Opinion & Analysis

At least a million Ukrainians need to return for reconstruction

Ukraine researcher from Clingendael, Julia Soldatiuk was in London at the Ukraine Recovery Conference, a gathering of experts on the reconstruction of Ukraine. She also led a roundtable discussion at the London School of Economics on the subject. At the conference, world leaders pledged billions in aid. What does Ukraine need – besides the repair of buildings and infrastructure? 


Reconstruction is a broad term. What does it mean?

Reconstruction literally means repair, for example, of infrastructure, houses and buildings. But reconstruction also means reform of institutions and the economy. When Ukraine is economically and institutionally strong, the country also becomes less vulnerable to external threats. Issues such as energy, agriculture and ICT were also discussed. For Ukrainian businesses, insourcing is important. That means that the reconstruction is mainly executed by Ukrainian companies and organisations. Also, European companies want to produce in Ukraine, but that requires the country to introduce European production standards, because that will make it easier to export products made in Ukraine.

The topic of discussion is how Ukrainian companies, and not just Western multinationals, can benefit as much as possible. Most Ukrainian companies have less experience in successfully bidding for international tenders. A solution could be to establish, for example, a Ukrainian construction agency that coordinates the outsourcing of projects.  

President of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen wants to use frozen Russian assets, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also wants Russia to eventually pay for the Ukrainian reconstruction. What do you make of these messages? 

There is an international discussion on how the Russian assets can be used.One idea that has been suggested is investing them. The profits could then be used for reconstruction. The initiative of the recovery operation seems to lie mainly with the UK and the EU. From the conversations I had with US think tanks, I conclude that the US also more or less expects this, since the Americans themselves have already taken the lead in providing military aid.

There were also social issues on the agenda. Which ones?

Ukraine is still sometimes portrayed as a country of low wages, but that is strongly protested within the country itself. Many Ukrainians aspire to European standards in labour law, wages and social services. There are also calls to look closely at the needs of various groups in society during the reconstruction process. For example, the needs of women should be equally represented in the plans.  

You also pointed out a big problem regarding labour force in Ukraine. What about that?

Yes, there is a big labour shortage. At least a million Ukrainians need to return to make reconstruction possible at all. The Ukrainian government is thinking about conditions under which Ukrainians want to return. One might think of small loans or grants for small and medium-sized businesses to create more workplaces. And how do you ensure that labour force still in Ukraine wants to stay there? That, too, is an important issue. For the country itself, but also for the European countries that are now taking in many Ukrainians. That’s why, as Clingendael researchers, we continue to engage in all the issues concerning reconstruction.

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