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INTERVIEW: Mayor of Kharkiv stresses need to protect residents amid constant shelling

UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine Denise Brown visits sites of rocket attacks in Kharkiv.
© Kharkiv City Council
UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine Denise Brown visits sites of rocket attacks in Kharkiv.

INTERVIEW: Mayor of Kharkiv stresses need to protect residents amid constant shelling

Peace and Security

The Ukrainian city of Kharkiv is being subjected to heavy missile strikes from Russia, resulting in new victims and destruction every day. 

Over the past few weeks, dozens of civilians have been killed and injured, including children. Hundreds of residential buildings have been destroyed, leaving tens of thousands of residents homeless. Critical infrastructure has also been destroyed, including dozens of schools and hospitals.

The UN Resident Coordinator in Ukraine, Denise Brown, recently travelled to Kharkiv, which is located in northeastern Ukraine.

Together with the Mayor, Igor Terekhov, she visited some of the places that were hit in Russian missile strikes carried out on 25 May, including a supermarket and the central part of the city.

UN News later spoke to Mr. Terekhov following what he described as “a very difficult week”. 

“It is important that the whole world knows what is happening in Kharkiv today,” he said.

In this exclusive interview, Mr. Terekhov discusses the immense challenges facing residents of Ukraine’s second largest city, support to people fleeing attacks in other parts of the wider Kharkiv region, and the importance of UN humanitarian support as war rages on.

This interview reflects the opinion of Mr. Terekhov and is not an endorsement by the UN. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Igor Terekhov: The tragedies that occur every day in Kharkiv are terrible. People are dying. There are no words to describe the grief that the Russians bring us. 

It was a very difficult week. At first, there was shelling of the private sector. Then there was a terrible hit on the printing house, where there were people on shift work, many of whom died or were injured. After that, there were the terrible events that happened on Saturday, when people went to the supermarket, to the home improvement superstore where families always go, and a lot of people died there.

Today, it is impossible even to establish the exact number. The search work is not over, and more bodies will be found. Many people are in hospital in serious condition. Also, the central part of the city was shelled, where people were also injured. This is real terrorism committed by the Russian Federation against Ukraine. It is important that the whole world knows what is happening in Kharkiv today. Today, Kharkiv is a symbol. It is an outpost of Ukraine. 

Debris removal at the site of rocket fire in Kharkiv.
© Kharkiv City Council
Debris removal at the site of rocket fire in Kharkiv.

UN News: In this situation, people evacuated from other settlements in the Kharkiv region are also arriving in the city, where intense hostilities are now taking place. How is the city coping with the additional influx? 

Igor Terekhov: People who were forced to move to Kharkiv come here because there are active hostilities in their territories. In just a week, more than 10,500 people arrived in Kharkiv who need help because they were left completely without anything. We accept them, accommodate them in dormitories and provide everything they need. Of course, it is very difficult, emotionally difficult, for these people to leave their homes. But, we are doing everything possible to make them feel more or less normal, so that they receive medical care, so that their children go to school, to provide them with basic things since a lot of people came to Kharkiv without anything. We are engaged in their employment and socialisation. It is important that we have the resources to do so. When there is constant shelling and intimidation, when people are forced to constantly hide from shelling, it is very difficult - both for Kharkiv residents and for people who come to us. 

UN News: How does working with UN agencies help you in confronting this situation?

Igor Terekhov: Just the day before, [UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine] Denise Brown visited Kharkiv. We work very closely with her. The UN Office in Ukraine does a lot. We discussed with her that it is very important to convey to the whole world, to the entire international community, what is happening in Kharkiv. We really need people around the world to understand how Kharkiv is and how we survive here. And it is very important that we are supported not only with words, but also with actions. Therefore, it is very important that the global community understands, sees all this and, most importantly, acts and not only expresses sympathy. 

UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine Denise Brown visits sites of rocket attacks in Kharkiv.
© Kharkiv City Council
UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine Denise Brown visits sites of rocket attacks in Kharkiv.

UN News: What about the humanitarian support provided by the UN?

Igor Terekhov: There must be humanitarian support, and it is effective. Thanks to foundations, many people receive help today. Around 150,000 residents of the city today are left without their apartments. They need somewhere to live, repair their homes in order to return home.   

UN News: Under these conditions, you are already thinking about the coming winter. Tell us about that.

Igor Terekhov: First, we still need to survive the summer. On 23 March of this year, the enemy hit the critical infrastructure that provided the city with electricity. Today, Kharkiv does not have its own power generation. All thermal power plants and transformer sub-stations, were destroyed; there was severe destruction of all networks that supply electricity to our city. There was a complete blackout in Kharkiv. People were without electricity for a whole day. We managed to “feed” Kharkiv from other regions of Ukraine little by little. And today, we depend on the ability of other cities to share electricity with us. 

Therefore, today the main goal is to work on a system of decentralisation of energy, heat and water supplies. It is very expensive. There is such equipment that is produced in other countries. We have already agreed with the producers that they will reserve it for us, otherwise we will not be able to survive the autumn and winter. We now have to transfer money for the equipment, which is not in the city budget today, so we turn to international funds. Without this, 1.3 million residents of the city simply will not be able to survive the winter. This question is of great concern to Kharkiv residents. This is vital for us. We will continue to seek the help of our international partners to support us.

UN News: You said that thousands of people in Kharkiv are now homeless today.

Igor Terekhov: About 150,000 people do not have housing today. This is a very serious problem. Since the beginning of the war, about 9,000 houses, mostly residential, have been destroyed. Moreover, 110 kindergartens have been destroyed. This is 50 per cent of all that we have today.  In addition, 130 schools were destroyed, which is also about 50 per cent of all schools in the city. As for hospitals and medical institutions, 88 of them were destroyed. The destruction that is in the social sphere is 185 buildings, and this is very important because it affects the ability to provide a normal life for people. How much will it cost to restore all this? Approximately, today this amount is $10 billion. And in addition, as I said, all thermal power plants and transformer sub-stations have been destroyed. The destruction in our city is colossal! I want to reiterate that Kharkiv really needs to protect people's lives so that they can feel safe.