medication, while its social infrastructure is being completely destroyed. Russian soldiers are looting the city, stealing not only food but also all vehicles they can get their hands on, as well as occupying administrative and private buildings. Mayor Yuriy Bova says that the Russians are not even letting residents access the cemetery: “For five days already, we haven’t been able to bury our dead! Russians built a checkpoint in front of the cemetery and shot at cars in funeral processions.

Unlike the other cities featured in the conference, Zhytomyr, which is located west of the capital in Kyiv, has not yet been invaded by Russian ground forces. Instead, it has been hit several times by bombs and missiles, which destroyed a school and a dormitory, as well as damaging a hospital and a kindergarten and hitting a fuel terminal. Mayor Serhiy Sukhomlyn says that locals “have turned the city into a fortress” amid fears that the Russian army would attack. However, while they have experienced airstrikes, the city is still managing to properly run its public transport and serve as a transfer point for refugees from the eastern regions on their way to the west of Ukraine.

The Ministry of Communities and Territorial Development is in constant contact with all the mayors, as they serve their respective communities in this time of war. The Ministry will continue to support the communities to light the atrocities committed by Russian troops, and the herculean efforts of the communities to maintain services to its inhabitants who have lost families, property, and livelihood.

The conference was organized by Internews Ukraine with the support of the Ministry for Communities and Territorial Development of Ukraine. All thoughts expressed during the event are the sole responsibility of the organizers and the speakers.