‘Help Ukraine like it’s your own country’ - Ukrainians to participants of Lugano conference

Anna Heyko, Kharkiv resident. Administrator of Kharkiv National Automobile and Highway University’s website and Facebook page. (Credit: Myroslava Opanasyk)

The Swiss city of Lugano will host the international Ukraine Recovery Conference (URC2022) on 4-5 July. We asked eight Ukrainians of various walks of life about their expectations from the event.

Viktor Shershen, pensioner, Rivne region

(Credit: Myroslava Opanasyk)

I haven’t heard about the conference until now as I didn’t see anything about it in the media. However, I think the event is very important because Ukraine needs help more than ever.

First of all, we need to rebuild the cities, towns, and villages that were destroyed by the Russian occupants so that Ukrainians have somewhere to return to. For this to happen, Ukrainians themselves need to put in a lot of hard work.

To spend foreign recovery aid effectively, every country or city that wants to help needs to have a specific area of Ukraine allocated to it – be it a region, city, village or a couple of villages or cities. For example, Zurich could help rebuild Bucha. Then Zurich would have definitive evidence of what it’s done for Ukraine to show to its residents or residents of other countries.

Another way of organising help could be by one country being responsible for reconstructing schools, another for theatres and so on.

Either way, there needs to be an action plan featuring sums of money allocated, timelines of work that will be done, and which country or city is executing it. And all the countries will need to stick to that plan.

That’s what I would say to the leaders of states participating in the conference. And I would also add that we need unity in fighting Russia, the same unity we had at the start of the all-out war. And we need this unity to rebuild Ukraine, too.”

Vitaliy Koval, head of Rivne military administration

(Credit: Myroslava Opanasyk)

“We know about this event – it is very important. Moreover, a representative of our administration will be there.

We really appreciate the support given by our European partners. Our region alone received more than 7,000 tons of humanitarian aid from various European countries and the US over the last four months. Recovery conferences that our European family organises for war-torn Ukraine, are both imperative and necessary today.

I thank everybody who’s taking part in URC2022 for your position and support. Ukraine really does need help in rebuilding its destroyed infrastructure and artillery. Our country has officially become a candidate state for the EU. We are one step closer to you. We have shared values and views on the future. Together we can do more!”

Anna Heyko, Kharkiv resident, administrator of Kharkiv National Automobile and Highway University’s website and Facebook page

(Credit: Myroslava Opanasyk)

“To be honest, I haven’t heard about this conference before. But I think that events like these are very useful for [Ukraine] today. The more people hear about us and our pain, the more likely we are to get substantial help.

Regarding Kharkiv itself, we need an iron dome like Israel’s to restore the city. Because how can we restore it when the border with the enemy is just 38 kilometres away? Geography itself is not on our side.

If we can’t have the dome, we at least need bomb shelters in all buildings – especially education facilities such as kindergartens, schools, and universities. All those children are our future. But to have that, we’d have to demolish most buildings and rebuild from scratch with a bomb shelter. It is not economically viable to tear down schools that haven’t been hit by the Russians and build new ones. But what if after our victory, Russia goes crazy and starts bombing again?

I live in the northern part of Kharkiv. My child’s school is old and doesn’t have a bomb shelter. I don’t know how I can go back home and feel safe when I have neighbours like these, I don’t know how I can leave my child at school. That’s why I think an iron dome would save our city because even if we kicked the occupants out of Ukraine, they would still be able to strike missiles from [the Russian city of] Belgorod, which is what they’re doing now. If we had the dome, we’d be able to go home and work, restore the country’s economy, and rebuild our city.”

Oleksandr Savchuk, CEO of Rivneknyha publishing company, Rivne

(Credit: Myroslava Opanasyk)

“I haven’t heard about the conference, but these events are important. Ukraine is part of Europe, and Europe is helping us beat the Russian invaders today. And once we do beat them, we will rebuild Ukraine like one big family. Such conferences give us a chance to determine our targets and tasks for rebuilding, they give us an opportunity to establish the scale [of the work required] and prepare economic and financial projects, as well as get other countries and companies involved. I hope that concrete actions for rebuilding Ukraine will be identified at the conference. To country leaders attending, I would say 'this is a wonderful chance to show a united European goal to the entire world: to have a friendly, powerful, and united Europe’.”

Olena*, communications and PR specialist, Kyiv

“I did not know about this conference. But these events serve an introductory purpose, they help voice Ukraine’s problems and needs. They also help people – like business leaders and politicians – meet each other. These meetings can lead to negotiations and decisions to offer help.

I expect more calls to support Ukraine at the conference. But the leaders [of countries] need to take more decisive steps in switching from political statements to concrete actions. European bureaucracy has been unable to prevent thousands of Ukrainian deaths. Ukraine and even the US are demonstrating how quickly decisions can be made at this stage, practical decisions specifically. At the same time, we hear many statements from many countries but don’t see many practical actions.

It is especially important that there is a video address of President Zelenskyy at the conference. He knows how to be heard. Europe needs to go into crisis management mode because following standard procedures full of bureaucracy does not work in time of war.”

*Olena wished to remain anonymous beyond the information provided in this article

Valeriy Husak, entrepreneur from Rivne

(Credit: Myroslava Opanasyk)

“I’ve only just found out about the conference. I hadn’t heard about it or just didn’t pay attention. I think these events are important if they’re well-prepared and have a clear goal in sight.

On our part, it is important to voice our needs, to understand which will be accomodated, and how much help we’ll receive. If I was in our leader’s shoes, I would expect to hear concrete directions, timelines, and numbers – not words of support.

If I had a chance to speak at the conference, I would do it from the position of a partner, not a beggar. Because apart from direct help, we also need to have an opportunity to earn our money, meaning we need to build a partnership with Europe where we can export our goods to the international market.”

Olena Yaroshchuk, mother of 4 from Rivne who moved to Gdansk after 24 February

“I did not know about this conference. But we need these events because Ukraine requires international support for its recovery, more than ever. Ukraine has shown that it’s fighting for its independence and ambition to be a European country. And I want the participants of the conference to be aware of that.

Unfortunately, Ukraine, as an independent state, is going through a difficult period. It is paying a high price to remain peaceful and to be an equal member of the European community. I would ask the leaders of the states that will be at the conference to do everything they can to secure quick peace for Ukraine. I want my children to have a future.”

Oksana Matviiva, journalist, Kyiv

(Credit: Myroslava Opanasyk)

“I have not heard about this conference before. But all the events where people can talk about what’s going on in Ukraine are important. Because human nature is such that we adapt to any circumstances, even the most terrifying ones. And that’s why we need to ensure that we don’t get used to the idea that there’s a war somewhere in Ukraine, but rather that things will be ok, sooner or later.

I’ve spent more than three months in Warsaw and see first hand the Polish support fizzling out. The euphoria that we saw on the streets of Poland in March and April is fading away. People still have the information they need, but are no longer empathetic in the way they were a couple of months ago. That’s why it’s important to speak, to remind the world that the war is still going on and that it has not ended. Ukraine can’t do this alone, and you need to help because there’s no peace guarantee for other European countries.

I want to hear concrete plans and timelines for helping recover Ukraine. The world is donating a lot of money for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, for the medical and humanitarian efforts, but not many people talk about recovery. Even United 24, the global initiative to support Ukraine launched on May 5, by the Ukrainian authorities, says it hasn’t spent any money on restoration since its launch because the amount doesn’t cover a single destroyed object.

I would ask the leaders of the countries that are taking part in the conference to not only use their minds when they make decisions, but their hearts too. So that each of them, when they think about how they can help Ukraine, do it in the same sincere and kind fashion as they would for their own hometown.”