Chernihiv mayor on situation in the city, courage of defenders

17 March 2022, 08:31 PM

Due to the growing intense shelling, the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv is living without water, electricity, and with interruptions in the supply of food and medicine. However, its mayor Vladyslav Atroshenko is confident that the city will withstand Russian aggression.

Since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Chernihiv has become one of the cities subjected to relentless shelling by Russian troops. During the 20 days of the war, more than 200 civilians have died there, and the authorities estimate the damage from the destruction of the city in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

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NV spoke with the mayor of Chernihiv, Vladyslav Atroshenko, about the humanitarian situation in the city, their readiness to defend themselves, and their hatred towards the Russians.

- What is the situation in Chernihiv now [on the evening of March 16]?

- Extremely difficult. Today, we saw significantly increased intensity of shelling of residential areas of the entire city from all types of weapons – both artillery and aircraft. For more than a week we have not had a single day without an aerial bombardment, and today there were several from high altitudes. The city is on fire in many locations: residential buildings, shops are burning. Today, the enemy hit a major Soyuz (local supermarket chain - ed.) store, resulting in over a dozen civilian casualties.

- Is this the one where people were standing in line for bread?

- Yes. There was not a single soldier there, only ordinary people.

- In recent years, a lot of resources have been invested in the re-construction of Chernihiv. How heavy is the destruction in the city as of today?

- It's not just the resources. This was a joint effort of numerous teams: architects, builders, housing and utility service workers, and, of course, money. The destruction of the city's infrastructure today can be estimated (in the hundreds of millions of dollars.)

- You have published disturbing photographs of wooden coffins with dead Chernihiv residents, whom you bury in trenches. Why does it have to be done this way?

- Because our central city cemetery Yatseve is located on the outskirts of the city where hostilities are ongoing. And we cannot bury people there today. Therefore, we [now] use a closed and filled-up cemetery. We set aside separate land plots there, there is very little territory. Therefore, we are burying according to Christian customs, but in such a way... We will rebury them [later].

- How many civilians have already died?

- More than two hundred.

- Are there any risks that Chernihiv may go through the humanitarian catastrophe that we are witnessing now in Mariupol?

- If we consider the damage in absolute terms, then the city of Chernihiv is definitely in third place, after Mariupol and Kharkiv. But given the size of Kharkiv, the density of destruction is much higher in Chernihiv, which is a small city. Therefore, today, if I may compare like this, more houses were damaged in Kharkiv, but this city is also much larger. The view of today's Chernihiv is simply shocking.

- Is the city supplied with food and medicine?

- The supply situation is extremely difficult. Because retail chains produce, if I may compare, 10% of the supply volumes. And, in fact, it is the humanitarian aid that helps us through it. But it also arrives irregularly, and not every day. Besides, humanitarian aid does not come in large trucks. These are small vans, hence the volumes are limited.

- Do you manage to stock up? Or is everything used only to meet the current needs of the inhabitants?

- Of course, we try to form small reserves from that incoming humanitarian aid. But we’re talking several days’ worth of stocks. Moreover, all these stocks are only long-term storage products. Because today we have practically no electricity in the city, so we do not store frozen food. On top of that, we decided to distribute to people everything that we had in storage: chicken, frozen meat. We had it all unfrozen, and we cannot store it. There is a problem with this.

- How long can the city hold out in the event of a siege?

- The city will hold out until victory. As long as it takes. But people are having a hard time. I can say with absolute certainty that we are now approaching a humanitarian catastrophe. The city has no water, no electricity, no heating. There are interruptions in the supply of medicines and dressings. Nowadays, we are very worried about all infections of gastrointestinal origin induced by the inability to comply with hygiene requirements.

A lot of people are sick. Four times more people die a natural death than in peacetime. If earlier, on average, up to 10 people died a day, today we bury 40. These are people who simply die from heart attacks and various diseases. These are the ones who can't withstand the war. These are old people with pathologies who would still be alive, but today they can no longer withstand this nervous, psychological, and physical stress. And to-day we were recruiting volunteers to form an additional team of carpenters to make coffins.

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- You previously used social networks to urge residents of the western and central regions of Ukraine to reinforce the ranks of Chernihiv defenders. How many such people have arrived, and do you still need more?

- At this stage, I am not aware of the number of those who arrived. There were such cases. But we need support, and today Chernihiv is a symbol of resilience and courage. And I think that for many reasons it is worth sup-porting Chernihiv and the armed forces of Chernihiv with both weapons and people. Because we are really holding up the enemy on our borders, we are not letting him go further into Kyiv and other regions. Believe me, if the enemy breaks through to other oblasts... Frankly speaking, today, according to the people who took their parents to western Ukraine, their attitude towards the war is approximately the same as we all had towards the anti-terrorist operation [in Donbas].

What was happening in the ATO was understood only by those people who went through it. All the rest perceived the ATO as – of course – a war, but one far away and in no way threatening them directly. Today, many people have this attitude: we see ordinary life, perhaps not all restaurants work, but gas stations, shops are open, people meet up and go for walks outside. There is a certain tension, but they do not have a war. So here you need to clearly understand: if we do not contain the enemy on the borders of the Chernihiv Oblast, then the war will come to other areas. There is no doubt about this.

- To what extent do Chernihiv citizens help the city to fight?

- There are different groups. There are mothers with babies, there are city fighters who are not afraid of anything, there are people who are on the front line and volunteers who literally drive across the conflict line on a daily basis – those are less afraid. People who are in basements and shelters are in a rather depressed psychological state: they are afraid of everything, including going outside. And indeed it is these people who are suffering psychologically the most. We try to get psychologists to some-how deal with these people. This is what we observe both in large groups that are in shelters, and in individual families in the zone subjected to the shelling that have been hiding in basements for a long time. Children of 7-12 years are afraid to come up, they have psychological stress, they try to remain in the basement the whole time.

- Are you trying to evacuate the most vulnerable people?

- We do see this happening. In recent days, about 150 children of the servicemen, who are on the front line, have been evacuated. And people leave every day. But there is no officially confirmed green corridor yet. Therefore, I would advise people to leave the city in separate small groups, small vans. I wouldn't recommend large crowds or cars or buses. It's risky.

- You said earlier that in Chernihiv there is a large part of Russian-speaking people who feel a close connection with Russians and Belarusians...

- I don't want to offend anyone. We have Ukrainian-speaking people, Russian-speaking people, there are those who use “surzhyk”. But, given the distance to Russia and Belarus (about 80 km), in some settlements close to the Novi Yarylovychi crossing along the Chernihiv-Gomel highway, there are up to 50% of ethnic Belarusians. Therefore, they speak either surzhyk or Russian-Belarusian. And, of course, the attitude of the popula-tion of Chernihiv towards Belarusians and Russians was warmer than that of the population of Ternopil. This is historical.

- Well, has that changed now?

- Undoubtedly. Today, 100% of the population hates Russians. They are considered murderers and fascists.

- Do you think this hatred will last for generations?

- There are historical observations. I think that several generations, several decades must pass, so that we can even consider some kind of reconciliation. Of course, time heals all wounds. We have sister cities in Germany, we communicate. Even though the German fascists wiped Chernihiv off the face of the earth – it was one of the ten most destroyed cities. This relentless bombardment took place on August 23-26, 1941. Now this crime is repeated by Russian fascists. So we did reconcile with the Germans: today we have a cemetery of fascist invaders who died during the battles for the liberation of Chernihiv. And as a sign of reconciliation, we, for example, took care of this cemetery. The Germans, when they came, visited their relatives. Someday we will reconcile with Russia, but it will not be in five or ten years. Time needs to pass. You can reconcile, but you can never trust Russia. And it would be extremely foolish of Ukrainians to start to trust Russia. Russia can never be trusted: not ever, not in 200 years.

- Will Chernihiv be able to survive?

- I have no doubt that Chernihiv will stand its ground. The only question is how much blood will be shed and with how many casualties. Make no mistake: Chernihiv residents and our ancestors never ran away from anyone. We can still knock on some doors and ask for redress. I, personally, have a great desire to ask the Russians for redress.

- Do you think it can be done?

- I am convinced that, according to all written and unwritten norms and rules, several generations of taxpayers in Russia should pay with their money for the restoration of what they have done – their army, their Putin,and all their scum who are bombing Chernihiv and other cities these days.

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