UN chief at Ukraine Recovery Conference: ‘This is a long road but it must start now’

Participants pose for the official closing group photo during the Ukraine Recovery Conference URC, on Tuesday, July 5, 2022 in Lugano, Switzerland. The URC is organised to initiate the political process for the recovery of Ukraine after the attack of Russia to its territory. (Credit: Keystone/EDA/Michael Buholzer)

UN officials join ministers in Lugano in expressing their support for Ukraine’s reconstruction plan.

The Ukraine Recovery Conference was brought to a close on Tuesday with commitments to help the war-torn country to rebuild.

“The damage and devastation to homes, schools, hospitals, and other critical infrastructure will take years to rebuild,” said UN secretary general Antonio Guterres by video message, accusing “Russia’s war in Ukraine” of taking thousands of lives and forcibly displacing millions of people.

Guterres assured the UN was committed to advancing “Ukraine’s Recovery and Development Plan”. The plan, presented by Ukrainian prime minister, Denys Shmyhal, calls for $750bn to rebuild the country during and after the war.

Spread into three stages, the plan would see first the temporary restoration of bridges and water supply. From 2023 to 2035, schools, hospitals and homes would have to be rebuilt. The last stage would propel Ukraine into a modern, green, digital economy.

Countries who attended the conference also pledged to support Ukraine in its rebuilding endeavours. Among others, Switzerland promised to double annual aid to CHF100m [$104m], Netherlands pledged an extra 200m euros [$206m] and Spain ramped up its support by 250m euros.

Around $100bn in humanitarian and development funds have been pledged to Ukraine since the beginning of the war, according to Devex’s fund tracker. Russia’s invasion has caused up to $100bn only in damages to infrastructure, according to Ukraine’s own estimates.

Along with the collected sum in Lugano, aid to Ukraine falls considerably short of the $750bn it claims it needs. Shmyhal has suggested that Russian frozen assets are used to fund its reconstruction as a way of repaying for its wrongdoings, a call backed by Lithuania at the conference.

Countries signalled that help to Ukraine would also be given on condition that the country advances in reforms it had already been implementing to strengthen democracy and fight corruption. This was detailed in the declaration of Lugano adopted on Tuesday, where seven guiding principles are laid out, including “reform efforts and resilience in line with Ukraine’s European path”.

Clearing landmines, support enterprises, transforming health system

Achim Steiner, administrator of the UN Development Programme and leader of the UN delegation in Lugano, hailed the conference for demonstrating “unwavering support” for Ukraine.

Steiner stressed the need for aid to mainly support Ukraine’s government in delivering services to the population, but also to remove landmines, cluster munitions and other explosive weapons that remained a hurdle for the delivery of assistance.

He further said that Ukraine’s small and medium enterprises should be supported to avoid an economic crisis that could send millions more into poverty.

A WHO representative called for a “transformation of health systems” in Ukraine. He warned of the health impacts of the aggression, which he said had led to 234 attacks against health facilities, including hospitals and ambulances.

In a video message to the Ukraine Recovery Conference, Guterres said that the UN was already “preparing the groundwork for the reconstruction and repair of critical infrastructure.”

“This is a long road – but it must start now,” he said.