Interview with the mayor of Slavutych, Ukraine: Solidarity among local governments is needed to protect citizens

Non-nuclear-weapon states must be protected

by Kana Kobayashi, Staff Writer

On October 6, Yuri Fomichev, 46, Mayor of Slavutych, a northern city in Ukraine which is a member of Mayors for Peace, agreed to be interviewed by the Chugoku Shimbun online prior to the General Conference of Mayors for Peace (for which Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui serves as president), and to be held on October 19 and 20 in Hiroshima City. Amid Russia’s invasion of the country and suggestion of the use of nuclear weapons in the war, he appealed, “The heads of local governments need to work in solidarity to protect their citizens from nuclear threat.”

How did you take the “threat of nuclear weapons” by Russian President Vladimir Putin?
We’ve got too used to the threat by Russia. However, we understand the horror of nuclear weapons from the devastation Hiroshima has gone through. If Russia used a nuclear weapon, it would prove that we shouldn’t have given up nuclear weapons because countries without them would be attacked with the weapon, leading to the conclusion that it is not possible to defend our country without them. Nuclear-weapon states must prevent a nuclear war.

The population of the city has decreased by about 4,000 to 21,000 since the start of the Russia’s invasion. What damage has it done to your city?
We could not use electricity, and were with no medical supplies and foods delivered for six days from February 24, the day Russia launched the invasion. The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant nearby was captured by Russian forces right after they started the invasion. On March 23, they demanded surrender from us saying that they would not harm the city if we surrendered. I was held in custody, with my hands tied behind me, after I took about 200 Russian soldiers to the suburbs. I showed there were no Ukrainian soldiers, and we avoided their military intervention.

Russia unilaterally claimed the annexation of four regions in Ukraine.
Only Russia has said that. It is not the decision by Ukraine. The annexation is illegal.

What do you think is the significance of the heads of local governments working in solidarity to abolish nuclear weapons?
It is the citizens who fall victim to the use of nuclear weapons. The heads of local governments have a responsibility to protect the lives of citizens. The president is not a close figure to ordinary people, and their views do not easily reach the country leader. Solidarity among the heads of local governments is needed in order to protect people from nuclear threat and to work on the national government.

What do you expect from the leaders of the Group of Seven nations who will be having the (G7 summit) meeting in Hiroshima next year?
It may seem unrealistic to realize a “world without nuclear weapons” now, but that is the very reason why the G7 needs to appeal their stance to the world that they will walk the path toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. The G7 should send out the message that they would protect non-nuclear-weapon states responsibly from nuclear threat.

(Originally published on October 7, 2022)