In addition to defending itself, Ukraine faces tasks related to sovereignty and its status as a nation-state, such as repairing and modernising international airports, motorways, bridges and other major infrastructure projects with national impacts.
Much of the work is on a municipal and local level. This is why the focus of reconstruction should shift from central government to the districts, says Oleksandr Markushyn, Mayor of the city of Irpin, 70% of which has been destroyed. Markushyn shares his experience of reconstruction: “We have three principles for rebuilding: firstly, we need to do it quickly; secondly, high quality; thirdly, we must guarantee complete transparency around how we use money. We prepare the project documents but we have nothing to do with the applications or funding: our European partners do all that.”
Cities and municipalities are already doing incredible work to provide municipal services to local people. They are maintaining water and electricity supplies, dealing with waste and sewage, keeping schools open under challenging conditions, providing warm spaces in winter, taking in internally displaced persons and helping them to integrate, looking after the wounded, and providing therapy to people who have suffered trauma. On the one hand this is possible thanks to huge levels of social cohesion and an unbroken will to live in freedom, refusing to be oppressed by Russia’s regime of terror. On the other hand Ukraine’s process of decentralisation is also helping – it was initiated a few weeks after the “Revolution of Dignity” of April 2014. Since then state funding and powers have been comprehensively reallocated to autonomous local administrative bodies, and Ukraine's administrative system has undergone sweeping rearrangements by progressively consolidating small districts into large and more robust territorial districts. These reforms have led to tangible improvements in public services, and stronger local democracy which is now helping bear the current burden.
However, the imposition of martial law brought this process to a standstill. This year the central government approved a reducing tax collected by municipalities in favour of the central government, which is not only a sign of a reversal in this trend, but also a development which has hit small cities in Ukraine particularly hard. Vitali Klitschko, Mayor of Kyiv and Chair of the association of Ukrainian cities never tires of stressing that reforms to the state must go ahead of major investments in reconstruction. In his view that means strengthening autonomous local administration, promoting the rule of law, reforms to state prosecutors, and fighting corruption.
If implemented, these major reforms would encourage refugees to return to Ukraine, Klitschko says. “Our people abroad are our greatest asset, so it’s vital that they return home. They will return when there’s peace in Ukraine, decent incomes and municipal services on a European level,” observes the Mayor of Kyiv.