Reports from Ukraine: This feature is part of an original Milwaukee Independent editorial series that recorded news from cities across Ukraine, including Milwaukee's sister city of Irpin, in May 2022. It was the first and, at that time, only news organization in Wisconsin that traveled to the country since it was invaded. The purpose of this journalism project was to document personal stories and events that detailed or showed the conditions of the war at that time, and their connections to Milwaukee.

Leaders from Milwaukee’s Sister City of Irpin made a special visit on May 30, in an effort to secure assistance from Mayor Cavalier Johnson and financial support from the business community to help rebuild their demolished city.

Former Mayor Volodymyr Karplyuk and current Mayor Oleksandr Markushin met with Mayor Johnson in person for the first time. At the start of the Russian invasion, the two leaders connected via a Zoom call. Mayor Johnson remembered his shock at seeing his counterpart wearing body armor for the chat, as Mayor Markushin had just returned from the frontlines.

> Read: Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson speaks with Mayor of Irpin as Milwaukee’s sister city faces brutal attack

After the breakfast meeting both Mayors held a joint press conference, calling on the Milwaukee business community to help its Sister City. During the siege and partial occupation, Russian forces systematically targeted Irpin’s civilian population. The tactic would become the playbook of the invasion force, committing war crimes to compensate for the lack of military capability.

For the past several weeks, Irpin has restored public utilities like electricity and water. While residents have been asked not to return yet until areas were declared safe and the local government had enough resources in place to offer aid, thousands of people were still returning home. In many cases, their houses or residential buildings have been destroyed and their possessions looted.

Mayor Markushin and his administration have address the short term need for shelter, but permanent housing solutions require more time. With Irpin relatively safe now that the Russian dictator has refocused his attacks in Ukraine’s east, residents are trying to find a sense of normality.

Which was why the delegation from Irpin came to its Sister City. Schools will start again in September, and those institutions were specifically targeted in Russia’s campaign of brutality. Constant shelling and mortar fire left most of the city’s schools in ruins. Irpin needed help to repair its educational infrastructure, as well as public services. Mayor Markushin came to Milwaukee asking for support.

“We came to Milwaukee to extend our request for help, so that the children of Irpin can return to schools in September. We need to rebuild the schools, kindergartens, communication systems, and critical infrastructure for citizens to feel normal again. This is all needed right now,” said Mayor Markushin. “So we are asking the residents of our Sister city, and the business community, to help in any way they can.”

The Russian drive to capture the capital city of Kyiv was halted in Irpin, thanks in large part to Mayor Markushin’s leadership. He remained in Irpin to command the city’s Territorial Guard. But while the invaders failed in their goal of seizing all of Ukraine and were ultimately forced to make a humiliating retreat in early April, a wasteland of destruction was left in their wake.

“As many folks know, the City of Milwaukee has had a long standing Sister Cities relationship with Irpin, which is just outside of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv,” said Mayor Johnson. “Irpin sustained serious damage from many consecutive days of fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces. So now that we’ve gotten to this point in the conflict, the city of Irpin is at a spot where they can work to rebuild and replace their critical infrastructure.”

Mayor Johnson said that Irpin was working hard to make sure that families could send their children back to school in September. And that Mayor Markushin had traveled across the ocean, from Ukraine to its sister city of Milwaukee, with a simple ask.

“And the ask is for folks in Milwaukee to support our friends in Irpin, to make sure they can get their critical infrastructure back up and running. So they can get back to normal life in that city, and so that they can send their children to school. And I know that’s very important, as we look to the new school year for kids here in Milwaukee,” added Mayor Johnson. “Our friends in Irpin fought our enemies and felt the brunt of the war. Now we have an opportunity to show them our thanks by extending some much needed assistance.”

On March 15, 2018, then mayor of Milwaukee Tom Barrett signed an agreement with Irpin’s then Mayor Karplyuk, formalizing the Sister City relationship. Under Mayor Johnson, the City of Milwaukee was in the process of creating an account for the public to make contributions, so the funds could be transferred at a municipal level. None of the funding would come from the city budget, so Irpin would be counting on private donations.

The delegation from Irpin only had a day to spend in Milwaukee. After the meeting with Mayor Johnson, they visited sites around the city that had been developed since their previous 2018 visit. That included a stop to the Fiserv Forum.

Because May 30 was Memorial Day, many of the sites around Milwaukee were closed for the holiday. But the delegation was able to tour the historic Pabst Mansion. Mayor Markushin was an avid hunter, like Pabst, and made a connection with things like a painting of the Beer Baron’s hunting dog.

While the leaders were interested in learning new methods from Milwaukee that could be applied in Irpin, the former home of Frederick Pabst offered an important lesson. Russian troops had destroyed Irpin’s cultural center, and the Pabst Mansion nearly met the wrecking ball like so many of Milwaukee’s lost landmarks.

The experience with the uniquely Milwaukee venue served as a reminder of the value of preserving a community’s historical culture.

© PHOTO NOTE: All the original editorial images published here have been posted to the Facebook page of Milwaukee Independent. That collection of photos contains the MI copyright and watermark for attribution, and may be used for private social media sharing. Do not download and share images directly from this page.

Series: Reports from Ukraine
  1. Reports from Ukraine: Traveling from Milwaukee to a country at war just to take a vacation from America
  2. Images from Ukraine: Latino artist travels to Irpin to paint mural inspired by "Echoes of Guernica"
  3. Images from Ukraine: Irpin residents welcome reissue of Russian Warship Stamp as latest sign of victory
  4. Stories from Ukraine: Wandering in the ruins of a shattered life after surviving Russia's invasion
  5. Images from Ukraine: Similar to the Alamo, martyred cities bought precious time to save a nation
  6. Stories from Ukraine: Tent camp offers shelter for displaced residents until Irpin can rebuild lost homes
  7. Images from Ukraine: Graveyards of Russian war machines show the scale of Putin's failure to seize Kyiv
  8. Images from Ukraine: Following the invasion convoy's 40-mile route and exploring an abandoned base
  9. Stories from Ukraine: Illegal weapons and proof of Russian War Crimes easily seen along streets of Irpin
  10. Images from Ukraine: How Irpin’s cemetery processed the staggering massacre of its local citizens
  11. Stories from Ukraine: Healing remains slow as Borodyanka residents recover from occupation
  12. Images from Ukraine: The deep scars of war remain visibly etched across the landscape of Borodyanka
  13. Interview with Oleksandr Markushin: Mayor of Irpin and the hero of a Hero City
  14. A Meeting of Sister Cities: Former and current Mayors of Irpin ask Milwaukee's business community for help
  15. Stories from Ukraine: Having a shared purpose helped Irpin's leaders protect the city and stop the invaders
  16. Stories from Ukraine: How Milwaukee helped a bakery feed hungry survivors in Bucha with fresh bread
  17. Stories from Ukraine: Bucha resident recalls how Russians turned neighborhood into a street of death
  18. Stories from Ukraine: How a mass grave of executions overshadowed accountability from Bucha’s leadership
  19. Images from Ukraine: Putin’s attack on Babyn Yar is a painful reminder of the broken vow of “Never Again”
  20. Images from Ukraine: An unexpected encounter with Jewish history and the bloody legacy of persecution
  21. Images from Ukraine: Listening to timeless voices of ethnic heritage etched in stone at Lychakiv Cemetery
  22. Images from Ukraine: The experience of attending a military funeral in Kyiv while children died in Uvalde
  23. Images from Ukraine: Stepping out of the fog of war to see the beauty of faith in ancient places of worship
  24. Images from Ukraine: The cities of Kyiv and Lviv were divided by history but remain united in identity
  25. Stories from Ukraine: Anya Nakonechna shares why the Lviv Opera is a symbol of her nation’s culture
  26. Images from Ukraine: A folk village where visitors can experience the life of past generations
  27. Images from Ukraine: Signs of renewal sprout from under Irpin’s rubble as city looks to the future

Lее Mаtz

Lее Mаtz

Lее Mаtz and Yaroslav Zdyrko

Milwaukee Independent editorial team for this special series: (UKRAINE) Lee Matz, photojournalist; Oleh Pinta, translator / reporter; Yaroslav Zdyrko, security / videographer; (MILWAUKEE) Halyna Salapata, logistics / translations.

Milwaukee Independent has reported on the situation in Ukraine since it was invaded on February 24. Coverage originally began with reactions and rallies from the local Ukrainian American community, and relationships with Milwaukee’s sister city of Irpin. Through partnerships and good journalism, sources were developed that enabled Milwaukee Independent to publish developments about the unprovoked war in realtime. In late May, a team from Milwaukee Independent spent nearly two weeks on the ground in Ukraine. The award-winning daily news magazine was the first and, at the time, only media organization to send staff into the country since the war began.

Reports from Ukraine: An extensive news series by Milwaukee Independent from a country at war