How Lviv helps refugees and the front. Interview with the Mayor

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How to safely organize the educational process in Lviv, where to resettle displaced people from schools, how the city helps the territorial defense and organizes National Rehabilitation Center «Nezlamni» («Unbreakable»). The mayor of Lviv Andrii Sadovyi answers.

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Next year, Lviv wants its schools to start working offline. How will studying take place in case of an air alarm?

In 80 of our schools, we have placed the people who came from places of the active bombing. By September 1, we need to find opportunities to move them to other locations. Each school will have proper bomb shelters, now we’re repairing basements, so they can be used as shelters. If there are no basements in some schools, then we find those which are nearby in order to sign the relevant documents and use these shelters in the future for the safety of children. We will do everything possible and impossible so that children can study normally from September 1.

What about universities, will the vacations be longer in the winter because of the potential need to save on heating?

It’s true. Therefore, we are currently considering several options, and if there is an opportunity to buy suitable boilers for wood chips, as well as the appropriate equipment, it will make it possible to use more electricity. Currently, Ukraine has a surplus of electricity, it has nowhere to go because of the narrow possibilities of transportation to the EU. Also, we have already equipped a number of locations with heat pumps, and today this is a global trend. It looks like the degree will be lowered in Ukraine by the corresponding regulations. Now, we will better understand the inhabitants of, for example, Great Britain, who wear sweaters at home in winter.

Are there already calculations, what the temperature will be in the apartments?

For now, we hope that everything will be as it was. It depends on many factors because Ukraine has enough of its own gas, but if there are any unforeseen situations, then there may be force majeure. Currently, we are working as usual, but we are predicting various dangers and looking for options on how to be ready for them.

Do you know how many teachers and children from those who left Lviv may not return to study?

About 90% have already returned, some may be outside the city, but instead, many refugees came to Lviv. Those children who are currently in Lviv will have every opportunity to continue their education. We will help if needed.

Recently, almost 245 children from those who came to Lviv were enrolled in schools.

There was a little more. It’s hard for us to imagine, but a person who was under stress from the bombing for weeks, when he comes to another city, needs some time to adapt. We communicate with Ukrainians from different regions, and only after a month or two, they start to «live» and speak. You know what surprises me? Many of those who came from Donetsk and Luhansk regions had great worries and fears, phobias that it will be difficult for them here, that they will be humiliated here. But they saw a good attitude towards them from the very first weeks: teachers take turns, help prepare food, show hospitality. Therefore, I think that from September 1, there will be more refugees’ children in schools.

Three mobile temporary towns have been opened in Lviv, two more are being prepared. Are you planning to build permanent housing? Because, for instance, the mayor of Kharkiv is very critical of this idea.

Temporary towns are a summer option, although, as we discussed with Poland the opportunity to equip towns so that they serve in the cold season as well. If we talk about permanent housing, then according to our forecasts, of the 150,000 people who are in Lviv, almost 50,000 may stay. And this is roughly a million square meters. In terms of funds, it is about 800 million dollars. Of course, Ukraine does not have this money, and it’s unlikely that our partner countries will give it to us.

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We are talking now about mortgage lending programs. Just before the start of the aggression, the government adopted a resolution introducing the possibility of mortgage lending at 5% per annum for 20 years. This resolution never came into effect due to the war. But I believe that this is the only chance: people who came to us could go to work and participate in mortgage lending programs. It is unlikely that anyone will donate apartments because there are simply no such opportunities.

There are two more possibilities. The first is for those who have completely lost their homes. They can choose it at the expense of the state in the city where they decided to stay, and the state will pay for this housing. But I did not find this mechanism...

Theoretically, it’s possible, but practically – there are no funds. The level of destruction is getting bigger every day.

You see what has been happening in Kyiv and Poltava in recent days, I’m not talking about Kharkiv and Mariupol. This requires not tens, but hundreds of billions, and not even hryvnias. Now, it’s important to what extent world leaders will participate in this process. They need to understand that it’s a question about the future of the world, not only Ukraine. Little by little, this understanding comes, especially when these leaders come to Borodyanka, Hostomel and see these horrors with their own eyes. The shelling in Kremenchuk is genocide, the deliberate killing of Ukrainians. Therefore, if the world takes a tough position and starts imposing sanctions, which we said about even before the war, on February 24, then there is a chance. Because now, they think, «maybe they will come to an agreement there somehow». And for us, this is a war in which we can only win, because any other options are not accepted in principle. This is a matter of our nation’s survival.

The second possibility: there are certain buildings in Lviv, erected on dubious grounds, which could be demolished by a court decision. And if they cannot be put into operation because there are no documents, then they can be used to accommodate displaced persons.

We have very loyal construction legislation – exclusively in the interests of the developer. And the complete disregard for the interests of ordinary people. When we in Lviv demolished a building on Lychakivska Street several years ago, it was the only precedent in Ukraine during all the years of independence. The developers offered the city authorities a bribe of 700 or 800 thousand dollars for preventing the demolition of this building. And then, we directed them to the place where the «Russian ship» went, because the law must be respected.

As for the premises available in Lviv, indeed, a lot of housing is being built, and each apartment has its owner. At the beginning of the Russian aggression, we appealed to the regional administration, the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, the National Agency on Corruption Prevention regarding the property belonging to the Russians. But there is no reaction, because the procedure is so complicated that you have to go through many circles of hell, and at any stage, there may be a court decision that will cancel everything.

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The aid Ukraine can receive will be calculated on the possibility and necessity of the reforms that need to be made. First of all, this is the rule of law. Because for me personally, victory in the war is not when we push back the enemy, it’s when we rebuild our state. And rebuilding it will be extremely difficult, because people can expect a miracle, but we will have to work very hard, all together.

You brought up the topic of the international community, that we need its help and confidence that it will be safe. Wouldn’t you like to fight for Lviv as the venue for Eurovision?

In my opinion, today there are more worthy cities where it could be held, if security allowed.

If we are convinced organizers to choose the venue in Ukraine, then this is an incentive for Europe to give us such support that all this could happen.

If you go abroad and drive a hundred kilometers, you will understand that the issue of war is somewhere very, very far away. Eurovision is an event that requires the safety of thousands of people, and today, all cities in Ukraine are in danger. The only question is how many minutes the rocket flies to Lviv. If from the Caspian or Black Sea, then half an hour, and if from Belarus, then 15-17 minutes. How do you imagine the air alarm during such an event for 10 thousand people? How to ensure their safety?

I ask about this only because if such a decision is made, it gives a signal that Europe is interested in making it safe here.

There were thoughts of holding the Eurovision Song Contest on the border with the EU. But when there were rocket attacks on our Peacekeeping Center in Yavoriv Oblast, one of the rockets hit three kilometers from the border with the EU. Therefore, I do not think that the organizers of this festival would agree to such a thing, because it is a great responsibility for people’s lives. Ukraine has won, everyone understands us, and therefore it is necessary to seek a decision so that Eurovision will take place in our country, perhaps in a year, when the situation will be safe. And this should be included in the memorandum that will be signed by the organizers of the festival with the Ukrainian side. 

Lviv also applies for two international events. We applied for the right to be the youth capital of Europe in 2025 and the number one city of the volunteer movement in the world in 2024. We expect final decisions in a month or two.

Regarding the city. Currently, two types of expenses are allowed: providing for military needs and the functioning of the city. What exactly belongs to them?

It is very difficult to work, we have to prepare for winter, there are problems with gas and electricity payments. As for any repairs, we can only patch up something, but we ask the company to work on credit. We cannot pay contractors for the work that was done last year: the Treasury is blocking these payments. At one of the meetings, we will appeal to the government to allow the payment of these debts. Military needs, needs of the city, conversion of premises, refugees – these are the priorities.

How did you personally learn that the big war had begun?

I was supposed to fly to Kyiv in the morning on the 24th for a scheduled meeting with the Minister of Regional Development. I woke up at 4 in the morning and saw that it had started. First the comments, then the first shelling, and then the fact that Boryspil airport is closed, as well as Lviv airport. Around 6 o’clock in the morning, we assembled the operational headquarters and began to plan our next actions.

Have there been any official announcements, what to expect, or any conversations?

Already in February, we began to receive the embassies that moved here in Lviv, there were quite frank conversations with the ambassadors, and they all expected the beginning of aggression. In fact, a month before the attack, we started preparing the city for the possibility of accepting the refugees. I even called my colleagues – the mayors of Ternopil, Lutsk, Rivne, Uzhgorod, Chernivtsi, and asked how many people they could accept. We started receiving people on February 25. Everyone knew what to do, and where these people should be directed. For this, we are grateful to all Lviv residents who showed incredible openness! In the first month, there were no international organizations at all – they «hid» and everything was done by Lviv residents themselves. We understood that it would be difficult, but to imagine that a full-scale aggression could take place is abnormal for a normal person.

In addition, many businesses have thought about how to work further. Relocation of enterprises has begun. To what extent did Lviv take part in this?

More than 100 enterprises.

Is this now somehow reflected in the budget or, on the contrary, are there benefits for people to have the opportunity to start these processes?

The general fund is replenished, because the state canceled the withdrawal. Last year, we gave over 700 million hryvnias, which we received from income tax. This year, the development budget is not implemented. 

Regarding the language. Earlier, you said that Lviv is the most Ukrainian-speaking city in the world. And now, here and there they are starting to make allegations about some conflicts at the language level. Do you have such information?

Neither I nor my friends had such a precedent. I can only comment on this topic on the Internet, but it is difficult to find the person who wrote it. This is special propaganda to make people angry at one another. This is done by specially trained people. Russia wants us to direct our attention to such strife between ourselves. People, coming here, having never used Ukrainian before, begin to switch to it. And, believe me, in a month or two they speak Ukrainian better than many Lviv residents who have lived here since their great-grandparents. On the contrary, we need to support and help people, not humiliate them.

And what do you think about granting Ukrainian citizenship to Nevzorov?

The decision on citizenship is made only by the President of Ukraine. And only the president of Ukraine has more information than we do. I still don’t know if he gave him citizenship or not. I don’t know whether some Russians, having taken a democratic position, save themselves in this way or really have it in their hearts. But all Russians must feel their responsibility for this tragedy, which the Russian people are doing, this genocide. This should be isolation for the next 50 years at least. You are a citizen of Russia, which means you support the actions of your government, which destroys, kills, and rapes. It seems that these are barbarians, so all this filth must be burned.

You are planning to open the National Rehabilitation Center «Nezlamni» («Unbreakable») in Lviv. According to the plan, it should become a megaproject at the national level. Its budget is 77 million euros. The project was presented on June 10, and only 2 million euros were collected. How can this project be implemented?

We are not talking about a project, we are talking about building an ecosystem. A person who comes to Lviv for treatment must first undergo an operation, the next step is prosthetics and rehabilitation. And where should this person live and work after that? We want to create an example that should include all of these elements. And the first of them are already working: rehabilitation is taking place, including psychological, and this is very important. People who survived the war – both military and civilians – need psychological rehabilitation. Because we have examples: in 2014, our soldiers received high-quality prostheses, and then died, because they could not survive this post-traumatic syndrome. Many companies and cities are involved in fundraising, and it is important to build it all correctly. Our chief architect Anton Kolomeytsev is currently working with one well-known Austrian company, which puts it all together conceptually, as they say, in jigsaw puzzles and has experience in building such complexes in many countries around the world.

Read also: «Those who haven’t lost their limbs return to the front almost immediately. How Ukrainian soldiers undergo rehabilitation

We plan to open buildings for pregnant women in mid-July [the Red Cross Society of Ukraine has started construction of houses for pregnant women who have found shelter from the war in Lviv] This is the first element of this ecosystem. Our medical association, on the basis of which we are building this rehabilitation ecosystem, is the largest in Ukraine. It has approximately 180,000 medical spaces and about 4,000 employees. And now, there is competition in Ukraine to come here to work.

Should it be supplemented alternately?

Yes. These are certain puzzles. For example, a dormitory from Freiburg, where people after receiving a prosthesis have a certain time to live, adapting to it. Modern prostheses are almost indistinguishable from real limbs.

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Recently, we had a conversation with the Canadian ambassador. They talked to her about older people. Canada has a lot of experience with geriatric complexes because it is an element of the mentioned ecosystem. Sometimes older people simply have nowhere to go, we need to create such conditions for them. This rehabilitation system will give a great advantage to the city itself, because this is a high professional level of doctors, and Lviv residents will definitely benefit from it.

To what extent is the city involved in helping the territorial defense and local voluntary associations?

Every day.

Is there a single person responsible for this, or is it systemic?

I communicate with the commander of our 125th brigade every day, I also call the commander of the 103rd brigade. And every day, we solve current issues, help as best as we can. For me, as well as for every Ukrainian, this is currently a priority, as well as helping our border guards, police, and paratroopers. The main responsibility for provisioning is carried out by the Ministry of Defense, and we help with what they cannot help promptly.

Read also: When is Ukraine to launch a counteroffensive? Interview with a military expert

Regarding local self-government: it is so «quiet» now: meetings of city councils are extremely rare...

Most of the workers are either fighting on the front line, or in territorial defense, or are engaged in ongoing work. Everyone works. Very often such big discussions arise when people have nothing to do and are looking for a place to «light up» in front of the media. I repeat, now everyone is at work, and this is very fruitful cooperation.

Sergiy Smirnov spoke

Text by Kateryna Bortniak

Photo by Ivan Stanislavskyi

Follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Lviv Now is an English-language website for Lviv, Ukraine’s «tech-friendly cultural hub.» It is produced by Tvoe Misto («Your City») media-hub, which also hosts regular problem-solving public forums to benefit the city and its people.


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