“We were cut off from Ukraine for 41 days.” Interview with the mayor of Koriukivka
The Koriukivka municipality in the Chernihiv region was one of the first to suffer from the full-scale Russian invasion. The occupiers destroyed local roads and bridges, effectively isolating the municipality from the rest of Ukraine.
However, locals did not accept the presence of the enemy. Residents of the municipality literally stopped enemy tanks with their bare hands and blocked roads in order to prevent the advance of Russian military equipment. After the Armed Forces liberated the region, the Koriukivka municipality began its recovery and return to normal life. The U-LEAD with Europe Programme provided assistance, which allowed clearing the roads, repairing the local water supply and powering critical infrastructure facilities.
Ratan Akhmedov, Mayor of Koriukivka, told us what his municipality had to go through and how it is recovering after the occupation.
Ratan Akhmedov, Mayor of Koriukivka
The invaders were driving through our municipality for four days
Our municipality is right next to the border with Russia. So, in the first hours of the full-scale invasion, all the military vehicles of the invaders, which were moving in the direction of Chernihiv and Kyiv, were here in our municipality. In general, Russian troops were driving through our municipality for four days. This meant a huge amount of military equipment, destroyed roads and blown up bridges.
One of the villages of our community was damaged after some artillery ammunition detonated. The explosion affected the village council building, a school, a healthcare institution, a shop and some residential buildings. Fortunately, there were no casualties. As for everything else, we will restore and rebuild it together. Including with the help of our friends and partners.
Of course, no one was fully prepared for full-scale war. But we had a clear action plan, so when everything went down, we already knew where we would gather and what needed to be done. We decided to close all municipal institutions except for critical infrastructure facilities such as hospitals and utility companies. Together with the local authorities, they worked tirelessly from the first day of the invasion.
The aftermath of the Russian invasion in the Koriukivka municipality
For more than 40 days, we were a peninsula cut off from the ‘mainland’
The Russians did not set up occupation administrations in our municipality but simply marched through it closer to Chernihiv. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, all their forces were thrown at the regional capital city, and they guarded their supply routes. And secondly, we had a powerful resistance movement. People did everything possible to stop the enemy army.
Technically, we were in the rear for 41 days, but we did not have access to the ‘mainland’. The municipality was completely cut off. The occupiers damaged the bridges over the rivers, effectively turning us temporarily into a peninsula. The only way to leave the municipality was through the zone of active hostilities.
Opening a bakery and engaging farmers
Obviously, in the first days, panic was palpable in the municipality. My colleagues and I walked through all the institutions and thanked each and every employee who, despite everything, came to work that day. People were advised to stay together, remember what to do in emergency situations, how to provide first aid, etc.
Little by little, we began to restore the local economy. We managed to open a bakery that had been closed several years ago. The cheese factory resumed working in the neighbouring municipality. Local farmers got to work.
The biggest challenge was, probably, medicines. Medicines that were in the greatest demand disappeared from the shelves in the first days. And it turned out that some people were well-stocked, while others did not have any medicines at all. So the necessities were delivered from across the river, by boats. Later, the occupiers started firing at the boats, so we had to look for some alternative ways again.
But we had heating and electricity. However, the airstrikes of the Russians damaged the substation. There was a power surge and, unfortunately, some equipment failed. In general, however, the situation was under control.
The Koriukivka municipality is returning to its usual life
The best day in my life was when I saw our guys from the Armed Forces
Any collaboration with the occupiers was out of the question. Instead, I had to spend each night in a different place because the Russians kidnapped my colleague from the neighbouring municipality. After that, we equipped a kind of observation posts in each village. We knew where and what kind of enemy vehicles were moving, their direction and their numbers.
The Russians were driven out of our region in late March and early April. More than 2,000 battered vehicles and manpower left. To preserve even that, the invaders blew up all the bridges behind them. The happiest day for me is still April 5, when units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine came up to the town, and I saw our guys from Zhytomyr. This is the best day of my life.
Repair equipment from the U-LEAD with Europe Programme
We needed machinery and generators, and U-LEAD helped us
We have known and actively cooperated with the U-LEAD with Europe Programme for quite some time. Since 2016, when we were working toward unifying territories and forming our municipality. Then, at the time of our formation, more substantive cooperation began.
When the full-scale invasion began, U-LEAD came to our rescue again. In particular, Iryna Kudryk, Head of the Chernihiv Regional Office of the U-LEAD with Europe Programme, was in constant contact with the municipality, helped with the organisation of volunteer projects, the delivery of basic necessities, etc.
And when the occupiers were kicked out of our municipality, the work on the restoration of Ukraine began. Before February 24, we really wanted to develop infrastructure facilities. Obviously, the war threw a wrench into all our plans, and such projects hardly receive any financing today, because the funds are directed to the defence needs. That’s why we turned to U-LEAD, primarily regarding the installation of a backup power source for critical infrastructure facilities. We also needed tools and equipment for clearing rubble and dismantling facilities damaged by the invaders.
And we received this help. Moreover, it was incredibly fast. In addition, the Programme even fully handled the logistics and delivery of the equipment to the municipality. In the first stage, U-LEAD with Europe provided us with gasoline tools and generators, and in the second stage, with heavy repair equipment currently used in utility companies to ensure the day-to-day functioning of our municipality.
A lighting pole and a wheel loader provided by U-LEAD with Europe
Restoring the water utility and dismantling the barricades used to slow down the enemy
So we got front-end loaders, several dozen chainsaws, cutting machines. We were also given a lighting device that allowed us to work at night. We got good use out of all these things and still do today. We transferred part of these to the rural areas to provide their village councils and, for example, fire brigades with the necessary equipment.
Thanks to the assistance from the U-LEAD with Europe Programme, we were able, among other things, to restart the local water utility and restore water supply to the territories where the occupiers damaged the pipelines. In addition, preparations for the winter period are already underway, and here this equipment is equally essential.
And, of course, clearing debris on the roads. A powerful resistance movement was formed in our municipality, which did everything possible to prevent Russian vehicles from advancing. And all these barricades were also removed thanks to U-LEAD.
To date, all received generators have been distributed among the villages of the municipality, in locations where they are most urgently needed. Gasoline tools ensured the stable operation of mobile communities.
Repair equipment at work
We will definitely manage and rebuild everything
Before the full-scale invasion, we had grand plans for this year. These plans were cancelled by the war, but we will definitely return to them after our victory.
Now the main thing is to prepare for the heating season. The gas situation is uncertain, as it physically comes to us from the territory of Russia. That is why we are making preparations and, where possible, trying to switch critical infrastructure facilities to reserve solid fuel.
But we will manage. We will recover and prepare for winter. I believe we will be done by September. And we will also eliminate all the consequences of the stay of the Russian occupiers here. Yes, roads and bridges require money and time. Still, we can do it. After our victory, everything will be thoroughly repaired and rebuilt.
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