When Russia launched its war of aggression on Ukraine, GIZ was able to provide rapid and effective assistance because of our presence throughout the country. Since then, we have been combining rapid assistance with reconstruction and advice on reforms. By Daniel Busche, GIZ Country Director in Ukraine
Open war has now been raging in Ukraine for one year. Millions of Ukrainians have left their country or been displaced within its borders. The people there live in constant insecurity and have to fear missile and drone attacks even in the western reaches of the country. On top of this they have to contend with the cold winter weather, power cuts, an interrupted water supply and limited communication channels.
Despite everything, the people in Ukraine are not losing heart. Their motivation and cohesion are huge.
Despite everything, people are not losing heart. Their motivation and cohesion are huge. You can see an unbridled thirst for action – Ukrainians want to take control of the situation, hold on to their country and continue to align it with the West. This is not just a pipe dream; it is a guiding principle that can be felt at all levels in our cooperation with Ukrainian partners. The reform agenda, which had ambitious targets even before the Russian war of aggression, is being driven forward with great commitment. This includes the intended membership of the EU, but also the aspiration to make the country as a whole more economically successful, citizen-responsive, greener and more digital.
When the Russian war of aggression began, we at GIZ stood by Ukraine right from the start. This meant that we were able to provide assistance very quickly, because we are present throughout the country: one of our cooperation priorities before the war was to strengthen local self-government. As a result, we had a nationwide network that had grown over the years with all of the Ukrainian municipalities. Through these direct contacts, we were able to provide targeted support: deliver medicines where they were needed; provide camp beds where they were in shortest supply; provide accommodation where people had lost their homes; or deliver electricity generators at short notice where there was otherwise no electricity.
Rapid assistance was very important, especially in the beginning, and has determined our work as GIZ. Our efforts to effectively alleviate immediate needs at this first level were soon supplemented by measures that are geared to reconstruction and to building the required structures. For example, it is a question of supporting municipal institutions such as schools, community centres and hospitals so that teaching or care can continue. Or of training prosthetic technicians in order to build knowledge and long-term capacities. At this second level, we are already advising our partners on what structures will be required in future so that the country can take a quantum leap in terms of modernisation and become eligible for EU accession.
Looking to the future
Then there is a third level, that of ‘conventional’ advisory services such as those we were already providing before the outbreak of war. Here, we are operating in the three priority areas of energy and climate, good governance and decentralisation, and sustainable economic development. All of these efforts are being made in parallel: rapid assistance, structure-building measures, policy advice and advice on reforms. This shows that despite the war, we are already looking far into the future.
In spite of all the dynamism on the Ukrainian side, our work is not easy. Of course, this is partly due to the overall situation, which means among other things that our international experts cannot work on site at present. As country director, I am also working from Germany at the moment. Fortunately, with over 420 Ukrainian colleagues working for GIZ, we have a structure on the ground that is doing incredible things under the most adverse conditions. We are pursuing a joint adaptive management approach. If there are power cuts or internet outages in the field, or our national colleagues have to take shelter, then team members outside Ukraine step in.
Focus on reconstruction
This type of commitment makes us one of the most important implementing organisations in Ukraine. Germany is the second-largest bilateral donor there after the United States. Our activities can be expected to increase further and to focus more strongly on reconstruction. The need is enormous. It will take generations to restore the destroyed infrastructure. To make this possible on a large scale, we hope the fighting will end soon. For the time being, I hope that security will improve in as many parts of the country as possible so that we can carry out our tasks in the field even more effectively, and give people prospects for the future. The will of the Ukrainian people to forge their own path remains unbroken, and we want to support them as purposefully as possible.