Mayor of Chuhuiv: The shelling of the city has not stopped for a day since the beginning of the war
Halyna Minayeva talks about Chuhuiv’s survival under constant artillery shelling and how the city repairs its infrastructure and even plans to rebuild.
Text by: Dmytro Syniak
During the online dialogue of leaders of local self-government of Ukraine and Southern Europe, which took place as part of the International Marathon “Local Governments Unite for Welfare and Peace”, a speech by Halyna Minayeva, Mayor of Chuhuiv, made one of if not the strongest impression. As she asked European partners to help stop the killings of Ukraine’s civilian population, her voice, full of sincere indignation mixed with despair, was choked with tears. At the same time, her stories about Chuhuiv’s shelling were deadly clear. Decentralisation asked Ms Minayeva to talk in more detail about what has been happening in the city since February 24.
The photo of Olena Kurylo, a wounded woman from Chuhuiv, became the face of this war. How does Ms Kurylo herself feel about this? Is she fine?
On the first day of the war, the Russians attacked a military airfield located near our city, destroying several five-story residential buildings nearby. That is, from day one, we saw with our own eyes through the worth of the Russian tales about their ‘high-precision weapons’ and ‘inviolability of civilians’ homes’. One of the Russian shells fell right in the middle of a residential area, killing a 14-year-old boy. His parents were about to leave, and the boy was the first to run to their car with the dog. The shell found him there… In the houses near the airfield, windows were blown, some with frames, as well as doors. The furniture turned into a pile of rubbish. Shards of broken glass injured Ms Kurylo’s face. She is a teacher from our kindergarten, a wonderful, sensitive person. Later, police cars and ambulances took the wounded, including Olena Kurylo, to the hospital. Reporters who took the picture of her were there. That photo was later dubbed ‘the face of the Russo-Ukrainian war’. But Ms Kurylo said right away that rather than war, she wants to be the face of peace… She is fine now; however, the scars from that wound will remain for life.
The photo of Olena Kurylo, a wounded woman from Chuhuiv, became the face of this war (New York Post)
Olena Kurylo on the covers of world media
The portrait painted based on Olena Kurylo’s photo was sold at the Heritage Auctions auction for $100,000. The money went to the needs of Ukraine’s defenders
How severe was Chuhuiv’s shelling?
Since February 24, we have been shelled and hit with all kinds of weapons non-stop. Many people died and were injured as a result. Initially, shells and missiles targeted only the military airfield, and later they hit the city building of the Security Service, but then the Russians switched to apartment complexes. The real horror was unleashed! The people I had spoken to a day ago were killed, and their houses were reduced to ashes… One of our schools was completely destroyed. Before the war, we invested a lot in it, trying to achieve the most efficient energy use. And now what’s left is charred ruins. The centre of the city was hit with munitions that spread many heavy metal bomblets, similar to cartridges. Another 15-year-old boy died from them.
Residential areas of Chuhuiv continue to be shelled by the invaders
How close to the city did the Russians advance?
They were very close. Mala Rohan, which was then captured by the Russian orcs, is 20 km to the north of us, and 90 km to the south is Izium where heavy fighting is still taking place on the outskirts. That is, we are still between the two fronts, although Mala Rohan was liberated by repelling the Russian orcs farther east. However, the shelling of Chuhuiv did not stop. Yesterday their missiles hit residential buildings. There are casualties. A few days ago, rashist missiles destroyed a two-story house with 8 apartments. When I arrived there to inspect everything on site, another missile exploded just 200 meters away from me. Most of the Russian shelling of the city is chaotic, senseless and directed purely against civilians.
Are you able to rebuild the city’s infrastructure, which is being destroyed by the Russians?
Chuhuiv’s municipal services have worked throughout the war, regardless of the shelling. Their employees are real heroes. They have provided our residents with electricity, water and heating with no mind to their own safety. They rebuilt the bombed boiler houses. By the way, these were brand new boiler houses. Before the war, we worked hard towards increasing energy efficiency attracting our own, state and grant funds. We insulated almost all the municipal buildings, installed individual heating stations, heat meters. Now much of it has been destroyed by barbaric Russian shelling.
Did you receive any offers of cooperation from the enemy?
No offers, no threats. And thank God for that!
Have other regions helped you out?
Indeed, they have helped a lot! From the first days of the Russian invasion, we’ve had a lot of humanitarian aid and medicine. Thanks to this, our doctors, who are also real heroes, have been able to save people around the clock. In addition, from the first days, we have received comprehensive assistance from the Lviv City Council. They contacted us themselves. We’ve also got a lot of help from the Lozova City Council, which is headed by my old friend Serhii Zelenskyi. This help was crucial, especially at the beginning of the Russian invasion, since all our stores were closed, and it was unclear where to get food. The Covenant of Mayors* helped with the repair of our water supply system, and we also received a lot of help from the Association of Ukrainian Cities.
Did you organise the evacuation of the local population from Chuhuiv?
We did not. Instead, many volunteers took everyone to relatively safe areas of Ukraine. We also organised locals into a strong territorial defence unit, which was instrumental to the defence of the city. Chuhuiv persevered, and thanks to this we escaped the fate of Bucha, Irpin, Trostianets and other cities of Ukraine where many people were slaughtered and their homes looted. We are now distributing humanitarian aid, looking for building materials and providing assistance to the victims. The City Council is like a beehive now; no time to take a breath. We have a great need for groat and sunflower oil, and as for medicines, insulin is the most urgent. Many people also request for sedatives or heart medications. Everyone is under stress because there has not been a day without shelling. Russia continues to terrorise us.
Chuhuiv is 80 km away from the Russian border, and many residents must have relatives in Russia. How did they react to the war unleashed by their country?
This war is a horror that no one could even imagine. In Chuhuiv, almost everyone speaks Russian. And no one still can understand why Russia, which claims to have come to protect Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine, kills them every day? What for?! When I was told that the war had begun, I thought it was a dream, that I was asleep and dreaming. Sadly, this nightmare continues… Our residents do have many relatives in Russia. The way they feel about the war is best illustrated by a phone conversation my friend had with her brother at the very beginning of these horrific events. Weeping, she told him about the shelling, about the death of civilians, and he replied, “Nonsense! Don’t lie to me! This is all your propaganda. I don’t believe it!” And this happened in the information age when you just need to check all the information yourself.
When will the people who left the city be able to return to Chuhuiv?
People are already returning to the city. However, I would warn them against it, because the fighting near Kharkiv is still going on, and we are shelled daily. Fortunately, our villages have not faced extensive damage, which is why Kharkiv residents are now flocking there. Not all residents of Chuhuiv have a place to return to, so we are now assessing the damaged housing. However, the Russians are unfortunately increasing its count every day. I believe that in the future, our residents will receive full compensation for their destroyed apartments and houses. At least, I have had preliminary talks with our partners who are ready to help us rebuild the city… I have been the mayor for almost 20 years, this is my fifth term. When I first became the mayor of Chuhuiv, the city was so grey! And before the war, it was bursting with colour; life was booming here. That’s why I was so dejected when I saw the greyness again: the shops were closed, their windows were barred… But now, despite the shelling, life is slowly returning to Chuhuiv. I hope that we will survive this terrible time and be able to rebuild our city, which we love very much. Most importantly, people must survive. Then everything will be fine.
* The Covenant of Mayors is the world’s largest movement for local climate and energy actions. The EU Covenant of Mayors brings together thousands of local governments voluntarily committed to implementing EU climate and energy objectives.
Громади:Чугуївська територіальна громада
Пресцентр ініціативи "Децентралізація"
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