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Friday, December 1, 2023
Dec. 1, 2023

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Rubin: An idea for how Americans can oppose Putin’s war


Six months after Russia invaded Ukraine, here is a different take on how to help Kyiv win the war.

On the military side, Ukraine’s brave fighters have pushed the aggressor into a stalemate. But Vladimir Putin remains determined to destroy the Ukrainian state while committing hideous war crimes. The war is likely to drag on indefinitely, because Ukrainians still don’t have the long-range weapons needed to win it but refuse to bow to Kremlin control.

Yet a second, less visible war is being waged on the civilian side. Cities and towns liberated from Russian control must rebuild from Russia’s deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure. The Kyiv School of Economics estimates that more than 130,000 civilian buildings have been targeted by Russian missiles and shells.

Mayors and city council members can’t wait until the war ends to start rebuilding. They can’t attract refugees back unless schools are repaired and reopened, and jobs restored. They can’t base their hopes on international lenders providing the estimated $200 billion or more the central government would need for reconstruction.

So rather than wait for top-down funds, many local leaders are looking for horizontal aid — relationships with sister cities and towns in Europe and the United States, or with private institutions that want to help Ukraine. “This kind of horizontal project builds ties between communities,” said Daria Kaneliuk, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Kyiv, who has been working to develop such ties. “A lot of people (abroad) want to help, but they don’t know how.”

To explore this idea, I recently spent a day with Oleksandr Lomako, the secretary of the city council of Chernihiv, a formerly prosperous and attractive city of 300,000, around 80 miles from Kyiv and 55 miles from the Russian border.

Before the invasion, the city had a developed IT sector providing thousands of well-paying jobs. It had become a tourist destination for foreign and local visitors, with its refurbished parks and historic buildings. “We were very proud of this,” Lomako told me in his temporary downtown office. “Then came the Feb. 24 invasion.”

Two-thirds of the residents fled. Aware that the Russians were targeting city officials, Lomako sent his wife and young children to safety in Europe. But many Chernihiv citizens have now returned, bringing the population back to around 200,000.

However, according to Lomako, the Russians destroyed 80 percent of the city’s schools, 1,000 private buildings, a stadium, the library, the post office, the largest hotel, bridges, and 60 percent of the factories.

The city is struggling to survive.

Lomako can’t afford to focus on the $4.2 billion he estimates it would cost to rebuild. His main goal is to find opportunities to do basic repairs to schools, housing units, and factories that can be restored to usable conditions. “Some work must start immediately,” he said, “to give people the incentive to come back.”

He believes that “horizontal connections could help right now. There are a lot of ordinary people in the U.S. and Canada who want to help, but maybe don’t know the way. We can establish contacts between schools, hospitals, and city projects.”

Lomako proposes that U.S. cities cease sister-city relationships with Russian and Belarusian cities and transfer those ties to Ukraine. Chernihiv already has sister-city relationships with some small European towns and with Portland. But he envisions expanded ties that could link up hospitals, churches, schools, universities, or city officials — for rebuilding advice and fund-raising.

Kaneliuk, the anticorruption fighter, contends such ties would “help avoid bureaucracy” and channel funds to local projects. This would also aid the country’s fight against corruption. She envisions “educational exchanges with destroyed schools or adopting a hospital and sending doctors.”

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