24.02.2022. A conflict that changed Europe forever

Mykhailyna Skoryk-Shkarivska in Bucha, Ukraine
23 February 2024
24.02.2022. A conflict that changed Europe forever

Two years ago, Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Millions of people in Ukrainian cities and regions woke up to the sound of air alarms and explosions.

The Bucha massacre shocked the world, but people didn't give up. Even though around 20% of this 55,000 inhabitants city was destroyed.

The PES Group in the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) is an active contributor to the European Alliance of Cities and Regions for the Reconstruction of Ukraine and to the CoR's 10-point support package for Ukraine. 

The PES Group authored the CoR opinions on the Ukraine Facility and on the enlargement report on Ukraine. PES Group members are committed to strengthening the ties with Ukrainian local and regional authorities, visited Ukraine after the beginning of the full-scale invasion and cooperate with the SD Platform, the non-governmental organization representing progressive civil society in Ukraine.

Mykhailyna Skoryk-Shkarivska was Deputy Mayor of Bucha in 2022-2023 and now keeps serving as a member of the Irpin City Council, as well as working on the reconstruction of the city as President of the Institute for Sustainable Development of Communities (ISDC).

And here is her testimony. 

Before 2022 no one believed that this scale of war is possible. But when we saw Russian tanks near Kyiv, when we saw what they (Russians) are capable of, we realized that it's serious and they came to kill us. They wanted our land but without us. Ukraine became a European battlefield. 

My son was evacuated to Germany and spent around three months there. I made sure that he is safe and went back to Bucha to do my job. My husband was mobilized and the whole family was all over the place. The war separated us.

We witnessed all the horrors of this war: the occupation, the destructions. Our house was damaged by a Russian mine. We had no windows, we had no doors. But we managed to rebuild almost everything. Still, we are lucky – a lot of people lost their homes completely and don't even have where to live.

The local authorities immediately united. We were constantly in touch with not only mayors, but also civil society. We knew where diapers were needed, where baby food was needed, where water was needed. We had this kind of "horizontal" experience when we were just working as a team here and now, and we realized that on this level we can be more powerful.

It's about taking responsibility. And we need to continue this practice after the victory – stay united in our communities.

A "horizontal" communication between people is also very important on the international level – no matter the nationality, we have to connect one person to another. A lot of things depend on whom you are talking to. There are partnerships at national level that fail only because leaders don't match.

Building bridges between cities is easier. When two municipalities connect personally – mayors, deputy-mayors, international departments – these partnerships have all the chances to become stronger, become more sustainable. 

Before the full-scale invasion, Bucha had three partner cities with which we were in constant contact. At the end of 2023, we had sixteen. And these cities were contacting us first because they had heard the story of Bucha and wanted to help us. 

European cities can give a lot to Bucha on our path to European integration. It can be a joint journey. We need to use their experience, their expertise, we need to develop our potential joint projects. I dream that the help Bucha gets to rebuild will transform into lasting partnerships.

It is when mayors feel our pain, our story that they very often want to help us. Something that starts from the gesture of help and support grows into a deeper relationship and connection.

It is also a matter of controlling finances. It is much easier at local level to control where the money goes. If we get 50,000 euros and we promised to make roofs in the kindergartens, the donors can come and compare these roofs before and after the renovation.

We have a lot of expectations. We very much need the help of Western partners because all the successful projects we had were done not only with the Western money, but Western experience and practice.

It's important for us to rebuild these cities in a new way. We now have a lot of people who lost their limbs, people with disabilities, and they need special treatment. It's a big challenge, and municipalities in Ukraine start to discuss it a lot. 

Ukrainian municipalities have also to adapt as the war is still ongoing. We are trying to explain to our European partners that we can take their money for this building or another one, but tomorrow it might change and we might have more urgent needs. 

We always have to keep in mind not only the bombs that keep falling, but how many people are coming back to their homes, how many are internally displaced persons and… how many in these statistics are children. Usually Europeans understand that our priorities change very fast, and we are just doing our best.

We finally need to see the real needs of the cities. Take the example of building a new school in Irpin – a city in Bucha region. Currently, most children are homeschooled. Thousands of kids. We have to adapt to the new reality. At this moment the underground shelters are not equipped for teaching processes, it's just an empty dark place to sit during air raids. We want to make these shelters a comfortable space, an underground school where children can actually learn something. 

For us it's now a daily reality and a question of survival. Our children can't sit as sardines in a can. Life has to go on.

Images provided by Mykhailyna Skoryk-Shkarivska