Leaders of European cities in Vilnius on support for Ukraine: long-term support for people and cities matters

Support for Ukraine’s cities and people from other European cities is important today, but it is also necessary to provide long-term support for the restoration of the country and for the care for Ukrainian refugees, the mayors and representatives of Vilnius, Lviv, Tallinn, Warsaw, and Riga said on 24 January, during the international conference Champion Cities Summit 2023: Champions Think Bold in Vilnius.

On the eve of the 700th anniversary of the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius emphasised during the mayors’ discussion that it is the duty of every friendly city to support and help Ukraine.

“Even before the war, we had already estimated how much financial support we could give Ukraine. I had a very clear answer: we will help Ukraine as much as needed. I was ready to help in more than just financial terms, which is why my colleagues and I went to Kyiv just before the invasion to show our support and backing. It was on the day before the invasion. At the time, it seemed that it might not have been the most significant support, but what we took away was an understanding of what kind of help Ukraine needs and what we need to do from the first day of the Russian aggression,” said R. Šimašius.

Nuotr. Gabrieliaus Jauniškio

United for the fight for democracy

The Mayor of Lviv, Andriy Sadovyi, said he had received a lot of support from leaders of friendly cities since the outbreak of the war. According to Sadovyi, such support is particularly important because this is not just a war between Russia and Ukraine, but a fight for democracy against totalitarianism.

“I remember the first weeks after the invasion; I received several calls, one of which was a Zoom call from R. Šimašius. During every conversation I heard that they were ready to help. I was most surprised when the Mayor of Tallinn, Mihhail Kõlvart, came to see me in Lviv after two weeks of war. I admired his courage and determination. At that moment, I felt very strong support, not for me personally, but for all the people of Ukraine,” said A. Sadovyi.

When asked what kind of help he expects from friendly cities in the restoration of Ukrainian cities, the Mayor of Lviv stressed that at the moment, military equipment was needed the most.

“First we have to reclaim our territory and only then rebuild our country. I think we will continue to cooperate with the mayors of other European cities. Vilnius, Riga, Tallinn, and Warsaw send humanitarian aid every day to different cities in Ukraine, 85% of the aid goes to Mykolaiv, Kherson, and Kharkiv. I am optimistic and I am thinking only of victory – together we are one big fist, and this unification is a crucial moment for democracy. Together we will win this war,” emphasised A. Sadovyi.

The importance of long-term support

The Mayor of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski, stressed the need to think beyond military support, to keep the long-term perspective in mind, and to make changes in the European Union (EU).

“We have started filling in UNESCO applications for some Ukrainian cities to protect our friends. Unfortunately, we are facing lengthy EU processes. We, as EU members, need to speed up all processes. Our friends in Ukraine need funding, so we need to speak up and decide how to speed up long procedures,” stressed R. Trzaskowski.

  1. Šimašius also said that responsible cities around the world should already be thinking now about how to help rebuild Ukrainian cities.

“We need to plan and work towards a better future. Some time ago, I attended a strategic meeting in Vilnius, where we were discussing and planning how to rebuild one of the Ukrainian cities. During the meeting, we talked about the problems of Mariupol – how to change it, how to rebuild it in a new context, which is now completely different from the usual one,” said the Mayor of Vilnius.

Support in cities and lessons for the future

The Mayor of Tallinn, Mihhail Kõlvart, stressed that it is also important for cities to ensure long-term support for the arriving Ukrainian refugees.

“As soon as the war broke out, we tried to help as much as we could and three days later we were the first to open a refugee centre. Now we need to think about long-term support for the Ukrainians living in Tallinn, and to provide a range of assistance – from schools for children to houses and jobs,” said M. Kõlvart.

Meanwhile, Linda Ozola, Deputy Chairperson of the Riga City Council, pointed out that by helping Ukraine, European cities can help themselves to become more united and stronger.

“The recent years have taught us all to cooperate. When there is a war going on right next to us, we need to be more united than ever. As a member of the city council, I have seen where Riga’s weak points in crisis management are and where improvements are needed. The past year has changed the way the municipality and the government communicate, it has taught everyone to unite,” said L. Ozola.

Nuotr. Gabrieliaus Jauniškio

Vilnius receives the title of Saviour City

Before the discussion, the Ambassador of Ukraine in Lithuania Petro Beshta awarded Vilnius the title of Saviour City, signed by the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The award was given for humanism and solidarity with the people of Ukraine, for comprehensive assistance to them, and for significant support to the country defending its independence and sovereignty.

Nuotr. Sauliaus Žiūros

Thanking for the award, Vilnius Mayor R. Šimašius announced the decision of the city council to allocate a further EUR 700,000 in humanitarian aid to Vilnius’ partner cities, Kyiv and Lviv.

The conference Champion Cities Summit 2023: Champions Think Bold was organised by Vilnius in cooperation with the Eurocities network of more than 200 cities in 38 countries.

The conference is part of the 700th anniversary of Vilnius. The full programme of events is available here: https://www.700vilnius.lt/