Despite the destruction wrought by Russia’s invasion, Ukraine has continued to provide services to its people at an exemplary level throughout the war. This commendable resilience stems from significant investments and reforms made over the last 30 years. Notably, bolstering institutional capacity, the digitalization of public services, robust engagement with civil society, and a deeply rooted culture of voluntarism have all played crucial roles. Furthermore, the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), where I serve as Ukraine’s resident representative, has been instrumental in building resilience across all strata of Ukrainian society.

Workers rebuild the roof of a house in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. February 9, 2023. (Emile Ducke/The New York Times)
Workers rebuild the roof of a house in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. February 9, 2023. (Emile Ducke/The New York Times)

As Ukraine staunchly counters Russia’s invasion, the profound destruction left behind emphasizes the need for a well-thought-out recovery and reconstruction strategy. The UNDP Recovery Framework for Ukraine was developed in close consultation with the Ukrainian government, development partners and other U.N. agencies and is rooted in advancing a humanitarian-development response to the devastating impact and implications of the Russian invasion. A wide spectrum of international partners is working with us not just to rebuild what’s been lost, but to improve on the country’s already-resilient society.

This approach, which has guided UNDP’s work for decades, particularly in post-war or post-disaster scenarios, aims to ensure that societies emerge from crises better prepared for the future. In this way, by prioritizing resilience, sustainability and inclusivity in its reconstruction efforts, Ukraine can rise from the ashes of this conflict stronger and more resilient than ever.

Facing Challenges Head-On

However, the road to recovery is pockmarked with challenges. Above all is the sheer enormity and scale of the destruction: More than 1.4 million houses have been damaged or destroyed, impacting nearly 18 million people — roughly 50 percent of Ukraine’s population. Meanwhile, 15 years of development gains have been wiped out in a single year. Ukraine’s poverty rate has increased fivefold — from 5.5 percent to 24.2 percent — since February 2022, plunging an additional 7.1 million Ukrainians into poverty.

Altogether, Ukraine’s total recovery and reconstruction needs are estimated at a staggering $411 billion, with the most pressing needs being restoring energy, housing, critical and social infrastructure, providing basic services for the most vulnerable, removing explosive hazards, and promoting private sector development. The highest estimated needs are in transport, housing, energy, social protection and livelihoods, explosive hazard management, and agriculture. Other areas — such as human development sectors (including health and education), as well as support to commerce and business — contribute substantially to the remaining requirements.

The widespread lack of security is also of serious concern. The ongoing hostilities, particularly those close to the front lines, are hindering early rebuilding efforts. However, large parts of the country are far from the front lines, and many communities and public facilities lie in rubble from the initial invasion of February 2022. Moreover, nearly 6 million people are internally displaced and need support. Their needs and those of millions of other Ukrainians are immediate and cannot be postponed until an absolute cessation of the war. They need services and they need jobs. We need to rebuild schools so children can return to the classrooms. We need to rebuild hospitals to care for those injured. We must repair the energy grid and ensure electricity reaches critical infrastructure. Waiting for the guns to fall silent isn’t an option when it comes to addressing these urgent necessities and restoring critical infrastructure that has been damaged or obliterated.

Another challenge is transparency. For rebuilding efforts to be successful, corruption must be addressed at all levels. Here, the country’s improved standing on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index over the last decade, along with a strong civil society sector and the presence of investigative journalists in the recovery process, offer hope.

The (Green) Vision for a Rebuilt Ukraine

The theme at this year’s U.N. General Assembly was “Rebuilding Trust and Reigniting Global Solidarity,” with a focus on the 2030 Agenda and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

This theme resonates deeply with the current situation in Ukraine, where a renewed focus on trust, solidarity and pursuit of the 2030 Agenda can serve as beacons for national recovery. International partners can use this as an opportunity to support a stronger, safer and more disaster-resilient rebuild.  

Additionally, UNDP’s recovery emphasis in Ukraine centers on building infrastructure and systems that use environmentally friendly furnishings and equipment. UNDP emphasizes the need for energy efficiency across all sectors during Ukraine’s recovery, and we promote decentralized renewable energy sources to enhance energy systems’ flexibility, resilience and eco-friendliness.

Investment in environmentally conscious initiatives is vital for Ukraine's future. This includes funding green projects, which range from promoting eco-friendly transportation to endorsing sustainable agriculture that benefits the land and farmers. Smart debris management is also essential, especially for post-conflict reconstruction in areas recently retaken by the Ukrainian government. For example, instead of discarding war-damaged building rubble, it can be recycled to repair roads and other immediate infrastructure concerns.

Repairs to critical infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and housing, when coordinated with UNDP, are not only aimed at rebuilding but also at ensuring a more inclusive and sustainable future. These enhancements include energy-efficient heating systems and methods to cut down energy consumption. These steps not only champion environmental sustainability but also generate cost savings. Most importantly, they underscore our commitment to inclusivity, making certain that everyone, irrespective of their circumstances, benefits from these improvements and no one is left behind.

From Crisis to Early Recovery

In the challenging phase of transitioning from crisis to early recovery, UNDP actively supports numerous ministries and central government agencies, enhancing their recovery plans, policy analysis, crisis management and legislation.

Top-level commitment to battling corruption is paramount. This month, for example, Ukraine’s Ministry for the Restoration of Ukraine presented its Anti-Corruption Programme 2023-2025, which was developed with UNDP’s technical support. This program serves as a strategic roadmap to boost transparency and accountability in the recovery processes. 

We are also conducting detailed assessments in various settlements to gauge the extent of the damage and carrying out comprehensive mapping of damages to buildings using satellite and drone imagery. Evidence-based approaches for recovery are key.

War causes not only physical damage but also affects human capital. Together with other U.N. agencies, UNDP conducted a human impact assessment of the current war to complement ongoing physical infrastructure assessments. The objective of the assessment was to evaluate the overall impact of the war in Ukraine on people, their living conditions, health, access to education, livelihoods, food security, social status, gender equality and women's empowerment, and the evolution of multi-dimensional poverty and human development. Working with the Ukrainian government, we will use this assessment to determine how to address those challenges.

The Imperative of Immediate Action

Today, we stand at a turning point of history, where the weight of our collective action could set us on course for either hope or despair. With Ukraine's resurgence hanging in the balance, international cooperation isn't merely beneficial — it is indispensable. Pooling our resources, expertise and passion can and must transform these enormous challenges into building blocks for a better future, steering Ukraine away from disaster and along a more sustainable path.

The importance of what we do today cannot be overstated. Our immediate actions will shape the trajectory of an entire nation. As we rally together, let Ukraine's recovery serve as a compelling testament to the infinite potential of global unity. We have an opportunity to inspire the world with a narrative of resilience, solidarity and hope. Let's seize it, and ensure Ukraine's renaissance serves as an example for future generations.

Jaco Cilliers is the U.N. Development Programme’s resident representative for Ukraine.


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