Currently, Ukraine needs weapons and military aid - but what about when the war is over one day? The severely traumatized population will need another form of support. Dr. Stella Voutta, Program Director for the Robert Bosch Stiftung’s topic “Peace”, explains what this should look like.
The German public continues to discuss controversially how the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine can be ended as quickly as possible: through more arms deliveries or through negotiations with the aggressor. But whoever supports Ukraine on its way to lasting peace, must already think ahead. In order to overcome the enormous challenges within its society, the country needs long-term international support. Although a lot of international aid has been directed to Ukraine, too little of it has gone to local organizations.
From the beginning, the focus of the German debate on the Russian war of aggression was how Germany can support Ukraine in defending its country, and ending the Russian aggression quickly and, above all, permanently. As long as Ukrainians pay for the Russian invasion every day with their lives, this is the right thing to do.
But we should also think about the moment when the guns go quiet. Ukraine will face major challenges: hundreds of thousands of soldiers will return to their families and will have to find their way back to a peaceful life. Upon return, those who fled will meet those who stayed. And, finally, a new sense of community must emerge in places that were under Russian occupation – where people collaborated with the occupiers. Ukraine will not be able to meet these immense challenges on its own. It needs our help: not only in the short term but in the long term, too.
The good news is that the international community is already providing considerable funds to this end. Germany alone has thus far pledged almost €2.5 billion for humanitarian aid. In January 2023, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development also pledged €52 million specifically for the long-term reconstruction of Ukraine. However, the key factor here is to whom and under what conditions this money will be disbursed.
On-the-ground experience and academic research have shown in recent years that the nature of support is crucial for a lasting and structural - in technical language, "positive" - peace. The Philippines and Sierra Leone are good examples that local peace actors can have a positive impact on very diverse conflicts. These can only be permanently resolved if those affected play a key role in developing solutions.
Imagine a fight in your own neighborhood. Someone who knows the neighborhood will probably find faster and more appropriate solutions than someone who must acquire this knowledge from the beginning. This applies to Ukraine, too.
For example, the Ukrainian Community of Practice of Mediators and Dialogue Facilitators is an organization that develops ideas for the country’s sustainable reconstruction. Ukrainian mediators and mediation organizations loosely joined forces in this network in 2014, following the annexation of Crimea. The associated mediators, psychologists, and locally rooted individuals help the population deal with their war traumas.
It is profoundly regrettable that the international community has not yet managed to involve local organizations sufficiently in the design of aid for Ukraine. The figures from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reveals that in 2022, less than one percent of the $3.9 billion in aid went directly to Ukrainian organizations. Instead, the majority of funds were allocated to UN organizations or international NGOs.
It's true: the fastest and administratively easiest route to provide support is often (still) through international aid organizations. German tax and procurement laws, for example, can be an insurmountable obstacle for smaller foreign organizations. In addition, they simply do not have enough contacts with international donors. It takes time to build networks – working through well-known international organizations with a high degree of professionalism is much quicker. Many of those are characterized by years of excellent work.
However, there are also clear problems: in humanitarian aid as well as in long-term development and peacebuilding work, there is a lack of coordination between local and international actors. This costs time and money. Projects are created that, due to a lack of knowledge, fail to meet the real needs of the population.
For a sustainable reconstruction, we have to resist the impulse to settle for an easy, quick solution. On the contrary: if we really want to make a contribution to sustainable, positive peace in Ukraine, we need to take the time to listen more closely to Ukrainians themselves about how we can support them as they look to the future of their country.