Theater of Cruelty

Ukraine must own its own development

RECONSTRUCTION / What are the prerequisites for rebuilding better in a way that strengthens Ukraine's ownership of its own development? Is democracy both the means and the end? What can the international community contribute? We have asked six players.


The reconstruction and rehabilitation processes in Ukraine represent an opportunity to promote good governance. It involves fighting corruption, strengthening decentralisation, promoting social inclusion and increasing popular participation. When cities and towns are to be rebuilt and reorganized – and there are many – experiences from the pandemic of recent years must be taken into account. It will also be important to adhere to principles for green development within the framework of climateadaptation and mitigation work. Not least, upcoming processes will aim to strengthen the rights and thereby the situation of marginalized and excluded groups. It will be crucial that Ukraine owns its own future development.

Against this background, we have asked three questions to six important 'donor actors':

  1. What do you see as the necessary prerequisites for rebuilding better ('build back better') of a way that strengthens Ukraine's ownership of its own development?
  2. What can Ukraine's national and local governments, civil society and business do to advance this goal?
  3. What can the international community contribute? 
  1. Anniken Huitfeldt, Minister for Foreign Affairs

Annika Huitfeldt: Our common goal is to give support where the needs are greatest, as efficiently as possible. Ukraine depends on extensive Western support, military, economic and political, to continue the legitimate defense of its country. Norway is and must be a long-term and reliable partner. Since the start of the invasion has Norway worked closely with the Ukrainian authorities, other donors and the international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. With close coordination with other donors. Norway's five-year-olds Nansen program is worth approx. 7,5 billion dollars. It will help Ukraine to rebuild itself better – towards a prosperous, greener, European Ukraine based on democracy, pluralism and legal certainty.

Norway cooperates with established organizations with documented delivery capabilities that have the necessary capacity and well-functioning control systems. This year, Norway's civil support to Ukraine amounts to approx. 870 million dollars. Vital humanitarian aid to the Ukrainian people and the refugee response in neighboring countries is a large part of this (about $280 million), as well as civil support to the Ukrainian state (about $590 million). The support also contributes to the repair and operation of civil infrastructure to ensure that Ukrainians have electricity and water.

Norway coordinates closely with the Ukrainian authorities, the UN, the EU, the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the humanitarian organizations and other donors. This is important to ensure that the support is used where the needs are greatest, and that it is used as efficiently as possible.

Together with the Nordic countries, Norway assists the Nordic Green Bank (NEFCO), which assists the municipalities in rebuilding greener and better. NEFCO has been operating in Ukraine since 2010.

Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council

Jan Egeland: I have traveled several timescriss-crossing Ukraine's destroyed towns and villages. The reconstruction will take many years, will cost unimaginable sums and entail difficult trade-offs when the war is finally over. Therefore, local ownership of what needs to be prioritized, and how buildings and infrastructure are to be rebuilt, will be important. This must neither central authorities in Kiev or international organizations central government. The latent contradictions between the dme who fled, and those who remained, and people who fought, and people who did not want to be part of the fight, were exacerbated by poorly planned new construction and reconstruction.

"Ownership of houses, land and property must be clarified."

Civil society can, together with central and local authorities, create mechanisms where everyone is heard, and have clear criteria drawn up for who should receive help. Ownership of houses, land and property must be clarified in an open and transparent manner. Many will be displaced without deeds or documents, and central registers may be deficient. In the conflict areas in the east and south of Ukraine, there will be many people who had a Russian identity before the last war, some will have fled eastwards, and many have been in Russian-occupied areas for a long time.

The most important international contribution will be money. The reconstruction will cost enormously. But it is also important that international organizations can contribute experiences from other war and disaster-affected societies such as Syria and the former Yugoslavia, where we have expensive experience from the reconstruction. The Norwegian Refugee Council and UN Habitat have, among other things, jointly led the humanitarian organizations involved in land, housing and property rights.


    Anna Ackerman: Å rebuild Ukraine is one enormous challenge, but rebuilding the country better while modernizing the entire economy is even more complicated. There are not many good examples sustainabilityig reconstruction after the war. Economic and social considerations always outweigh environmental considerations during and after times of war. The Ukrainian government estimates that only environmental damagene amounts to more than 50 billion dollars. None of the essential elements of sustainable development can be ignored. They are necessary conditions for building a better Ukraine for Ukrainians.

    Anna Ackermann, Policy Analyst, International Institute for Sustainable Development and Valeriya Izhyk, EU Policy Advisor, 'Ukraine's Reconstruction'.

    "There are not many good examples of sustainable reconstruction after war."

    Regarding Ukrainian ownership in planning and implementation, donor actors should prioritize shared management (Ukrainian experts and EU staff) when appointing top management for programs and projects that will work on Ukraine's reconstruction. Composite teams ensure partnership rather than paternalism, while decision-making power remains in Ukraine. Equality between EU experts and Ukrainian experts is a pragmatic and fair solution: project effectiveness in EU candidate countries like Ukraine depends on local knowledge and expertise coupled with a deep understanding of EU standards. Without the former, the latter will not work.

    Will the clean-up of contaminated land and water areas, or the construction of new energy facilities be a priority?

    A clear methodology for project prioritization must be used. Ukraine, together with international partners, must prioritize projects, regions and establish fair but ambitious criteria for the reconstruction. Should the most affected communities be rebuilt first, or should support be given to those communities that huser most internally displaced persons? Will the clean-up of contaminated land and water areas, or the construction of new energy facilities be a priority? The prioritization methodology must be an inclusive process, so that it becomes clear to society why resources are used on certain projects, but not on others.

    High standards for reconstruction are important. In order to actually rebuild better, the standards should at least be consistent with existing EU standards and take into account best practice in the EU and internationally. For example, it makes little sense to rebuild an entirely new area of ​​a city with heating based on fossil fuel (gas) when the new standard for zero-emission buildings (ZEB) is currently being developed by the EU and its member states.

    In terms of skills development, a need of over 4,5 million additional workers is estimated for reconstruction. We need to ensure that there are enough people, money and understanding of how to use resources effectively, with a view to rebuilding Ukraine for current and future generations. Comprehensive capacity building for all stakeholders in project planning, implementation and monitoring should be initiated as soon as possible.

    A so-called 'Ukraine plan' will be published by the end of 2023.

    Do the various stakeholders promote these conditions? A so-called 'Ukraine plan', an overarching reconstruction vision for the country, aimed at funding Ukraine Facility, will be published by the end of 2023. It is intended to clarify all the above conditions and shed more light on how different stakeholders can interact with Ukraine's reconstruction. At the moment, there is a general understanding that there should be a common basis for starting full-fledged reconstruction, and that civil society should act as a political mediator in the negotiations on the topic.

    With regard to the role of the international community, it will be important – once the Ukraine plan is published and widely promoted – to establish a clear picture of who is doing what, to avoid unnecessary overlap and duplication of effort. Since Ukraine's reconstruction will go hand in hand with the EU approach, the experiences of international organizations working with EU candidate countries will be of great value.


    Sameh Wahba, the World Bank's Regional Director for Sustainable Development in Europe and Central Asia and Belarus

    Sameh Wahba: Globally, cities have ambitions about growing in a sustainable, inclusive and resistant manner. The desired future city has a low carbon footprint, is climate resistant and environmentsustainable and offers a high standard of living for all residents. Today, Ukrainian cities are at a critical crossroads: On the one hand, they must deal daily with the effects of Russias invasion. On the other hand, they strive for EU standards and carbon neutrality as well as plan active rebuilding based on the principles of rebuilding better. Yet a green, resilient and inclusive approach to rebuilding Ukrainian cities will be challenging and at times convoluted given the uncertainties and resource constraints of war. As well as the expectations of rapid progress when the war ends. However, if well planned and managed, reconstruction will be an opportunity for Ukrainian cities to modernize quickly and achieve their ambitions.

    There are many valuable post-World War II insights from Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden and Frankfurt.

    As Ukrainian cities take the first steps on this path, it becomes important for them to take with them global experiences from the past. Whether it concerns reconstruction after war or disasters, there are many valuable post-World War II insights from Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden and Frankfurt. Also, Christchurch after the 2012 earthquake and London after the Great Fire (1666) and many other places.

    Preserving culture together with improved living conditions appear to be decisive success factors. Changing the character of buildings is feasible, but transformative changes to a city's landscape can be challenging – for example, repurposing streets. In some cities, missing cadastre and land management systems, weak property rights and outdated regulations prevented or contributed to delaying the implementation of a modern urban design. It is therefore crucial to address such challenges as part of the planning of urban reconstruction.

    In Ukrainian cities, planning must also take into account realistic forecasts of population and demographics. That is: For whom are we planning the city of the future, how many refugees will return, what economic opportunities are expected, will demographic and war-related changes require new or different services, etc.? Investments in short-term emergency measures must not become obstacles to future development, but must be in line with necessary reforms for climate-smart development. If one is to make the decision-making process efficient and increase the public's ownership of the process, the roles must be clarified and public participation promoted.

    Three critical considerations must be taken into account today. Firstly, the handling of ruins and the waste from them must be well planned and efficiently carried out. This is necessary to enable safe construction and limit environmental pollution that can lead to lifelong disability and a decrease in quality of life. This is a challenge particularly in view of the presence of asbestos, landmines and unexploded bombs. Second, cities must take a spatial rather than a sectoral approach in planning and investment. This means that housing reconstruction and economic activity cannot take place without repairs or new construction of electricity, water, sewage and heating infrastructure. Also decisive is the reliable provision of social services for the care of children and vulnerable groups, education, health and emergency services. Finally, the capacity of local authorities, including technical resource management, finance, communication and dissemination, must be increased to equivalent levels. This will mean that all communities can benefit from the same progress and quality of reconstruction, regardless of location. An engaged civil society, which is one of Ukraine's strengths, can meaningfully complement local capacity and support the design of city-specific plans and policies. As well as ensuring regular, two-way participation and participation.

    The handling of ruins and the waste from them is a challenge – especially considering the presence of asbestos, landmines and unexploded bombs.

    The international community can support Ukrainian byer by filling the capacity gaps and preparing for reconstruction by providing financing, technical assistance, knowledge exchange and practical support. Ultimately, cities must be able to lead their own process of reconstruction – maximizing and leveraging the support of their citizens, national government, civil society and the international community.


    Filiep Decorte, Director of Emergency Aid (ai), UN Habitat:

    Philip Decorte: Systems, including funding mechanisms, which has been established to support urban regeneration, must 1) include local adaptation of the UN's sustainability goals and not just anti-corruption measures; 2) allow integrated projects that target neighborhoods or catalytic city projects, not just rebuilding individual objects; 3) consolidate gains created through decentralization, and not reverse local planning and development; 4) develop and build long-term, local capacity to ensure local ownership while preparing the next generation of expertise. It is necessary to counteract knowledge gaps in urban planning and design, as well as contribute to energy
    efficiency, sustainable mobility and circular economy.

    National authorities must create a supportive framework for urban regeneration that promotes and facilitates inclusive efforts from the bottom up, right down to neighborhood level. This must be done in addition to measures at central level to rebuild important infrastructure that can give new life to the economy. Local authorities must ensure inclusive, participatory planning and design of the reconstruction work, which mobilizes efforts from the whole community, with ambitious goals for urban renewal and sustainability. And so prepare for European integration. Cities must reshape themselves and give young people hope for a better future.

    National and local authorities must establish systems for public procurement and contracts for investments in both the public and private sectors. They must explicitly add inclusion and sustainabilitygoal to reason. This can create a common goal-oriented approach to cooperation between the public and private sectors, with a strong focus on people.

    The above will also require the full mobilization of local expertise, supplemented by international where necessary. Civil society will play a critical role in holding governments accountable to ensure that inclusion and sustainability goals are achieved along with fully transparent use of funds. Companies must also commit to the same goals, with the long-term in mind rather than short-term gain.

    It will be crucial for multilateral and bilateral development organisations, as well as international non-governmental organisations, to primarily ensure that competition between them is avoided. But at the same time, complementarity and commitment to the same inclusion and sustainability goals must be ensured. This also requires a commitment to use the complex reconstruction plans, which are coming into place as a guiding framework for all investment.

    There will also be a need for assistance aimed at different levels. For example, it will be necessary to contribute to integrated territorial reconstruction and socio-economic renewal with a focus on critical infrastructure and transport. It is also necessary to focus on rebuilding local communities rather than just buildings and infrastructure. It involves sufficient support for reconstruction at neighborhood level with a strong spotlight on housing and public areas.

    Ingrid Fiskaa, SV, Rogaland

    Ingrid Fish: Reconstruction after war and disasters represent an almost unsolvable dilemma: because the need for aid is enormous, and the opportunities to influence development are so great, even those powers that think of their own gain will be able to take advantage of the room for action. In this category there are both internal and not least external actors. For a weakened civil society and weakened local and national governing powers, a strong backbone is needed to keep its 'helpers' under tight reins. But that is exactly what they have to do. Should Ukraine be built as one democratic and inclusive society, it is the Ukrainians themselves who must build it.

    The Ukrainians have conquered a hero status and have been defined in the middle of a European community.

    The Ukrainians have an advantage compared to many other countries and societies in great need of support for reconstruction: the resistance struggle against Russian invasion and war has earned the admiration of Western state leaders and public opinion. From being a poor people on the fringes of Europe, the Ukrainians have conquered a hero status and been defined in the middle of a European community. This status should be used by the Ukrainians to their own advantage. They do not need to be told by outside 'experts' how society should be rebuilt after the war. They can set the premise themselves – if they want to and dare.

    As international and outside actors, we have an important task in not reinforcing power imbalances in Ukrainian society. The relatively strong actors are currently the president, the military forces and economic elites. In times of war, civil society, local authorities, women and trade unions are more easily set aside, and resources are diverted to the seemingly most important tasks here and now. War is often a bad time for democracy and commitment, although it is precisely in times of crisis that the country needs the efforts and creativity of the entire people.

    This also applies in the reconstruction. But if civil society is not involved when the important premises are laid down and the decisions are drawn – during and immediately after the war – a few actors will be able to shape the development in the decades afterwards.

    Ukraine may also have another advantage. The neoliberal era is in full swing, and confidence in unrestrained market liberalism has weakened worldwide. Building a Ukrainian society on the neoliberal dogma that previously dominated international financial institutions seems to be abandoned today. That does not mean that no one will try, and the big international groups' time is far from over. But the opposing positions will more easily come to the fore.

    The reconstruction of Ukraine can, in the worst case, be managed by an alliance between domestic elites and international actors. At best, it can become a model for other war- and crisis-ridden societies in how democracy is both the means and the goal.

    Eric Berg
    Erik Berg
    Erik Berg worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs / NORAD from 1978 to 2013. He now heads Habitat Norway.

    Related articles