Rebuilding Ukraine: ‘We have to ask people what kind of country they foresee’

Maidan square, Kiev (Credit: Jørgen Deleuran / Pixabay)

The Ukraine Recovery Conference kicked off in the Swiss city of Lugano on Monday where Ukrainian, Swiss and European officials  will try to define a plan for rebuilding  Ukraine, both amid and after the war. East Europe Foundation is one of the dozens of charitable organisations attending the two-day event and will present new digital tools developed with its partner, the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine.

The foundation’s president, Victor Lyakh, explained the importance of the conference for Ukraine and the need to focus on creating a new model for Ukraine rather than rebuilding the old one. 

GS News: Preparations for the Ukraine Recovery Conference (previously known as Ukraine Reform Conference -ed.) began back in October, but the focus recently shifted from reforms to post-war reconstruction. Is it possible to present a fully operational project in such a short time?

Viktor Lyakh: At first glance, it may seem that four months is not enough time to prepare such strategic documents. But in Ukraine, we are in a new time zone and we measure our time in weeks, not years. Our foundation operates 24/7 as every step is crucial in this time of emergency. Alongside us, other organisations are working hard to implement development projects – I would even call them “resilience projects”. Our partner, the Ministry of Digital Transformation, is developing many projects to increase Ukraine’s resilience and, we are participating in their implementation.

We believe that Ukraine could become a role model on this topic through a platform for digitalisation of the public administration, the Dia portal. The project allows businesses to apply online for funding using an innovative system. Ukrainians facing payment procedures in other countries are probably aware that the European bureaucratic system works much slower.

GS News: What role did the East Europe Foundation play at the Ukraine Reform Conference previously and which projects will be presented at the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Lugano?

VL: The foundation has been a partner of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) for a long time. When Switzerland took over the organisation of the Ukraine Reform Conference, we were happy to assist in the process. 

In Davos, we presented a whole panel dedicated to the country’s digital transformation during the war. This included a tool to counteract aggression, such as e-Voroh (a Telegram bot where users can post information, geolocation, or photos of Russian invaders -ed.), and systems that allow Ukrainians to receive aid from the state.

This series of meetings in Davos and Ukraine preceded the conference in Lugano. I know for a fact that Ukraine has a lot to be proud of and a lot to be grateful for, including the support provided by the Swiss government. 

GS News: Will you also be presenting digital tools at the conference in Lugano?

VL: We are presenting some of the world-class tools Ukraine is developing. These include tools that coordinate aid, provide community organisations and businesses with the support they need, as well as to counter cyber attacks.

GS News: Why is it important for you, on an  individual level as president of the East Europe Foundation, to take part in this conference? 

VL: As a representative of the public sector, I believe that NGOs must partake in implementation and recovery. When building a new country, we have to ask people what kind of country they foresee.

One of our tasks is to introduce tools for engaging citizens at the stage of rebuilding to ensure dialogue in the process, as well as public monitoring and control.

Let me explain with a simple example: even our system of spatial planning was inherited from the Soviet Union. Our entire administrative system is outdated. Instead of recovering what we had, we should perhaps reconsider the needs of communities today and build modern cities with modern infrastructure. You can’t achieve such processes with the authorities and architects alone – the entire community must determine what it wants and how it wants to take part. 

I do not want us to rebuild a country known for its corruption scandals, political squabbles, and isolated government. I want us to rebuild an European state, with European values and democratic instruments with the involvement of citizens. 

GS News: Why is the conference important for Ukraine today?

It is important for us to show that we actively participate in resistance, we have the energy and commitment to defend our country, and we certainly want to show our partners that we are defending our interests.

The support of our partners in the rebuilding processes is crucial. But we need to show that we have a long-term view on the recovery process. Not only do we want a physical recovery or a return to the life we had on 23 February 2022, but we also want to rebuild an innovative, democratic, and liberal country. We need to deliver this extremely important message to all our partners.