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‘Hull is inspirational’: Mariupol academics look to Yorkshire as they plan for rebuilding of city

<span>After heavy bombing during the second world war, Hull consulted architects, urbanists and historians to rebuild.</span><span>Photograph: eye35.pix/Alamy</span>
After heavy bombing during the second world war, Hull consulted architects, urbanists and historians to rebuild.Photograph: eye35.pix/Alamy

Architects rebuilding the destroyed city of Mariupol will learn lessons from Hull, which was regenerated after heavy bombing in the blitz, the rector of Mariupol’s university has said.

Mariupol, a city under Russian control in south-east Ukraine, became emblematic of the brutality of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine after it was besieged by troops in February 2022 and endured 80 days of bombardment.

Speaking on a visit to Hull, Prof Mykola Trofymenko, the rector of Mariupol State University, which is operating in exile in Kyiv, said: “Hull is a great example for Mariupol because even our maps are similar.

“The background is similar, Mariupol is also an industrial city. Hull was almost totally destroyed during the second world war by Nazi bombing. Mariupol is destroyed now.

“We are working with different stakeholders to plan how we will rebuild Mariupol … how we can recover and heal our inhabitants from their psychological problems they have after what they faced during the siege.”

The university has a twinning agreement with the University of Hull, which has supported the razed university in its relocation to Kyiv, including by sending computer equipment, raising money to build new student dorms in the city, and running online English classes for staff and students.

Several other educational institutions in the UK have made similar arrangements to support Ukrainian colleges and universities with remote learning, such as Newcastle College and the Kryvyi Rih Applied College of Trade and Hotel and Restaurant Business, Coventry University and Alfred Nobel University, and Queen’s University Belfast and Borys Grinchenko Kyiv University.

Trofymenko said Mariupol State University would play a vital role in helping to preserve the European identity and culture of Mariupol while the city is under Russian control, providing a focal point for displaced citizens.

“The right Mariupol will be built around the university,” he said. “We can plan to rebuild the city, but if people won’t come back, for whom are we fighting this war?”

This reflects the difference between the Ukrainian and Russian approaches, he added. “Mariupol was very pro-Russian, but they decided to destroy it, so I don’t know how they can say they’re protecting the Russian-speaking population.

“We are fighting for the people and they are fighting for our territories. I think the Ukrainian position is more European. Our university has been working throughout its whole existence to support the idea of European integration.”

Mariupol is also receiving support from several other universities, including in Lithuania and Poland, where they have been arranging mobility programmes for refugee students.

“The name of the heroic city of Mariupol is well known all over the world. It’s a tragedy for us, but we believe we should transfer this tragedy into opportunities,” Trofymenko said.

He envisages the Kyiv campus being in operation for at least five to eight years, though this will depend on whether and when Ukraine regains Mariupol. A rebuilt city would inevitably differ from its predecessor, not least because a quarter of its inhabitants were killed.

“I don’t believe all [the] people will come back after what they faced out there. Mariupol is now a huge cemetery. We’ll have discussions about whether to rebuild it totally or partly, or if we will create a memorial to human stupidity, when the ruler of one country decided to destroy and kill so many people, for nations to remember we shouldn’t let anybody do the same in the future,” he said.

Trofymenko anticipates that the university will play a “core role” in these discussions, and suggested that appropriate sites for a memorial would include: the Azovstal iron and steel works, where Ukrainian forces hid out in nuclear bunkers; the bombed drama theatre, where 2,000 people were hiding in a building with “children” written on its roof in Russian; or the shelled maternity hospital.

This might resemble Oradour-sur-Glane in France, a village in which 643 civilians were massacred by the Nazis in the second world war, the ruins of which have been preserved as a memorial.

Trofymenko said academics at his university would study the resilience of Hull’s population and how its postwar utopian Plan for Hull rebuilt devastated homes and traumatised communities, involving Hull’s architects, urbanists and historians. “The community of Hull recovered from this tragedy, and they rebuilt their city. For us it’s a very inspirational example.”

In the meantime, Trofymenko said one vital puzzle piece was required before anyone could start thinking about rebuilding Mariupol.

“We need weapons for our armed forces. We don’t have time to hold negotiations between the Democratic and Republican parties in US. European assistance isn’t enough.

“We’re fighting a huge army, a huge country, we are defending the very important values of the civilised world, freedom and democracy – we’re fighting for this. This is the only thing we want. If our donors stop helping our armed forces we will not have a Ukraine in the future.”