When the war is over, Ukraine must assert its refined identity and a new place on the world arena. In part 1 of the op-ed we examine the rationale behind this Herculean task and look at two key facets of state development: our military and politics

In 2022, time felt as though it dragged infinitely for the Ukrainian nation. Unsure of the next day, hearing about the deaths of friends and loved ones, reading news with a never fading anxiety and the anticipation of unpredictable emotions – sometimes anger, sadness, or desperation; sometimes jubilation, happiness, and pride Ukrainians aged and matured in 2022 the way I would not wish on anyone else.

We moved from the stage of checking whether Kyiv would hold, to the stage of questioning whether the liberation of Kherson liberation could be a trap, all the way to the stage of guessing which occupants’ base will be destroyed next.

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There seems to be no end in sight to these stages. We all know the world knows Ukraine will eventually prevail. But what be the aftermath of all of this? What will be the result for Ukraine following such magnificent and bloody resistance?

Of course, when the war finishes on Ukrainian terms, we will be calling it a victory. But will this be enough when hundreds of thousands of innocent people have been slaughtered; when thousands of Ukrainian children have been stolen into the vastness of the Russian black hole; and when millions of Ukrainian people have lost their homes and jobs?

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A real victory for Ukraine will be the absolute and irreversible transformation and rebuilding of our country to the standard of the most developed European states. And I am quite sure that if, a few years ago, someone was expecting this to happen in the near future, they would be considered a dreamer.

I don’t want to sound presumptuous, but no one should consider this ambition unrealistic anymore. Ukrainians have shown the courage, wits, and determination unheard of in recent history. And not because they are better than anyone else. Simply, the exposure to horror and destruction has given Ukrainians a clear choice: fight or flight.

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By choosing to fight we chose who we were. By continuing to fight we are shaping who we are. By winning, we are telling the whole world who we are. Once the war is over, we will have to live up to who we are - who we have become as a result of the war.

Being a buffer state will not cut it anymore. Being a corrupt post-Soviet country in transition is not on. Being a bridge between Europe and Russia will not work. Being mediocre will not be possible.

It will be down to our generation to make Ukraine a country our soldiers fought for; a country the Heavenly Hundred Heroes died for during the Revolution of Dignity in 2013-14, and many generations of our ancestors were creating for us. We will have to make Ukraine a European country which will trump anything we were before the enemy decided to step on our lands. Only by building anew will we be able to prevent further destruction and ensure our future prosperity.

We will have to work on all aspects of state building, continuing what we were always strong at; boosting what we have excelled at during, or because of, war; and adding what we always wanted but never got a chance to possess.

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Let’s focus now on two specific aspects of state-building – our military and politics.

Military

From 2014 to this day, the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) has become one of the most skilled and experienced armies in the world. In the Global Firepower ranking, the AFU moved from 22nd to 15th place within a year. The steep course made us learn quick and adapt fast.

Now that we have the skills, we cannot let them go to waste. The AFU will have to remain the backbone of the country. Whether Russia turns into a vast North Korea, disintegrates, finds a more democratic path, or becomes a failed state, the danger emanating from the Russians will never cease. We must make sure we are armed to the extent where any attack would seem ridiculous even to the most deranged Russian chauvinists.

We will need to enable an Israel-style Iron Dome, have a 100K+ ready contract army, NATO membership and domestic production of all necessary weapons, be those of national origin or through agreements with foreign contractors.

We will have to continue to utilize our growing international presence to ensure the safety and security of all our allies. This would include the abovementioned NATO membership, joint exercises, bilateral security agreements, and a core Military Union with Poland, a country most like us in terms of history, mentality, and goals, and ideally other Baltic and Central European states.

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We will have to adjust to living in a state of constant tension, like Israel. We must be prepared for a continuous state of war or its threat. We must rebuild our economy, maintaining a semi-martial law. This is not fearmongering. This is an objective evaluation based on centuries of exploitation, genocides and subjugation emanating from Russia. We will have to be fully prepared for the war to maintain a hard-earned peace.

Politics

Ever since 2022 invasion the Ukrainian political elite has shown unprecedented unity, patriotism, and diplomatic ability, rallying international support around Ukraine in a way that has been, unfortunately, rarely seen in many other post World War II conflicts. While this unity is admirable and the patriotism contagious, we must acknowledge that our achievements would be undermined if the people in power decide to go back to the old post-Soviet ways and use the National Rebuilding Project for self-enrichment.

Honestly speaking, I would not expect Ukrainian political circles to physically survive if they do not work together with the people to rebuild the country in a way worthy of Ukraine’s sacrifice. The involvement of the military, territorial defense and volunteers will be a key factor in giving this rebuilding the true, patriotic color it needs and the vigilance and accountability required to accompany it.

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While it is critical to the preservation of Ukrainian interests that the direction for the rebuilding comes from a strong national core, foreign involvement and oversight will be paramount both for the peace of mind of our allies and friends, helping us in this insurmountable task, as well as the Ukrainian people, who would know that foreign investments and lend leases are being spent correctly.

Obviously, there is no reason to think any Western person is intrinsically less prone to corruption than a Ukrainian, but the difference in mentalities, the absence of local networks and related nepotism, the knowledge of Western functioning institutions and the lack of Russian connections should prove an invaluable asset in the creation of a balanced post-war leadership and management of the country.

Ukraine would also be advised to take advantage of its diaspora – ethnic Ukrainians, educated abroad, and possessing the knowledge of both Ukrainian specifics as well as other countries’ experiences of state building. Apart from knowledge and a genuine desire to see their country blossom, these people can bring the networking and mentality to ensure the correct trajectory and speed of Ukrainian development.

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The lustration and imprisonment of all previously corrupt politicians, as well as introducing strong deterrence to corruption and national treason (prison term and expropriation of wealth), would have to be implemented seriously, thoughtfully and without exceptions.

At the same time, government or ministerial positions will have to reflect the mounting responsibilities and challenges by ensuring proper competition for seats, as well as European level (or higher) salaries. Government jobs will have to become prestigious not because of the potential for bribes but as a viable and lucrative career route serving the common good.

In part 2, we will discuss what the future holds for education, economy, technology, and ecology, as well as provide concluding thoughts

The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.

 

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