“During these three days, I cried many times” — Representative of the Mayor of Leshno Shared Her Impression on Ukrainian Municipalities

Tom Soer
Tom Soer
business ombudsman

Recently, 17 Ukrainian communities met with the heads and representatives of 17 Polish and German communities at the forum of EU-Ukraine municipal partnerships in Wojnowice (Poland), organized by initiative of the Cities 4 Cities  | United 4 Ukraine. One of the panels — the stories of Ukrainian Mayors and heads of communities about how to manage a community in the time of war — extremely impressed the audience. In particular, Katarzyna Plevka-Khizynska, representative of the Mayor of Leshno on the issues of Ukraine, shared her impressions of what she heard in an emotional post. We publish the translation of the text of Mrs. Katazhina without changes.

“I remember when we were in elementary school, we were given an assignment to tell about our greatest authority. Parents came first, followed by grandparents, of course, John Paul II, Valensa, and a few others. Trying to be a rebel at all costs, I wrote that I had no authority and would not have any.

Today, 20 years after that event, almost a year after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, I would not know who to name either. And today there are a lot of them. Ordinary-extraordinary heroes.

A few days ago, I returned from the United4Ukraine Cities Forum. Seventy people who did not know each other representatives of Polish, German and Ukrainian local  self-governments. Somewhat timidly, I sat down on the side, and a man sat in front of me. As it turned out later, he was Pavlo Kuzmenko, the Mayor of Okhtyrka, which is about 40 kilometers from the Russian border. The city of 50,000 people was attacked on February 25. The occupiers shelled a kindergarten with Grad rockets, killing one woman and wounding three children. They used rockets with cluster warheads. The first child was killed in Okhtyrka. It was Okhtyrka that became one of the four “Hero Cities” honored by President Zelenskyy.

So I sit down and start a shy conversation. “What’s going on there now, what do you need?” “We don’t need anything. We’re doing fine,” Pavlo replied. He weighed every word, was calm and balanced. Another Mayor of a city neighboring Okhtyrka told me: “He is a real hero. If there was no Okhtyrka, our city would have been completely destroyed. During the day, Pavlo defended the city, and at night he operated on the wounded.” Then Pavlo told me that he is calm because he is a realist. He said that because of its proximity to the border with the enemy, Okhtyrka had little hope of survival. He said it calmly, and I was trying harder and harder not to cry.

During these three days, I cried many times. Others cried too. Out of rage and helplessness. The next evening I sat with Pavlo again over coffee. Everything he said was so important to me, so wise, that I tried to memorize as much as possible. So that I could talk about it later.

The Mayor of Okhtyrka wants to cooperate with Leshno. We are separated by 1600 km. I asked him what would be the most important thing for him in this cooperation. “To show the youth the world. To show them that they don’t have to be victims.” He didn’t talk about machines, medicine or food. He kept saying: “We will manage with this.” A man who faces war and death every day, a man who calls himself a realist, tells me that if they survive, that will be the most important thing. They can handle the rest on their own. They are already doing well in 100 days they have built a new thermal power plant, which has already started working.

Katarzyna Plevka-Khizynska and Pavlo Kyzmenko, the mayor of Okhtyra at the municipal forum in Wojnowice
Katarzyna Plevka-Khizynska and Pavlo Kyzmenko, the mayor of Okhtyra at the municipal forum in Wojnowice

“Strong people create easy times, easy times create weak people, weak people create hard times.” Pavlo paraphrased at one point. He said: “You are living in easy times now, you can only open your eyes wide.” He is calm and collected again. A real, true hero.

There were more such heroes at the table. After two days in Wroclaw, all of these people took a train and returned home. They returned to a place where bombs are flying overhead. Where they deal with cold and lack of electricity every day. They could stay here. However, they return home. And I think they are coming home for me as well. So that no missiles fly over my house.

It was a great honor for me to meet them. They are real heroes. Thank you.”

Meanwhile, the Mayor of Leshno declares his readiness to cooperate with the authorities of Okhtyrka and agreed on the first steps of cooperation.


Cities 4 Cities | United 4 Ukraine are partnership initiatives that joined forces in September 2022.

Cities 4 Cities was founded by the city of Sindelfingen (Germany) under the patronage of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe. United 4 Ukraine was launched by SALAR International and the city of Lviv (Ukraine) with the support of the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida). 

The initiative’s strategic partners are the Association of Ukrainian Cities and the All-Ukrainian Association of United Territorial Communities.

This publication was produced with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).