Ukrainians demand more inclusion in post-war recovery

Ukraine’s government must provide jobs, eradicate corruption and devolve power to create a convincing vision of post-war prosperity, writes Orysia Lutsevych.

The World Today Updated 22 November 2023 Published 2 June 2023 3 minute READ

There has been no let-up in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. With daily shelling of Ukrainian cities and waves of missile attacks on the capital, Kyiv, the bill for rebuilding the country is mounting. In one night attack on May 16, Russia launched six ballistic missiles, 12 cruise missiles and dozens of drones. Witnesses say it was one of the scariest nights since the war began.

Villages in areas of intense fighting in the east have suffered most. But despite the horror, Ukrainians are defiant, determined to repel Russian aggression and to build a better future. People are slowly returning to liberated villages, patching up damaged houses and planting vegetables.

On June 21 and 22, western donors and investors will gather in London for the Ukraine Recovery Conference 2023. They must consider how to ensure the Ukrainian people have a say in shaping post-war reconstruction.

Empowering local government

Since the Revolution of Dignity in 2013-2014, Ukraine had been on a path of reform that was bearing genuine results. People demanded more freedom of speech, more functional democracy and the eradication of corruption. Ukraine had reduced corruption in public procurement, established a transparent system for public finance, reformed the banking sector and cleaned up corrupt schemes in the energy sector.

Most importantly, it had decentralized governance, transferring finances and power to the community level. This empowered mayors, councils and everyday citizens, witnessed by a proliferation of public hearings and local oversight of budgets. Trust in local government had been growing and many mayors were re-elected in the 2020 local ballots.

Much of the world has come to Ukraine’s aid in part because it has shown it has the ability to help itself

The Russian invasion came when governance in Ukraine was at its strongest since independence. Empowered communities and more effective and accountable institutions came together to defend the nation in a way that impressed the international community. Much of the world has come to Ukraine’s aid in large part because it has shown it has the stamina and creativity to help itself.

Rebuilding already sustains the pummelled energy grid, schools and bridges, and supports families and vulnerable groups most affected by war. Of the civil society organizations that responded to a Chatham House survey in December 2022, 64 per cent said they were actively engaged in rebuilding Ukraine. More than one in four plans to be involved in the future, and of the adult Ukrainians still in the country, 86 per cent had volunteered and were involved in charities supporting resistance.

Private charitable initiatives have generated substantial donations from within Ukraine as well as from its diaspora. The numbers are unknown, but the Ukrainian National Bank has received $693.5 million over the past year in private donations for defence alone.

Crowdfunding through PryvatBank, Ukraine’s largest bank, Facebook, PayPal and other platforms remains active with Ukrainians contributing according to their means. Bitcoin donations to Ukrainian charities have also soared. Come Back Alive, a foundation supporting Ukrainian servicemen and women, says it has received more than $28 million in cryptocurrency.

Grassroots initiatives increased in the early months of the war, focusing on help for the Ukrainian armed forces and helping those who have been displaced within Ukraine with housing, assistance for children and mental health support.

A vision for post-war recovery

The challenge is to simultaneously support Ukraine’s immediate needs to maintain resistance and plan for a post-war recovery. It is encouraging that both processes have begun.

A multi-donor platform was set up in December 2022 to deliver resources and coordinate donor efforts. More than 40 donor countries are helping finance Ukraine to sustain its budget, assist energy companies under attack and deliver humanitarian support. The United States and the European Union have provided more than €50 billion of non-military assistance to Kyiv since the invasion began.

A long-term vision for a post-war recovery is taking shape. The blueprint for Ukraine’s post-war future is largely clear. The country aims to build green, human-centred governance with transparent and accountable institutions aligned with EU standards. The success of this vision depends on modernizing institutions and ensuring Ukraine’s regions take part in the planning and implementing of the recovery.

One of the most pressing challenges for the delegates at the London conference will be how to design an effective recovery framework that allows citizens, companies and communities to shape and deliver that  blueprint. Chatham House research shows civil society bodies think their engagement with government is unsatisfactory. They want more inclusion in designing recovery plans and delivery of services. Anti-embezzlement watchdogs are crucial.

More than 40 per cent of citizens are ready to help financially and physically in the reconstruction

Since the start of the invasion, people have acquired skills in crisis management, teamwork, fundraising and cross-sectoral cooperation to support the front line. These skills are invaluable to recovery. More than 40 per cent of citizens are ready to help financially and physically in the reconstruction, and even more would like to but do not have the opportunity.

All this matters because engagement ensures trust in the process and societal resilience. If engagement is sustained, the power of civil society will grow and post-war communities will flourish. Evidence from other countries shows that civic connection matters, both for local economic growth and a sense of optimism.

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Ukraine will only be attractive to those displaced by the conflict if housing and infrastructure is restored and if jobs are created. For some, the quality of education for their children will be important. Currently, only one in three of those displaced to Europe plans to come back.

A silver lining?

A ‘power-sharing’ arrangement between national government, regions and communities would contribute to effective recovery and firmly ground it in local needs. When processes become over-centralized, they become vulnerable to monopolies, increased risk of corruption and new vested interests are created.

Ukraine has a unique chance to reshape the relationship between its citizens, economy and the state

The same Chatham House survey outlines ways of possible inclusion. Civic leaders suggest delegating independent experts into advisory groups at various ministries and incorporating them in the Multi-Agency Donor Coordination Platform. They are also in favour of embedding civic oversight by providing funding for monitoring, investigative journalism and digital solutions that increase transparency.

If there can be any silver lining to this war, it is that Ukraine has a unique chance to reshape the relationship between its citizens, economy and the state. It will not be easy, but equally Ukraine is not starting from scratch. If successful, it would complete a political modernization and align the country with the European tradition of accountability and governance.

Chatham House’s own Ukraine recovery event, ‘Shaping the new Ukraine: Delivering resilient recovery’, takes place on 20 June - register here