Project Restart Agency

Ukraine: Reconstruction of a battered country

The Restart initiative is working on a plan to sustainably rebuild severely damaged infrastructure in Ukraine. At the same time, they want to help communities get back on their feet during the war. A community in the south of the country serves as a laboratory for them – and as a blueprint.

Dr. Tim Tolsdorff
Imago/Dmytro Smolienko
June 05, 2024

Since February 24, 2022, Ukraine has been defending itself fiercely against the Russian war of aggression, which has inflicted death and destruction on large parts of the country. Countless Ukrainians have shown an impressive degree of resilience. Power plants, dams and homes destroyed, Ukrainians have found a solution to almost every challenge with their capacity for improvisation and hard work. One of these resilient Ukrainians is Oleksandr Shevchenko. A young, serious man wearing a hoodie, Oleksandr's eyes reveal that he has seen and experienced more than others his age in peaceful regions of the world. "Life will never be the same for me again," he says.  

Like countless others, Oleksandr Shevchenko did not want to surrender to the seemingly inevitable fate of defeat in the spring of 2022. "War is about taking responsibility,” he says. “We must have the unconditional will to win this conflict." So while the soldiers first stopped the Russian advance and then fought back, Oleksandr made plans. Plans for how to rebuild Ukraine after the war is over. More modern. Greener. More sustainable. And more resilient.

About the person

Oleksandr Shevchenko

Oleksandr is a co-founder of ReStart. He has previously worked in Ukraine, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany and Malaysia with various international actors such as UN-Habitat (WUF 9), GIZ, USAIN and UNDP. Alexander has a multidisciplinary background in civil engineering, spatial planning and urban design. He is interested in integrated urban development.

The plan for reconstruction is born

In spring 2022, Oleksandr Shevchenko founded the initiative Restart Agency with four like-minded people. "Until 2014, our country experienced one of the longest periods of peace ever. I myself was in the field of urban development and have always worked with data," he says. A spatial planner, he worked on projects for the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Then the war turned his world upside down.

Soon after its founding, the Restart team was joined by urban planners, architects and project managers. They all asked themselves similar questions: How do we document the extent of the damage? How can we quickly create new homes for people who have lost the roof over their heads? Can the many ruins in the country be used for reconstruction? And: How can cities and communities in Ukraine be designed for a future life in peace?  

First, the team drew up a strategic concept. According to this, the "recovery" of their own cities and communities will take place in a nine-stage process. At the beginning, damage analysis; at the end, reconstruction. The first phase of work also included establishing communication channels with Ukrainian authorities and administrations, setting up a website and preparing presentations for public appearances aimed at raising funds for their work. The Robert Bosch Stiftung already supported the project in this early phase.

View of the podium at the Civil Society for Recovery in Ukraine event on June 10, 2024 at the Robert Bosch Stiftung Berlin.

Ukraine Recovery Conference

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The Robert Bosch Stiftung and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation (US) have initiated the "Foundations for Ukraine" platform to better coordinate support for Ukraine.

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From the outset, it was important to the members of Restart to quickly make Ukrainian communities more resilient to the consequences of Russian aggression and to stop the exodus of the population. This is why shelters and temporary accommodation are part of Restart’s plans. Long-term reconstruction, on the other hand, focuses on sustainability and the adaptation of urban structures to climate change. "Our challenge is that reconstruction must be both fast enough and green enough," says Oleksandr.

Valuable input from Japan

In order to record the extent of destruction in the country, Oleksandr Shevchenko and his team rely on digital services provided by the Ukrainian government and NGOs, which citizens can use to report damage to or destruction of their property. Photographic satellite data and a six-level scale used in Japan are also valuable to categorize damage to buildings caused by natural disasters.

The combination of these measures provides the basis for a detailed nationwide damage report. Later, it should also be possible to determine the resources for clearing and recycling debris. "Our data collection tool is now fully established," says Oleksandr Shevchenko. "We are also about to launch a revised website."

In a third step, Restart defined how it would implement its own strategy on site, involving relevant stakeholders and decision-makers. Alexander describes this as a serious challenge. "We work at the interface of local and regional administrations, the Ministry of Recovery for Infrastructure, Hromadas, and Territories, and various international organizations," says Oleksandr. Here it is important to be visible, to network and to join forces in the right places to help out as effectively and efficiently as possible.

About the project

Restart Agency

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The aim of the project is to develop a recovery framework for Ukrainian municipalities severely damaged by war. 


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One community as a blueprint for the whole country

As a showcase, the interdisciplinary team from Restart initially developed a resilience and reconstruction plan for Chernihiv in northern Ukraine. However, the theoretical reconstruction plans for a large city proved unfeasible in practice. In true start-up style, Oleksandr and his colleagues therefore decided to partially realign their project last year. Since then, Restart has focused on rural areas. "We wanted to achieve a greater impact in a smaller area," says Alexander. "The average Ukrainian municipality has 30,000 inhabitants. We realized we could achieve more in such a municipality, and that a successful example could serve as a blueprint for the reconstruction of other parts of the country." 

Restart chose the municipality of Voznesensk, located in the Mykolaiv oblast in southern Ukraine. The town, with its 34,000 inhabitants, became famous in February 2022 because its residents actively supported the Ukrainian army in pushing the Russians back across the South Bug River. The region is still affected by its proximity to the front to this day, with rockets regularly hitting the area and destroying schools, day care centers and power plants.

In addition, in Voznesensk, as in many communities in Ukraine, the social structure has changed. The long-established residents who have stayed behind encounter people who have returned or have fled from occupied or devastated regions. In addition, there are children, old people and veterans, often with mental and physical injuries. They all need local livelihoods and must renegotiate their coexistence. If they do not manage this, more and more people will decide to move away, and the country will become depopulated. This is why Restart always keeps an eye on the social implications of its actions. 

Man in front of a peace symbol
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Our Engagement for Ukraine

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Robert Bosch Stiftung supports Ukrainian civil society in contributing sustainably to the reconstruction of their country.

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"We have seen that it is important to support infrastructure in regions like this right now. Then people will decide to stay – which in turn is important for our society."

Quote fromOleksandr Shevchenko
Quote fromOleksandr Shevchenko

In January 24, the ReStart team visited Voznesensk, where they presented the analysis of the sectoral report to the locals. It is crucial for the team to involve the local population when developing a comprehensive model for the municipality recovery - locals are the best experts in their city.

For Voznesensk, the planners from Restart focused on a holistic approach. Three areas of action serve as examples for this: First, a center of regional entrepreneurship will be created here and will be home, for example, to small technology companies making drones or to dealers providing building materials. Second, shelters should be built in all schools and kindergartens so that children can continue to attend. Third, Restart wants to decentralize energy production in order to minimize losses due to air strikes. "We are focusing on small gas turbine power plants with an output of one megawatt," says Oleksandr. The task now is to coordinate with local players and obtain support from Kyiv. "We are optimistic, but the plans now have to be realized," he says.

Giving up is not an option

There is no question that the road to success seems long. The war still hangs in the balance and Putin's Russia seems to have anything but de-escalation in mind. But Restart sees its own plans and projects as a sign of hope – as a perspective for a peaceful future. "Our plan is to make communities more stable and resilient under the conditions of the constant threat. We will keep going. Because if we do nothing, the situation will get worse," says Oleksandr. He is sure that, once the war is over, there will be great opportunities for the country. "We are a great and very adaptable nation that is currently looking for temporary solutions. For us, it is essential to spend on defense. However, we should find ways to build strong municipalities in parallel."

Giving up, that much is clear, is not an option for Oleksandr Shevchenko and the Restart team.

Five people pull firmly on a long rope
The dossier on the topic

Social cohesion

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When the willingness to engage in dialogue ends and differences of opinion turn into hatred, it affects us all: It endangers democratic coexistence. What can we do to counter this? There are encouraging approaches from all our areas of support – and our dossier focuses on these approaches.

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