#Kharkiv #mayor #Ukraines #city #safe
The unmistakable bang of shells echoed around bomb-ravaged buildings in western Kharkiv as the mayor of Ukraine’s former Soviet capital prepared for his interview.
But the blast in the suburb of Pisochyn went unnoticed in a city at the heart of the Russian invasion, reducing its hardest-hit neighborhoods to rubble.
“The Russian aggressors are trying to turn Kharkiv into a miserable city like they have in Russia,” Igor Terekhov told AFP in a city-centre cafe.
“But they will not succeed. And as you can see, the people of Kharkiv are defending their city with guns in hand,” the Russian-speaking official said through an interpreter.
The 55-year-old, who was elected last November, soon faced the combined might of tens of thousands of Russian troops pouring across the border, which is the closest just 30 kilometers away.
Kharkiv – Ukraine’s second largest city – was besieged from the first days of the full-scale conflict.
It looked like it would quickly fall victim to invading Russian troops, supported by massive artillery barrage and rocket attacks.
Ukrainian forces managed to halt the advance and push back the invading force from the outskirts of the city.
But the Russians remain dug in just a few kilometers away, leaving most of Kharkiv vulnerable to shelling.
– Shattered Hopes –
“We have nine districts in the city and they are all bombed with different intensities and at different times. So you can’t say that anywhere in Kharkiv is safe,” he said.
“Yes, it’s safe in the shelters and it’s safe on the subway… But there’s no neighborhood, no place in the city that can be said to be totally safe.”
By the end of March, nearly a third of Kharkiv residents had left, seeking refuge in towns further west, where daily life doesn’t necessarily mean fighting with cruise missiles and artillery fire.
There was a brief lull in early May as Russian forces retreated towards the border.
Around 2,000 people returned by train every day, small shops reopened and harassed residents came out of subway stations.
But the bombardment quickly resumed, shattering any hope of a return to pre-war normality.
Last week, shelling killed three people, including a 13-year-old boy, adding to another death toll that Terekhov says numbers in “many hundreds,” though he refuses to give an exact number.
– 150,000 homeless –
The war also destroyed 30 percent of the city’s homes and apartments, Terekhov said, and left a staggering 150,000 people homeless.
“That’s more than the population of many European cities… 101 kindergartens, 110 schools, 53 medical facilities and a perinatal center were hit,” he said.
“A lot of it cannot be rebuilt. Also a subway depot, substations, our city transport network.”
Kharkiv, which is geographically much closer to Russia than Kyiv, is largely Russian-speaking and has long been considered more Moscow-sympathetic than many of Ukraine’s central and western cities.
That mood changed with Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the start of a Moscow-backed separatist conflict in neighboring regions to the east.
Antipathy towards the Kremlin has only hardened since the February 24 invasion began.
Some Ukrainian officials now fear another Russian attempt to take the city, which had a population of about 1.4 million before the war.
“The Russian aggressor is constantly trying to break into the city of Kharkiv. Therefore we are preparing and our army is training,” Terekhov said.
“We have to defend our city. And we will defend our city. We will defend Ukraine.”
Asked how long he sees the fighting raging in eastern Ukraine, the mayor said he could not question Moscow’s intentions but hoped for a Ukrainian victory “as soon as possible”.
He already envisions a future where the people of Kharkiv not only survive, but thrive.
He revived as he began to outline his vision for revitalizing the city, preserving the charm of the old town while transforming it into a national center for technology and innovation.
“After our win there will be a new dynamic in Kharkiv, Ukraine,” he said.
“And we have this opportunity to build a new city and a new country.”
#Kharkiv #mayor #Ukraines #city #safe