‘We will win’: Ukrainian mayor’s powerful speech on Russian war as city twins with Sheffield
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Oleksandr Symchyshyn’s speech brought tears to the eyes of some sitting in the Town Hall council chamber as he spoke of the thousands of fresh graves and destroyed villages and cities he had seen on trips to the front line and the deaths of the ‘best people’ in his country caused by Vladimir Putin’s war.
The Khmelnytskyi mayor gifted Sheffield a Ukrainian flag signed by fighters on the front line when he visited yesterday for a special meeting to officiate the twinning of the two cities.
He said the lives of every Ukrainian changed profoundly in February when the war began.
Everyday there are attacks targeting civilian infrastructure aiming to deprive Ukrainians of electricity, water and heating, he said.
“These terrorist attacks only make us more determined and demonstrate the value of democracy, civilised life and peaceful life,” he added.
Recently, Khmelnytskyi, which is in western Ukraine, gave awards to 94 individuals – the youngest of whom was 18 and the eldest 58 – who died in the conflict.
“The most terrible sight of this war is we are losing the best people,” Mr Symchyshyn said. “Just this Saturday I came back from my latest and most recent trip to the front line. I drove over 3,000 kilometres along the ruined villages and cities – in some places not a single building survived, in others I saw thousands of fresh graves.
“However, rest assured Ukrainians are not giving up, we are not yielding, it’s a war that is bigger than Ukraine.
“We are fighting for freedom, for democracy, for human rights, we are fighting for the most basic right – the right to be alive. That is why we are going to win.”
Twinning with Sheffield
City officials from Khmelnytskyi approached Sheffield in June expressing interest in developing closer relationships between the two cities to share civic, cultural, educational and business opportunities.
Mr Symchyshyn said the new twinning with the Steel City symbolised hope for the future and he was grateful to Sheffield for the partnership.
He said: “The memorandum signals that you agree with us, you believe in us, and you think the same as us that victory of Ukraine will mean the victory of democracy and victory for civilised life and hope for everyone who shares these values.”
Following Mr Symchyshyn’s speech, Labour council leader Terry Fox said: “We open our arms to the people of Ukraine, we open our arms to the residents of Khmelnytskyi.”
He added: “On a number of trips around many of Europe’s battlefields I’ve seen the scars of yesteryear but to live through it as you are today we can only begin to feel the pain you must be feeling at this moment in time.”
Councillor Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of Sheffield Liberal Democrats, added: “Welcome to Sheffield – the UK’s first City of Sanctuary and a city that welcomes all.”