Following Russia’s military aggression, the situation in Ukraine is still critical and calls for broad support for reconstruction.
NataliaLazarenko from the Association of Ukrainian Cities expresses her thanks to Finnish local authorities for their financial support so far and for receiving refugees. Lazarenko says that Ukrainian cities and municipalities still need a great deal of assistance, most acutely to ensure the availability of heating.
– We are preparing for the cold season, and right now heating is our primary concern because of Russia's attacks on critical infrastructure, Lazarenko says.
With winter approaching, Ukraine will need heating equipment, such as generators. Even sleeping bags will be necessary.
AnttiKuronen, a foreign correspondent for the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE, points out that many people are still living in Ukraine and that winters there are as severe as in Finland.
– Take Harkova for example. It is a large city whose infrastructure has been destroyed. Gas and district heating are not working. There are power outages, Kuronen says.
– Finland, too, must safeguard its own infrastructure, but supporting Ukraine is also part of looking after our own interests, adds Ari Korhonen, Security and Preparedness Specialist at the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities (AFLRA).
Specialists from different fields discussed the role of cities and municipalities at the International Forum, an annual gathering of the Finnish delegations to the EU and international organisations. The gathering was organised by the AFLRA on 6 October 2022.
There are many ways of helping Ukraine
In Finland, several cities and municipalities have been assisting Ukraine since the beginning of the war. For example, Ukraine’s Finnish twin towns and cities have sent medicines and money. The City of Oulu has participated in protecting the world heritage site of its twin city Odessa, says Mirja Vehkaperä, Chair of Oulu city executive.
Moreover, new twin town contracts have been concluded since Russia’s invasion began, like the one between the cities of Turku and Harkova. The City of Espoo has supported the City of Kryvyi Rih, which has a large concentration of internal refugees.
Ukrainian regions vary as to the kind of help they need. Some Ukrainians are still living in areas where battles are being fought. Others live further away, but within reach of missiles. The right form of assistance depends on the needs of each region.
What is the right way to help
Many local authorities are pondering how to target aid in the right way. Marja Liivala, Director General at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Finland, points out that the Ministry of the Interior cooperates with local authorities on assisting Ukraine.
– It is important for local authorities to help refugees in Finland, so it is best to target supplies to Ukrainians who have arrived here, Liivala says.
The Ministry for Foreign Affairs emphasises that financial support for Ukraine is also important and should be channelled through large organisations. Yle correspondent Kuronen, who has been reporting from Ukraine, says that he has not witnessed any misconduct in the distribution of aid.
In the future, the cooperation on helping Ukraine will be more centralised. The European Committee of the Regions has launched an alliance to coordinate the joint efforts of the EU and its member states to help the reconstruction of Ukraine.
Need for other assistance and reconstruction
In addition to the heating crisis, schools are lacking materials. Laptop computers are needed for children to continue school in the turmoil of war. In the regions where it is not safe to give children classroom instruction, teaching is organised via remote connections.
Humanitarian aid is also necessary because many people in Ukraine have lost their jobs after the country's economy shut down.
– Ukraine's GDP will keep falling. Russia continues to wreak havoc. The poverty rate will also increase further, says Liivala from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Finland.
Already now, building materials are needed to repair the damage, but even more so when Ukrainians want to return to their home country.
– Finland’s high level of expertise in infrastructure will be of great help in the building of a permanent infrastructure, says the AFLRA’s Korhonen.