Concept image for the Russian attack on Ukraine.

The Ukraine Reconstruction Conference: putting Ukraine at the centre of recovery

With the Ukraine Recovery Conference kicking off tomorrow, will the UK government strike the right balance between responding to the urgent humanitarian need and supporting the long-term recovery of Ukraine?

The Ukraine Recovery Conference 2023 (URC) is just around the corner, scheduled to take place in London from June 21–22. This important event will gather senior representatives from the G7, international and multilateral partners, international finance institutions, the private sector, and civil society. The main goal of the conference is to evaluate Ukraine’s economic and social needs following the devastating war, develop a comprehensive recovery plan, and rally international support to aid in the country’s rejuvenation.

The UK, a long-time supporter of Ukraine, has been a key player in organising recovery conferences since 2017. These conferences have been instrumental in addressing Ukraine’s immense challenges and have laid the groundwork for sustained international cooperation in facilitating the country’s recovery process. The upcoming URC will build on this legacy, serving as a platform to identify Ukraine’s specific needs and devise effective strategies to promote its economic and social resurgence.

Unveiling the humanitarian disaster in Ukraine

The war in Ukraine has resulted in a humanitarian disaster, with a dramatic increase in the number of people needing urgent assistance. The number of people in need has surged from 2.9 million before February 24, 2022, to 17.6 million in 2023, and the situation is expected to deteriorate due to ongoing hostilities. The areas hardest hit by the conflict, particularly in the south and east, are experiencing the greatest severity of need. The destruction of critical infrastructure has led to the temporary or permanent displacement of over 5.5 million people, who now face pressing challenges from finding shelter, to finding essentials such as food and clean water. As of January 2023, more than five million individuals remain internally displaced, highlighting the enduring humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. Despite the passage of time, Ukraine continues to grapple with a multitude of humanitarian consequences stemming from the war.

A recent example is the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam, which poses a serious threat to the lives of tens of thousands of people living along the lower reaches of the Dnipro River. This alarming development has significant implications, not only in terms of military and economic consequences but also in terms of environmental impact. The flood’s path cuts through towns and villages that have already been ravaged by 16 months of intense fighting. Many civilians have fled, while others have been forcibly evacuated by Russian forces. However, those who remain find themselves in a precarious situation, lacking the means to seek safety amid the perils of a disaster zone.

Ambiguities and necessities

The upcoming URC is set to gather global backing for Ukraine’s post-war economic and social recovery. The conference’s website underscores its dedication to providing immediate emergency humanitarian assistance and involving the private sector in the rebuilding efforts. Yet, the conference’s plans to address the essential humanitarian issues stemming from the conflict in Ukraine are vague. The unclear agenda further muddies understanding of the topics to be broached. Moreover, despite claims involving civil society organisations (CSOs) from the UK and Ukraine, specifics of their representation, diversity and application/selection criteria remain undisclosed raising concerns about meaningful engagement and transparency. These ambiguities underscore the necessity for more open communication and a more explicit framework to ensure a comprehensive and effective conference that equally addresses Ukraine’s economic and humanitarian recovery.

Join Bond’s Humanitarian working group

Bond’s Humanitarian working group works to ensure the principled and effective delivery of UK aid during a humanitarian crisis. They work closely to support coordination of humanitarian response by the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and ensure local partner needs are represented.

Bond's Humanitarian working group

Advocating for robust support

The forthcoming URC is a pivotal moment for the UK government to underscore the significance of humanitarian concerns. It’s insufficient to concentrate solely on long-term recovery; immediate humanitarian needs and opportunities for peacebuilding must also be given due attention in order to support faster and more sustainable recovery. This can be accomplished by prioritising immediate needs, streamlining the distribution of humanitarian assistance, enhancing coordination mechanisms, and boosting local capacity. By adhering to the principles of humanity, the UK government can foster trust and cooperation among stakeholders, which is vital for the long-term recovery and sustainable development of Ukraine.

Another vital suggestion for the UK government is to fortify the humanitarian system in Ukraine. This involves advocating for a robust and efficient system capable of providing life-saving assistance, safeguarding the rights of at-risk groups of individuals, and delivering essential services such as healthcare, shelter, and food security. By investing in coordination mechanisms and strengthening local capacity, the conference can ensure that humanitarian assistance is delivered to those who need it most in the most efficient and effective manner. Prioritising the humanitarian aspect not only demonstrates a commitment to addressing urgent needs, but also fosters social cohesion, stability, and resilience in Ukraine.

In addition, the UK government should focus on investing in initiatives that build the resilience of the Ukrainian people who have been affected by the conflict. This can be achieved through a range of initiatives, such as providing psychosocial support, ensuring access to education, offering vocational training programmes, and creating livelihood opportunities. By empowering individuals and communities to recover, adapt, and thrive, the conference can actively contribute to the recovery process and promote sustainable development in Ukraine. Investing in resilience not only helps individuals overcome the adversities they have faced but also strengthens the social fabric and reduces the risk of future conflicts. By prioritising resilience-building measures, the UK government can play a crucial role in supporting the Ukrainian people as they strive to build a brighter and more prosperous future for their country.

Striking a balance

We highly commend the UK’s initiative to support Ukraine’s recovery through the mobilisation of public and private financing. It is crucial to recognise that Ukraine is fighting not only for itself but on behalf of all democracies. Consequently, once the war is won, the focus of its recovery should revolve around prioritising the needs and interests of Ukraine and its people. To achieve this, we propose the following recommendations:

It is essential to ensure that recovery efforts do not push Ukraine further into debt. As of 2021, Ukraine’s debt stood at 43% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), this figure could rise to 98% of GDP this year. To prevent exacerbating the country’s debt burden, it is crucial to provide grants or low-no-interest-rate concessional finance, rather than loans, which is crucial to support a sustainable recovery. This approach aligns with the principles of fairness and solidarity, as Ukraine should not have to pay double for the war it is fighting—first through the sacrifice of its people and later through debt bondage.

The recovery should also prioritise the rebuilding of Ukraine’s local and national economies rather than solely focusing on the interests of international businesses. While post-war economic opportunities may attract established international businesses seeking to fill the trade gap, such a focus could impede the revitalisation of Ukraine’s national economy. It is crucial to strike a balance that encourages international investment while allowing Ukraine’s economy to flourish independently.

Recovery efforts should be locally led, with the involvement of key actors who understand the specific needs and requirements of their communities. Many Ukrainian businesses have either halted operations or relocated abroad due to the conflict. To facilitate their return and contribute to the revival of the local market, these businesses should be the primary recipients of support. Measures should be taken to provide the necessary resources and assistance to enable them to restart their operations, employ staff, and stimulate local economic activity.