19 June 2024
Rising Above the Rubble
Rising Above the Rubble

Trostianets community, located in the Sumy region, is situated 35 kilometers from the border with Russia. Trostianets was the first city in Ukraine to be occupied by the Russians and the first to be liberated. The community members resisted heroically, and through self-organization and coordinated assistance to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, they finally drove out the occupiers on March 25, 2022.

For nearly two years, Trostianets has been recovering from the hostilities, as the enemies ruthlessly destroyed and looted the city. Yuriy Bova, who has been the Mayor of Trostianets for 20 years, led the community through all the horrors of the occupation and headed the Territorial Defense, personally experiencing the consequences of the war on his city:

"When in the first days, we saw the full scale of destruction, there was tremendous despair because we had invested our souls and the community's funds here for years. Our hospital, which served as a model for healthcare reform, had hundreds of shattered windows and a lot of ruined walls. Many businesses for which we struggled to find investors were smashed and looted. The water supply, sewage, lighting, roads, around 800 private houses, and 500 municipal facilities were destroyed. It was difficult to comprehend how much money was needed and where to get it to rebuild everything. But, as Ukrainians say, ‘What the eyes fear, the hands do.’ We didn't give up, and we decided not to dwell on the past but to work."



The damages were estimated at $120 million. Working in shifts of ten at a single computer in a cramped office, the mayor and his team wrote over 600 letters requesting assistance for reconstruction in 2022. Approximately a hundred organizations, entrepreneurs, and ordinary people responded. Since the summer of 2023, the community has also had USAID HOVERLA Activity as one of its partners.

"All communal machinery was either stolen or destroyed, so the community members couldn't receive quality municipal services. The USAID HOVERLA Activity provided us with a backhoe, which we used to repair water supply and sewage networks, construction and restoration, sand extraction, etc. This valuable assistance allowed us to rebuild faster," says the head of one of the communal enterprises (for safety reasons, the woman asked not to mention her name).



The community's recovery pace is truly impressive: about 70% of the facilities are already operational – hospitals, schools, kindergartens; 95% of the residents have returned to Trostianets; around 1,600 internally displaced persons (IDP) have found shelter here. Despite the destruction, no business left the city, emphasizes Yuriy Bova:

"I call Trostianets a city of heroes because many people made tremendous efforts to restore life to a completely destroyed city."



Having met basic needs, the mayor shares the current priorities of the community:

"The most important task now is to seek partners, cooperate with different countries, cities, and organizations, and find new solutions for reconstruction. To build not just to restore old Soviet buildings but to create objects with modern design, inclusivity, and innovative approaches to energy efficiency and safety. It is essential for us to have a clear vision and strategy of where we want to go and build better than it had been before."


The USAID HOVERLA Activity also provides assistance for the community in this area. In August 2023, Trostianets became a sister city to Chattanooga, Tennessee, with the support of the HOVERLA. A few months before that, the Mayor of Trostianets, as part of a delegation of Ukrainian mayors, participated in a visit to the USA, also organized by the USAID HOVERLA Activity. It was during this visit that the Mayor of Trostianets met his future American sister city.



This trip was dedicated to post-war community rebuilding – the challenges that the delegation presented during the Cities Summit of America in Denver, Colorado, and high-level meetings and roundtable discussions in Washington, DC.

Yuriy Bova, who was in the USA for the first time in over 20 years, returned inspired:

"We met with foundations, international institutions, many American mayors. And with the Mayor of Chattanooga, Tim Kelly, we agreed to develop a partnership – and we have already started studying their approaches to park infrastructure formation. In addition, our partner offered to help develop a series of projects for the renovation of schools, cultural institutions, etc. American architects are working on them now – and there are already very high-quality and interesting conceptual proposals for several objects that we are starting to discuss in the community. It is especially pleasant that Americans thoroughly dig into our culture and history and try to preserve and show Ukrainian identity.

Trips like those organized by the USAID HOVERLA Activity are crucial because no online interaction can replace a personal meeting. We cannot close ourselves off for ten years; it is extremely important for us to explore the experiences of other countries today – how the security sector works, NGO, etc., to apply these practices in our community."

Considering the achievements and efforts of the community, Trostianets has been included at the state level in the top five pilot cities that will serve as examples of reconstruction for Ukraine.



Yuriy Bova summarizes:

"Thanks to local self-government, the country survived because it united and supported civilians and assisted the military on the ground. We believe that with the support of partners like the USAID HOVERLA Activity, we will implement many powerful initiatives and become even stronger. And strong communities make a strong Ukraine."


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