Sumy did not give in to the Russians and now dreams of rebuilding with Canada | War in Ukraine
The guns are far from being silent in Ukraine, but many minds are already thinking of reconstruction, an economic imperative and a psychological necessity. Canada is committed to supporting these efforts and the demands are already being heard.
Urban scene in Sumy, a city that bears few traces of the fighting of a year ago.
Under a spring sun, war seems a long way from Sumy. An illusion of peace wanders through its streets. However, this regional capital is only about thirty kilometers from Russia.
At the beginning of the great invasion, the city saw the Russian soldiers very closely. The city and its 260,000 inhabitants stood in the way of troops en route to kyiv and Kharkiv.
But Sumy did not submit and the Russian siege did not break her. The invaders were driven out in April. The big fights took place elsewhere, around larger cities.
Which does not mean that there is nothing to rebuild here, on the contrary. The leaders have a list of needs and hope for help from Canada. Right now.
Last year, Ottawa pledged to support reconstruction efforts throughout Sumy Oblast (region), of which the city of Sumy is the capital.
En interview, the mayor listed some priorities. The most urgent is the repair of one of the two thermal power plants that heat homes in the city.
We repaired it as best we could, explains mayor Oleksandr Lysenko, but everything can break at any time. Especially if the next winter is harsher than the one that is ending.
The mayor of Sumy, Oleksandr Lysenko.
He admits that the system barely responded to the needs when the mercury dipped below -15 degrees Celsius. We don't talk about it, but people have left the sector. Everything was almost frozen.
The mayor does not know how much all this will cost. For its part, the World Bank estimates that more than 560 billion Canadian dollars will be necessary to rebuild the whole country.
The computers of the administration of the Sumy region do not also do not contain an estimate of the total bill, but they do have a daily updated list of requirements.
Taras Savchenko, the military responsible for administering the region during the conflict, details the damage: nearly 5,000 physical structures (buildings, schools) affected, 16 bridges destroyed and more than 1,500 kilometers of roads damaged to varying degrees.
A good part has already been repaired. Before winter, hundreds of windows had even been replaced in anticipation of the cold, a bill largely borne by the Ukrainian state.
We first repair what is most important for sustaining life, says Taras Savchenko. Electricity and heating first, then bridges and homes.
Part of the town of Okhtyrka lies in ruins following the Russian invasion last spring.
A few small towns will need a lot of attention though, places like Okhtyrka, now considered a hero city.
The agglomeration of 46,000 inhabitants (before the war) was partly demolished by Russian artillery. His resistance would have helped to halt the assault on larger cities.
Their elite troops were not far away, recalls Taras Savchenko. Okhtyrka has never been occupied. But she suffered the fury of the Russian bombs. And there, the needs are great.
The city hospital was very badly damaged, he explains. This is one of the places where Canada could quickly help. It's important to the community.
Important, too, to repair the station, the thermal power station, the municipal building, the cultural center… and dozens of homes smashed by the explosions.
Taras Savchenko, the soldier responsible for administering the Sumy region.
Regional officials also have another big problem on their hands. Thousands of Russian and Ukrainian anti-personnel mines hidden in the ground, all over the place.
There are of course many along the 564 kilometer Russian border, in addition to hundreds machines distributed throughout the territory. Explosives that must be removed one by one, by hand.
It's for 100 years!, says Oleksandr, one of the deminers of the Emergency Services of Ukraine. It's everywhere. Grass grew, fragments of bombs fell. The metal detector is ringing all the time!
This former sniper is often approached by people who point out new places to inspect. We put a ribbon and a sign that says "mines". A team will come back later. Prioritize.
Except for a small yellow and blue flag on his chest, Oleksandr is dressed in all black at the foot of this windowless building. From helmet to boots to gloves, everything is done to protect him in the event of an explosion.
He adjusts his gloves, tests his metal detector. We need equipment, launches this big bearded man. According to him, most of the jackets available to deminers are the same size. Not really adapted to the needs.
Oleksandr, one of the deminers of the Ukrainian Emergency Services.
Demining is one of the priorities already identified by Canada. Lots of equipment and tens of millions of dollars have already been donated to Ukraine, but much remains to be done.
It's a big deal, we will need help, says the military official, Taras Savchenko. We need technology, equipment and people. Again, millions of dollars.
The military official also hopes to receive support in the nuclear field. In his region, researchers are working on a compact reactor project, an area in which Canadians are also active.
For this project too, he hopes to obtain money and Canadian technical assistance. These wishes seem far removed from the urgent needs of a country at war. And yet…
Taras Savchenko believes that it is precisely this kind of project that holds the future of his region, of his country. He speaks of it as a signal that the recovery has been thought out and planned there.
After the victory, he says with conviction, our region will have a future.
Our special correspondent Yanik Dumont Baron was in Ukraine from 4 February to 2 March