Rebuilding hope: How the UK can lead the way in post-war Ukraine
Emmet Regan argues that the UK is uniquely placed to take a leading role in the reconstruction of post-war Ukraine - if the will is there to help. A version of this article was first published in the MJ.
Listening to the voice of the BBC’s Lyse Doucet on the ‘Today Show’ as she painted the picture of hell on earth from a basement in Kyiv will stay with me forever. A people living under the constant and real fear of death with their only crime being one of location.
The UK response to the war in Ukraine has been one of leading by example, from defensive military support to medical supplies and beyond, the UK government has stood tall and sought to make a difference on the ground in both humanitarian and military terms.
We have also seen an incredible response from the wider UK public, some opening their homes to Ukrainian families and giving so generously to a number of funds such as the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) fundraising appeal.
The unspeakable horror brought to the streets of cities such as Mariupol will scar generations of families who have lost loved ones or who were forced to flee under the cover of darkness to a foreign land.
From conversations I have had with colleagues from across government - both locally and centrally - and in the private and third sector, there is a palpable sense of wanting to help. People want to provide expertise and capacity to a country and a people in dire need of support to rebuild alongside dealing with the trauma that has been wrought upon their lives.
One day the bombs will stop to fall, the air raid sirens will fall silent but what then? Towns and cities across Ukraine, from the Polish border to Odessa, flattened by the artillery shells and bombs from the Russian army and air force. A people scattered across Europe and beyond with a country in need of rebuilding and renewing. Not just to put build back in the shadows of the ruins but the chance to renew lives and rebuild in a way that acknowledges the horrendous recent events and allows for public services to be delivered in a different way.
There is an opportunity to rebuild Ukraine, ready for the challenges of the 21st century.
Following the Second World War, cities across the UK had to fundamentally rethink how they would rebuild and renew themselves, none more so than in London where parts had faced near total destruction. The City of London Corporation sought to rebuild the area of Cripplegate which had been heavily destroyed during the Blitz. Using the powers afforded to it by the Town and Country Planning Act (1947) it sought to radically reshape what had existed before. The creation of the Barbican sought to provide homes and services in a different way. The tale of renewal can be seen across the UK in the post war period, seeking not just to rebuild but to reshape places destroyed the war.
The UK is uniquely placed to create a new cross sector organisation to help plan, rebuild and renew Ukraine. Working alongside the Ukrainians, to provide capacity, resources and the know how to rebuild. The UK knows what it is like to have to rebuild following destruction but also brings the unparalleled knowledge to fuse together the three unique strands required, people, place, and technology.
Providing upfront capacity now to begin to plan for what will be a national rebuilding effort requires a breadth and depth of talent and skills that the UK is uniquely placed to access.
Place – across central and local government, there is experience of world leading building and infrastructure projects, from the 2012 London Olympics to Crossrail and beyond. Coupled with experience of project management, planning and construction, this would be a fundamental key of the reconstruction.
People – Bringing experience of a range of public services from education to the NHS and beyond to plan for repatriation and rebuilding of the vital public services that people across Ukraine will rely on in the years ahead
Technology – Harnessing the power of technology to support both the people and place side, the UK’s ability to scale and spread innovation will be crucial in the rebuilding effort.
The reality on the ground
According to the DEC, 18 million people have been affected by the war in Ukraine and a quarter of the Ukrainian population have been forced to flee their homes. This war may be counted in weeks and months, but its impact will last for generations. Thought must be given now to the medium and long-term plan to rebuild Ukraine.
Now is the time for bold action and forward thinking, now is the time to create a new cross-sector organisation tasked with working alongside the Ukrainians to help rebuild, reform, and renew for the generation to come. The UK has the opportunity to mandate a new ‘Ukrainian Reconstruction Organisation (URO),’ a new publicly owned body, funded from across, the governmental, third and private sector with a simple instruction to deliver for the people of Ukraine for the next 10 years. Providing a long-term framework to plan, fund and deliver in the reconstruction effort.
Together for the long-term
Now is the time for ambition. The response to COVID has demonstrated the power of all levels of government working together to ‘do big things.’ The power of public and private, the power of central and local, all working in the same direction, pulling together to deliver is exactly the blueprint required for the rebuilding of Ukraine. Taking this approach as a ‘blueprint,’ the URO would become the fulcrum upon which transformation and partnership can turn between the UK and Ukraine.
Imagine the power of bringing experts together from planning, construction, project management, infrastructure to collaborate with Ukrainian counterparts to begin the planning for the rebuild imminently. We have seen the key roles that Mayors and regional leaders have played in the war in Ukraine. These powerful leaders, on the ground, defending their cities and these very people are now in need of support to rebuild and renew the place they call home. Now is the time to act.
The UK government could underwrite the URO for a decade and incentivise local authorities, regional administrations, government departments, private sector bodies and third sector organisations to send their best and brightest to help with reconstruction and rebuilding. I believe there is also an opportunity to go further, to draw in colleagues from education, health and social care to focus on the victims of this atrocity, to plan for services such as mental physical health to be embedded into the recovery.
We owe it to the people of Ukraine to be there for the long haul, not in the short and the medium term. What we as a sector and beyond can bring is an unrivalled depth and breadth of knowledge across people, place, and technology. I believe the UK Government has an obligation to stand with the people and the institutions of the Ukraine to rebuild in a way that does not just replicate the past but creates a future for the Ukraine to thrive and for those millions of people who can return home to have a brighter future. Now is the time for action.
To get in touch with Emmet Regan email firstname.lastname@example.org.