Swedish-Ukrainian partnerships: One year with Cities4Cities | United4Ukraine

Exactly a year ago, during the International Days at the Swedish Association of Local and Regional  Authorities (SKR), the Cities4Cities | United4Ukraine project started working on establishing Swedish-Ukrainian municipal partnerships. Now one year later, it has managed to launch cooperation between 16 municipal partnerships.

Before Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, cooperation between our countries at the municipal level was developing very slowly. Perhaps the only existing and active partnership was developed between Goathland and Zmiivka (after decentralization, the Beryslav community) in Kherson Region, where the only Swedish settlement in Ukraine is located. 

“For Swedish municipalities, partnership with Ukraine is a very serious and well-considered step. Often, a memorandum of cooperation with the Ukrainian municipality is the second in the history of a Swedish municipality. At the same time, most of the existing international partnerships were established back in the 1960s, mainly with Germany or the Baltic countries,” says Marta Suprun, an expert of the Cities4Cities | United4Ukraine project and continue: It is also extremely important for the Swedish municipality and local politicians to reach a consensus on the partnership, to make sure that it will be filled with concrete content and bring concrete results. The decision-making process itself is not easy.”

The war was a turning point for Swedish-Ukrainian municipal relations. Today, Swedish municipalities have hosted thousands of Ukrainian refugees, are actively providing humanitarian aid, and are ready to help their Ukrainian counterparts integrate into the European Union and share best practices in local development.

“We have to keep in mind why we are developing this cooperation. The most important thing today is to help Ukraine win the war against Russia. The more people in Europe at the local level have relations with Ukraine, understand Ukraine’s needs and challenges, the stronger our support will be.” said Magnus Liljeström, Senior Advisor at the Swedish Association of Local and Regional Authorities (SALAR). 

First achievements over the year

In June 2023, the first forum of the Swedish-Ukrainian municipal partnership was held, with 11 communities from each side participating. At the forum, 5 letters of intent to develop the partnership were signed, and today the number of Swedish-Ukrainian partnerships in the network is already 16.

The first forum of Swedish-Ukrainian partnership
The first forum of Swedish-Ukrainian partnership

Among the established partnerships:

  • Vännäs (Sweden) – Slobozhanske, Kharkiv region (Ukraine);
  • Trilateral partnership – Växjö (Sweden) – Kalush (Ukraine) + Lohja (Finland)
  • Norrköping (Sweden) – Kherson (Ukraine);
  • Karlskoga (Sweden) – Shepetivka (Ukraine);
  • Bengtsfors (Sweden) – Zelenodolsk (Ukraine);
  • Borås (Sweden) – Bila Tserkva (Ukraine);
  • Lidingö (Sweden) – Slavuta (Ukraine)
  • Jönköping (Sweden) – Konotop (Ukraine)
  • Sundbyberg (Sweden) – Vasylkiv (Ukraine)
  • Halmstad (Sweden) – Nikopol (Ukraine)
  • Tyresö Municipality – Bilohorodka (Ukraine)
  • Ekerö (Sweden) – Melitopol (Ukraine)
  • Burlöv (Sweden) – Pervomaiskyi (Ukraine)
  • Kalmar (Sweden) – Poltava (Ukraine)
  • Höör (Sweden) – Kopychyntsi (Ukraine)
  • Karlskrona (Sweden) – Chortkiv (Ukraine)

“The most important thing for us is that these partnerships are not just written on paper. We also help communities to identify potential areas for joint projects and find opportunities for development, so that the cooperation is truly long-term and involves as many citizens as possible,”  points out Marta Suprun.

Youth camps for children

In the summer of 2023, the Swedish community of Tyresö organized a camp for Ukrainian children from Bilohorodka community. These were children who had suffered from the war. Many of them had lost their parents or survived the occupation.

“We tried to do something for these children – we organized a lot of excursions, went in for sports together and introduced them to Swedish culture, cuisine and traditions,” says Anita Mattsson, head of the Tyresö municipality.

“The most important thing is that the children were distracted from life at war, had a rest in a safe place, and felt incredible support and care,” said the representatives of the Bilohorodka community. They note that their plans are not just to stop at such social projects, but also to develop mutually beneficial cooperation.

Photo: https://bilohorodka.org.ua/mizhnarodne-partnerstvo-dity-z-bilohorodskoi-hromady-vidpochyly-v-shvetsii/
Photo: https://bilohorodka.org.ua/mizhnarodne-partnerstvo-dity-z-bilohorodskoi-hromady-vidpochyly-v-shvetsii/

“Our community has valuable experience in responding to military threats, building a civil defense system, and organizing a civil resistance movement. All these topics are of great interest to our Swedish partners,”said Pavlo Regan,  Bilohorodka village deputy head.

Mutual visits to exchange experience

In cooperation with the U-LEAD project, 3 Ukrainian delegations from Slobozhanske, Vasylkiv and Bilohorodka had the opportunity to visit Swedish partners and learn from the best practices of local self-government. In particular, it was extremely interesting for Ukrainian communities to study the Swedish experience in solid waste management.

In particular, the Slobozhanske delegation visited the waste processing plant in Vännäs and agreed to cooperate on the exchange of experience in this area.

“We are currently planning a joint project application with our partners from Slobozhanske on waste management, and we also plan to cooperate on education, social services and elderly care,” says Anna Frej, head of the Vännäs municipality. “The main thing is that our experience shows that steps in partnership can be taken even in the face of the ongoing war in Ukraine.”

Slobozhanske delegation in Vännäs
Slobozhanske delegation in Vännäs

“It was especially touching for us that Vännäs decided to hold Ukrainian-themed events in schools to draw people’s attention to the situation in Ukraine and particularly in Slobozhanske,” says Dmytro Dikhtyar, head of the Slobozhanska community,We feel that we have found real friends in Sweden.”

A visit to Kherson

A special event of the Swedish-Ukrainian partnership network was the visit of the Norrköping delegation to Kherson in the autumn of 2023.

“Kherson is a frontline city that Ukrainians defended against the Russian aggressor. We went there to see everything with our own eyes. Kherson was seriously damaged by the war, partially destroyed and partially flooded. Many civilians have been killed and wounded by the enemy,” said Christopher Jarnvall, a member of the Norrköping City Council.

“This is a long-term cooperation, we are focusing on the post-war period, but we are also planning urgent projects. Above all, we want to support a city that is fighting for freedom,says Reidar Svedahl, Deputy Mayor of Norrköping.

In December 2023, the cities officially signed a memorandum of cooperation and are actively discussing joint future projects.

“The municipality of Norrköping is interested in the experience of crisis management — how to respond to and prepare for challenges, as they realize that even they in Sweden may face the risk of war. We value their experience in moving the port from the city center to the outskirts.  In the field of education — we are both interested in learning how high schools and colleges work on each side. In particular, we will develop cooperation with Swedish businesses from Norrköping, as we are currently creating industrial parks and want to attract their businesses to create jobs in Kherson,” said Vitaliy Bielobrov, Deputy Mayor of Kherson.

Utility equipment for Ukraine

Since the beginning of the war, the Swedish organization Blaljus i samverkan, which brings together veterans of Swedish rescue services, has sent dozens of vehicles to Ukrainian communities. The Swedish municipalities in the network have also actively joined in and donated their municipal vehicles to their partner cities. In particular, Zelenodolsk and Poltava received fire trucks from their partners.


Mayor of Zelenodolsk Dmytro Neveselyi together with the mayor of Bengtsfors Stig Bertilson and volunteers of
Mayor of Zelenodolsk Dmytro Neveselyi together with the mayor of Bengtsfors Stig Bertilson and volunteers of "Blaljus i samverkan"

“The war has become not only a terrible challenge but also a driver of rapid changes in Zelenodolsk. Today we hope not only for humanitarian aid, but also for the implementation of joint development projects that will help improve life in our communities,” said Mayor of Zelenodolsk Dmytro Neveselyi, as he took over two fire trucks from the mayor of the Swedish sister city Stig Bertilson in Lviv. 

New opportunities for cooperation with Sweden

Sweden is committed to supporting Ukraine not only through military and humanitarian support, but also by increasing opportunities for partnerships at the local level.

Last year, the Swedish Institute launched a special program to support Ukraine, which will fund projects to transfer the necessary experience to Ukraine for European transformation and reconstruction. Several municipalities from the network have already submitted their projects to a preliminary call for proposals and received support. In particular, a joint project on experience exchange will be implemented by Höör (Sweden) and Kopychyntsi.

A new call for proposals will run until May 15, and both municipalities and NGOs that cooperate with them can apply. To apply, you need to have at least 1 Swedish partner. On the Ukrainian side, the number of partners can be from 1 to 5.

In addition, projects to exchange experience in the field of resilience building are being actively implemented through the recently created ICLD network, which includes the Ukrainian cities of Kolomyya, Kopychyntsi, Chortkiv, Slavuta, Lutsk, Beryslav, Ternopil, Kherson, Kalush, Poltava, Berdychiv, and Shatsk.

In addition, partnerships with Sweden can help Ukrainian communities more actively participate in new EU programs that have become available to Ukraine.

The article was prepared by Marta Suprun, International Cooperation Expert at Cities4Cities | United4Ukraine

About us

Cities4Cities United4Ukraine are partnership initiatives that joined forces in September 2022. United 4 Ukraine was launched by SALAR International and the city of Lviv (Ukraine) with the support of the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida). Cities4Cities was founded by the city of Sindelfingen (Germany) under the patronage of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe.