Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday got a first-hand account of the horrors and hardships being endured by innocent civilians in Ukraine, including the bombing of 50 schools.
The harrowing account came from Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov during a split-screen Zoom call aided by an interpreter.
Lightfoot asked Terekhov to describe the daily challenges he faces during the Russian invasion that has dragged on for weeks amid fierce resistance from the people of Ukraine.
“Strikes are coming from everywhere. From sky. From artillery strikes. ... Every single day. The strikes from the sky [are] every day and every hour. Bombing peaceful residential buildings. Residential estates. Victims everywhere,” Terekhov said.
Kharkiv, in northeastern Ukraine, about 25 miles south of the border with Russia, was one of the hardest-hit urban areas at the start of the invasion.
“For today, 50 schools are bombed fully in the city. … A lot of hospitals and a lot of medical centers were also bombed and destructed fully,” Terekhov said. “We need to put some hospitals together, to change people from one to another. Maternity hospital also was bombed. … A lot of people with insulin dependence is also a great problem. We’re trying to put them in the special hospital and give them special medicine.”
Lightfoot was appalled, but not surprised.
“So, Mr. Mayor. What I’m hearing you say is that the Russians are systematically destroying infrastructure, health care facilities and intentionally terrorizing innocent residents — all in an effort to destabilize your country,” she said.
Terekhov told his Chicago counterpart she was “absolutely right.” He then told Lightfoot that “600 multi-floor houses are fully destroyed. ... So you can understand how many people are now without living spaces and without a house.”
Kharkiv is Ukraine’s second-largest city, with a population of about 1.4 million.
“So the main … activity now is to stop the war. The U.S. position is very important here. To close the sky over Ukraine and over our city. … This is my main message to everybody because a lot of victims from the civilians now because of the strikes in aviation. … Also the sanction list … should [apply] more pressure for Russian Federation.”
Lightfoot pledged Chicago’s ongoing support for the duration of the war.
“We will continue to send all the aid that we possibly can. We have rallied our business community to help with organizations here in Chicago and the surrounding area to send all of the foodstuffs, humanitarian supplies. And we will continue to do that. We will not stop until this war is over and until Ukraine is able to start to recover,” she said.
As a “lawyer by training and a former prosecutor,” Lightfoot said she can only hope that someone on Terekhov’s team is “documenting the war crimes that are being committed in your city.”
She added: “We will continue to push our country and the European Union to hold Russia and Putin accountable for what they are doing on a daily basis. We will not rest until there is full accountability for Putin and the Russians for what they are doing to destroy your peaceful country.”
Terekhov said Lightfoot was “absolutely right,” and his hope is that Putin and Russia pay a price for the “horror” they have inflicted.
“You can watch it on TV now — all this horror that they committed to our country. … That’s why they need to be responsible … for what they have done to our country,” he said.
Lightfoot closed the sobering conversation by telling Terekhov: “You and your team are heroes to us. It’s tough to be a mayor. It’s tough to have been a mayor over the last two years. But I can only imagine what your daily struggle is at a time of war.”
Terekhov said he was grateful for the support from civic and business leaders in Chicago and from the city’s large Ukrainian population.
“I hope that, after our win and after our victory, we will together recover all of our country and we jointly will finish as soon as possible this … inhuman action from the Russian Federation,” he said.
“I’m very grateful for this support and for your commitment and I honestly hope that, after our victory, I will have the opportunity to invite you to our beautiful city of Kharkiv and we will jointly do our best for its recovery.”
Lightfoot replied: “We pray for you every day and we will be here for you. And I look forward to drinking from the cup of victory with you.”