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Inspiring stories revealed in the Latvian-Ukrainian municipal solidarity forum “Before...”

On 8 May, within the framework of the “Bridges of Trust” project, the Latvian – Ukrainian Municipalities’ Solidarity Forum “Before...” organized by the Latvian Association of Local and Regional Governments (LALRG) was held. It was opened by the new Ambassador of Ukraine to the Republic of Latvia, Anatolii Kutsevol, and the Head of the European Commission Representation in Latvia, Zane Petre.

The event took place within the framework of the week-long visit of Ukrainian local government representatives to Latvia. On May 8-12, the representatives of three Ukrainian municipalities - Chuhuiv, Korop and Novyi Bilous - met with representatives of the Embassy of Ukraine in the Republic of Latvia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, the Latvian Association of Local and Regional Governments and Riga City Council. Likewise, the delegations of Ukrainian municipalities participated in the study visits in the municipalities of Gulbene, Kuldīga and Ķekava involved in the project from Latvian side.

In the introduction of the Solidarity Forum, the Chairman of the LALRG, Gints Kaminskis, drew attention to the event’s symbolic name “Before...” taking place before many important events: “The Forum has got its name as it takes place before 9 May - Europe Day in Latvia and elsewhere in Europe. It also takes place before Ukraine joins the European Union - during the time given to this country to prepare to be one of the Member States with the support of the European Union Member States. It takes place before the victory in the war, during which many and various crises are experienced and resolved in both Ukrainian and Latvian municipalities, affecting the everyday life, mood, thoughts and future plans of the inhabitants of the municipalities. Let us use this time “before” to learn from each other, support, help and jointly contribute to the sustainable development of our municipalities!”

Representatives of three Ukrainian municipalities took part in the event, sharing unique stories about how work in Ukrainian municipalities was organized every day even during the war - on ensuring services and residents’ well-being, while continuing to think about the development of their municipalities and the exchange of good practice experiences with cooperation partners in Latvia.

Thus, for example, the Chairperson of Chuhuiv Municipal Council, Halina Minaeva, emotionally shared her memories of how the municipality was shelled and residential buildings were also destroyed in the first days of the war. “There were victims, a child was killed. Almost half of our critical infrastructure and buildings, including apartment buildings, were destroyed. The best school was destroyed. Our people want to return to their homes; therefore, our task is to reconstruct apartment buildings and renovate schools. We are close to the border, so security issues are key for us. Currently, we are also working on strengthening the shelters,” revealed Minaeva.

The representative of Korop municipality, which has started cooperation with Gulbene municipality, Yuliia Prohorenko, said that their municipality currently wants to strengthen civil defense and security in the municipality. Likewise, street lighting and waste management are also and important priorities, there is a lack of both equipment and transport for organizing waste management.

Municipality of Novyi Bilous was one of the first ones in Ukraine to experience military attacks. The Chairman of the municipality, Dmytro Fedorov, revealed to the audience that after 2020, Chernihiv region, where Novyi Bilous municipality is located, had become one of the most developed areas in the country, but as a result of the war, many infrastructure objects and buildings were completely destroyed or damaged. The municipality helps its residents as much as possible, the residents themselves also participate in various support measures, helping the military forces. The municipality also provides bomb shelters, using both schools and other buildings for this purpose. The Chairman of the municipality informed that seven more shelters are needed in the territory - one in each village - so that people can be safe during attacks and pupils can return to schools. At the same Fedorov revealed, that he is currently planning how to work in the post-war period and confirmed the municipality’s readiness to engage in various projects, as well as to attract investments to restore buildings and production facilities. The Chairman of the municipality concluded his intervention at the Forum by stressing: “Our community is important, we have resources, so we have to fight and develop.”

In order to provide ideas for the implementation of specific cooperation projects between the municipalities of Latvia and Ukraine, Deputy Head of Unit, European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency (CINEA), Philipp Troppmann, presented “Green Assist” – green advisory service for sustainable investments support available for free to municipalities interested in the preparation of green investment projects.

To complement the list of ideas for specific cooperation projects, the representative of the State Education Development Agency of the Republic of Latvia, Inese Rimšāne, informed the audience about the partnerships for cooperation in the framework of the Erasmus+ program, offering the opportunities to implement activities with the involvement of Ukrainian municipalities.

During the second part of the Forum the professional development coach Aija Iesalniece revealed ideas and ways to face the countless changes and crises that challenge us, applying emotional intelligence, the architecture of ideas and using each one’s own unique experience.

The Forum was held within the framework of the project “Bridges of Trust” implemented by the Latvian Association of Local and Regional Governments in cooperation with the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), the Association of Ukrainian Cities (AUC) and “U-LEAD with Europe”. The project, in which three Latvian municipalities - Kuldīga, Gulbene and Ķekava - are involved from Latvia, will run until September 2023, and its goal is to promote the cooperation of the municipalities of the European Union with municipalities in Ukraine, mutually exchanging with knowledge for sustainable development. In total 10 local government associations of European Union countries and 60 local governments from the European Union and Ukraine participate in it.