Navigating Conflict and Resilience: The Journey of an FBA Project in Ukraine

During a sunny September afternoon in 2019, I sat in a small café near Golden Gate in Kyiv, reflecting on my first visit to this beautiful country twenty years ago. Now, as a project manager for the FBA ”Local Self-Government and the Rule of Law Project,” I found myself back in Ukraine, witnessing its remarkable transformation. Despite the conflict and war that began in 2014 with Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Ukraine was resolutely moving towards Europe, prioritizing democratization, anti-corruption efforts, crucial reforms, and building resilience in the face of war-related challenges.

Map of the Ukraine. highligted from space view

Progress and results of the FBA Project (2014-2019)

The FBA project in Ukraine, initiated in 2014, had made significant progress by 2019, successfully implementing numerous programs. These included assessments of the rule of law in administrative services provision, engaging 8,103 users throughout Ukraine, resulting in 155 recommendations for improving local-level services and 32 unique recommendations at the national level. We also launched pilot programs focusing on dialogues between veterans and communities.

Our local partner organizations, such as Ukrainian think tanks, sociological agencies, and professional associations, were proactive and enthusiastic in adopting new approaches and supporting our initiatives. We collaborated with fifteen partner cities, with three more underway through research programs. Joining this project team felt like a tremendous opportunity to contribute to a great cause, and I planned to visit Kyiv frequently from our Stockholm office. Little did I know what lay ahead.

Impact of COVID-19 and Russia’s full-scale invasion

The COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted our activities in 2020 and 2021, making it challenging to travel to Ukraine. Unfortunately, the full-scale war that erupted in February 2022 made it impossible to continue our work on the ground.

Despite these obstacles, our project team in Kyiv managed to maintain robust communication channels, facilitating the exchange of knowledge, resources, and expertise. This collective effort strengthened our response to the challenges at hand. I must acknowledge the tremendous work done by our Ukrainian colleagues, Julia and Uliana, who demonstrated unwavering dedication.

Achieving goals amidst a pandemic

In the first year of the pandemic, we achieved nearly all of our set goals. These included conducting research on the conflict in eastern Ukraine, mapping veteran reintegration, developing and piloting training programs for national bodies and local self-governments on veteran reintegration, as well as enabling Ukrainian groups to participate in global courses on the rule of law for conflict prevention and peacebuilding.

In 2021, the number of new initiatives became overwhelming. We worked on two pilot programs: assessing the potential for conflict at the local level (implemented in five communities throughout Ukraine) and evaluating the level of veterans’ reintegration within communities (implemented in three municipalities). Additionally, we supported several training programs, primarily related to veteran reintegration, including programs for judges on adjudicating court cases involving veterans in both criminal and administrative jurisdictions. We also assisted in the creation of new policies for veteran reintegration and provided support to the working group at the Ministry of Veterans’ Affairs of Ukraine.

Supporting post-war recovery and resilience

After the full-scale war began in February 2022, our project partners launched several initiatives to address the immediate challenges related to the conflict. We supported the ”Rule of Law during Wartime” initiative, focusing on assisting state agencies in legislative drafting and informing the population about changes in laws and service provision.

We continued implementing training programs for the judiciary and created policies and analytical materials to aid communities and state agencies in post-war recovery. These efforts included methodical recommendations on rebuilding communities based on ”build back better” principles, analytical materials for policy development in addressing the needs of conflict-related sexual violence victims, and a training program on conflict prevention at the local level. Additionally, we organized training events for the staff of administrative services provision centers throughout Ukraine, focusing on stress resilience and providing psychological assistance to visitors of these centers. The engagement of our Ukrainian colleagues, Julia and Uliana, was crucial in achieving these positive results despite the extremely difficult circumstances.

Building bridges of solidarity

At the end of 2022, we managed to organize the Sustainability Workshop in Stockholm. The workshop provided a safe platform for project partner organizations, partner cities, representatives of national stakeholders, and the project teams from both Kyiv and Stockholm to engage in a meaningful exchange of ideas and discussions on the next steps. Once again, it was evident that fostering connections and building bridges of solidarity are paramount in times of conflict. The achievements of our project highlighted the resilience, determination, and compassion of the individuals involved.

As Ukraine continues to combat the challenges posed by the war and prepare for the country’s rebuilding, the support from foreign partners becomes crucial. Representing such support on behalf of Sweden has become a highly important task.

av Carl Fredrik Birkoff
Profilbild Carl Fredrik Birkoff

Skrivet av Carl Fredrik Birkoff

I september 2023 började Carl Fredrik Birkoff sitt sekunderingsuppdrag som Peace and Development Specialist till FN RCO/UNDP-DPPA Joint Programme i Liberia. Carl Fredrik arbetade på FBA mellan 2014 och 2023, och hans senast roll var som projektledare för FBA:s arbete med strategin för Sveriges reformsamarbete med Östeuropa.

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