Photo/Illutration A news conference given by representatives of Mayors for Peace’s last general conference in Nagasaki in 2017 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

HIROSHIMA--As the war in Ukraine rages on, Russian city Volgograd will join online the more than 140 cities around the world attending the Mayors for Peace two-day conference, which opens here on Oct. 19. 

The decision by Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, to participate in the conference comes as fears have been growing that Russia, which invaded Ukraine, might use nuclear weapons in the war.

Volgograd is one of the 14 vice president cities in Mayors for Peace, an international nongovernmental group calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. 

Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui, the president of Mayors for Peace, praised Volgograd's expected participation in the general conference. Stalingrad was the site of one of the bloodiest battles in World War II.

“I believe that it is because the city has a deep understanding of Hiroshima as a city that saw enormous human sacrifices during the war just like our city," Matsui said. 

At the meetings, the group members aim to create global momentum for abandoning nuclear weapons in solidarity with cities beyond national borders.

Akira Kawasaki, a member of the International Steering Group of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, praised the framework of Mayors for Peace, where cities of nuclear powers and nonnuclear powers come together.

“The general conference will provide a precious opportunity where members, including cities in Russia and its allied countries, can discuss how wrong the use of nuclear arms is in a level-headed manner when concerns are rising about Russia’s potential use,” Kawasaki said.

Mayors for Peace was formed in 1982 with then Hiroshima Mayor Takeshi Araki playing a leading role in its establishment.

The group has lobbied the Hague-based International Court of Justice to rule that use of nuclear weapons violates international law and urged nations to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which went into force in 2021, at an early date.

As of Oct. 1, 8,213 cities in 166 countries and territories are members of the group, whose secretariat is based in Hiroshima.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki, one of the vice president cities, take turns in hosting a general conference that is held every four years, in principle.

The latest session is the first time Mayors for Peace will allow member cities to attend digitally alongside others whose representatives will attend in person.

According to the secretariat, leaders of 142 cities from 27 countries have expressed their intention to participate in the meetings.

Secretariat officials said five cities in Ukraine are member cities, including Kyiv, Odesa and Dnipro. But they have not replied on their attendance. 

Apart from Volgograd, Mayors for Peace has 66 other Russian cities as members.

Volgograd concluded a sister-city agreement with Hiroshima in 1972. Since then, the two cities have promoted exchange programs for young people about peace activities.

Matsui and other officials were expected to visit Volgograd in the autumn as part of the events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the sister-city ties.

But the Hiroshima municipal government canceled the planned visit following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, citing security concerns.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine also sparked a new move to build solidarity for peace in many cities, primarily in Europe.

Over the three months from April, 110 cities in Germany and other countries joined Mayors for Peace.

Although the U.S. government is adamant about not signing the TPNW, many U.S. cities support the nuclear ban. 

Last year, the United States Conference of Mayors, a nonpartisan group, adopted a resolution calling on the U.S. government to embrace the TPNW and take immediate action toward the elimination of nuclear arms arsenals.

Among such cities is Des Moines in Iowa, another vice president city of Mayors for Peace.

“We want to create an environment in which states cannot help but hear what individuals (calling for denuclearization) have to say, who are joined and supported by their local governments over their views,” Matsui said.

(This article was written by Rikuri Kuroda and Yuhei Kono.)