In my 30-year career in many incredibly complicated countries, I have not seen the combination of difficult and extraordinary challenges that face Ukraine. There is the conflict in the east, with the consequences measured in lives lost and wounded, displacement of more than two million citizens and massive humanitarian need. The country also faces an economic crisis with a devastating combination of contracting gross domestic product, a cash crunch and an outmoded industrial model. But there is also real opportunity.
The EuroMaidan Revolution outlined a clear vision of citizens for reform, backed by courageous action: an end to corruption and impunity, a more productive and equal society built on respect for human rights and rule of law.
Achieving these objectives requires more than new laws, it demands a new mindset in which government truly serves the common interest and where the creative energy of all citizens has an equal opportunity to thrive. In the context of “opportunity,” let me share my admiration for Ukrainian people and my motivation to ensure that the United Nations effectively supports the positive change this crisis represents.
There is good news: Ukraine is not facing these challenges alone. The international community unambiguously declared support for Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity in General Assembly Resolution 68/262, which frames UN work in Ukraine. All traditional bilateral donors such as Japan, the United States, the European Union and many others have sharply stepped up assistance.
International organizations have also increased support and allocations across the board. Some examples: in 2014 alone, the UN and our humanitarian partners provided health kits for 2.6 million people; 30,000 vaccinations; water and sanitation as well as food parcels and vouchers for 200,000 people in need; cash assistance for 8,200 families; and family kits, including winterization items (non-food items) for 62,000 people.
With our support, more than 5,000 internally displaced persons found jobs.
The UN has also supported with other partners the analysis of recovery needs in the east; we have long-term programs to support effective, meaningful reform. We consistently advocate for – and support, action to achieve the objectives of recovery, reform and respect for human dignity. International assistance for Ukraine is real; it is growing.
Yet, it is not enough – I will be the first to acknowledge we can and will continue to do more. In this context, the April 28 International Conference for Ukraine is a very important event to strengthen international support.
It will allow the international community to see the economic and security challenges faced by Ukraine, to understand the government’s short and medium term strategy and implementation plans for key reforms. Institutional and private investors will better understand changes and improvements in Ukraine’s business environment.
Ukraine will present its donor coordination mechanism and explain the related challenges – only with government leadership can we ensure every dollar of assistance counts and that there is no duplication! The event would also allow the international community to appreciate the changes and improvements in Ukraine’s political and economic environment, and to hear about the actual progress in the reform process.I firmly believe that this is an important conference, not only for the international community, but also for Ukrainians.
A simple query to prove the point: How many of you reading this can articulate the government’s short and medium term strategy and implementation plans for key reforms? What are the achievements of the past year and a half of efforts? Despite widespread pessimism, I do see real government action, and the conference will provide an objective opportunity to learn about progress to date.
Clearly, Ukraine’s national agenda is massive, achieving visible results take time and vision and, apropos of the Conference, it will take international support. Stepping back for a minute, what drives international support? Cynics will say geopolitics.
In fact, aid funding comes from donor country taxpayers, who push for contributions towards hope, development and peace.
In Ukraine, citizens have made a clear choice to create good government, i.e. a government that is effective, responsive to needs, accountable and transparent.
Speaking from my own impressions in traveling across the country by plane, train car and motorcycle let me say without doubt, the volunteer spirit of Ukrainians is awe-inspiring. This combination of aspiration towards a better society built on the backs of volunteers fighting difficult odds (what was a seemingly all-powerful government backed by oligarchs): this is what drives the widespread international support for Ukraine. Yet, donor funding is scarce and demand is high: Ebola, Syria, Afghanistan, ISIS, etc.
Against those needs, Ukraine is not an obvious candidate for support: a middle-income country with an inherent (but under-realized) level of wealth that is astounding in Europe: size, soil, natural resources, industrial capacity, an educated population and access to the sea.
We have come to the heart of the issue. The challenges facing the country create legitimate anxiety among citizens, who are sincerely keen to hear the government’s plan.
At the same time, the international community needs to know what government has done, will do and even the national funding envisaged, in order to generate the broad support required to help the country. Officials have been working long hours in a cross sector approach to prepare coherent statements from the three branches of government: president, prime minister and speaker of the Verkhovna Rada.
For me, this is an important exercise: a further forging of the national political alliance towards more coherent and effective action for security, reform and recovery of Ukraine. Speaking from personal experience, a deadline and a public presentation prompt intensive focus on what is strategic, on results achieved and on what remains for action.
If government, as a team, does this well, and I am sure they will, it will be of immense help to all of us cheering for Ukrainian success.
We could see more rapid approval of pipeline projects and/or new projects – this is funding for actions that make a difference in people’s lives. I imagine explicit support from key partners that motivates better coordination, more rapid and effective government action.
If effective communication of the government plan is achieved it would further motivate the inspirational volunteerism that has characterized both the push for reform and the response to the internally displaced person crisis, across the country.
Imagining a real success of the conference is not pie in the sky. I am a hard-core pragmatist, a results-focused professional working a long time in countries facing difficult challenges. It is fair to say that few countries face the challenges Ukraine has.
But in such circumstances, all the more important to stand up, speak to the issues, articulate the plans, generate support and motivate both national and international action for results that make a difference in people’s lives.
Two relevant proverbs come to mind and together they create a possible motto for this important event. I believe that help comes to those who take the right and necessary actions, themselves, alongside the principle, ask, and you will receive. These are challenging but exciting days.
Neal Walker is humanitarian coordinator, United Nations resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative in Ukraine.