Mayor of war-torn Mariupol makes surprise visit to Banbury
Around 22,000 people have been killed in Vadym Boichenko’s city since the Russian invasion began
The mayor of a war-devastated Ukrainian city visited Banbury last night.
In an event which wasn’t announced in advance due to security concerns, Vadym Boichenko, the leader of Mariupol met civic dignitaries, councillors, and members of the town’s Ukrainian community at a reception in the town hall.
Mariupol is the city on the northern coast of the Sea of Azov which has seen some of the worst devastation since Russia invaded Ukraine. An estimated 22,000 civilians have died and 90% of the city’s infrastructure has been damaged. Mariupol was home to maternity hospital number three, where four people were killed in a strike on March 9. Today the city of half a million people is down to just 120,000 trying to survive there.
It was thanks to the Mayor of Banbury the trip to the UK was possible. Mayor Boichenko, like all Ukrainians in the war-torn country, is subject to martial law. An invitation to visit Banbury from our Mayor, Councillor Fiaz Ahmed, provided a reason to grant Mayor Boichenko an exit visa. He then had to head to Poland to get a UK visa and to catch a flight here.
Mayor Boichenko told last night’s reception what Mariupol had been like before the war and spoke of his vision for a rebuilt city once it is back in Ukrainian hands. The mayor is currently living in exile in Dnipro, 200 miles to the north. He and a team of architects have been working on the vision – a project called Mariupol Reborn.
Vadym Boichenko told Banbury FM: “We are temporarily displaced and today we are forming plans for our return to Mariupol.
“We are forming them right now, we have already formed a plan called an immediate response plan. They’ve been working on them for nine months.”
Mayor Boichenko spoke very positively of the support the UK is giving Ukraine. He said: “Great Britain is a great friend and great partner of the state of Ukraine, and we are very grateful to the British government and all citizens who sincerely support Ukraine today.”
Sir Tony Baldry introduced Mayor Boichenko at last night’s reception. He told the audience that Mariupol was probably one of the cities which was most devastated by the Russian invasion.
Sir Tony said: “Almost every building has been damaged; half of the buildings have been destroyed. Over 20,000 people have been murdered by the Russian invasion and the city suffered 86 days of constant bombardment.
“The mayor was in London, having had a meeting with the Attorney General, Victoria Prentis, to discuss war crimes and what the UK Government is doing on that, and on war reparations. Clearly they are very determined that Russia should pay for the rebuilding of a new Mariupol once it is retaken by Ukrainian forces.
“What we have seen in frontline cities like Mariupol and Kharkiv are really some of the worst war crimes of the 21st century. What Putin has done in cities like Mariupol must stand alongside with the atrocities of Stalin and Hitler. There’s no other way of looking at it.”
At the end of the evening Mayor Boichenko was presented with a Banbury flag by the Leader of Banbury Town Council, Kieron Mallon.
Councillor Mallon said: “I think we were the first In the country that ran the Ukrainian flag up our flagpole – it’s up there today. We’re proud of the people of Banbury who pull together during these times.
“Any support that we can give anyone from Ukraine is tremendously important. We went through the Second World War with the Blitz. They must be going through similar things now. Terrible, terrible times. Even if it’s a small thing the word gets back to Ukraine – to the people in the villages and towns and cities – that we in the UK are 100% behind them. That has got to be good.”
Sir Tony is also proud of the support being shown to Ukraine here in Banbury. He said: “Banbury has the largest project supporting Ukraine based in the old Debenhams store in Castle Quay. Its a huge logistics exercise – absolutely enormous – getting supplies out to Ukraine: medicines, clothes, bandages and foodstuffs. Its led by an amazing lady called Magda. Its the Ukrainian community here coming together with the local community. Local drivers are led by James Clark who in his day job runs the Hook Norton Brewery. It’s a most fantastic exercise and the largest project of its kind in the United Kingdom.”
The reception ended with the singing of the Ukraine national anthem.
Mayor Boichenko is hoping to be able to return home to Mariupol by the end of the year.
The Banburyt flag being presented by Councillor Kieron Mallon:
pictures: Banbury FM and Julian Dancer
Published: by Banbury FM Newsteam