The European Union’s Ukraine Facility has the potential to provide significant and sustained economic support for the people of Ukraine in the coming years. Once agreed by the European institutions, the new €50 billion instrument can support the country’s short-term and recovery needs, as well as its medium-term reconstruction and modernisation.
As Ukraine seeks to rebuild in the face of Russia’s ongoing illegal war, the proposals for the facility’s three pillars will give EU funding to the Ukrainian State, provide a specific Ukraine Investment Framework to attract public and private investments, and offer technical assistance, including support for municipalities and civil society.
However, if the facility is to prove truly effective, it is crucial that the needs of local communities in Ukraine are fully recognised by the EU and the Ukrainian national government, and that cities and municipalities are provided with the financial autonomy, resources and technical assistance they need to rebuild sustainable infrastructure for local people.
Ahead of the facility’s expected availability at the start of 2024, it is essential that discussions take place between the EU institutions and all levels of government in Ukraine to ensure the new instrument is inclusive and resilient. It is also important that cities and municipalities understand how the funding from the EU Facility, and the associated ‘Ukraine Plan’ being developed by the Ukrainian government, will be allocated to them.
Empowering Ukraine’s local communities
These were the key messages expressed by local leaders and city networks at a recent meeting in the European Committee of the Regions, focusing on the funding requirements of the Ukraine Facility and the needs of local governments in Ukraine.
Organised by Eurocities and the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), the ‘Empowering Local Communities’ event took place just a day after the European Commission announced that the EU should start accession talks with Ukraine.
The event, organised as part of the ACT NOW Mayors’ Conference, brought together mayors from Ukraine and Poland, the Ukrainian government and the European Commission to discuss recommendations for policymakers before the Ukraine Facility’s final adoption.
Addressing the meeting, Oleh Bulbaniuk, Deputy Mayor of the Borodianka Territorial Hromada (municipality) in Ukraine, explained the impact the Russian invasion had on his small community of 24,000 people, located 50km North-West of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. The town was the scene of heavy bombardment in the early days of the war.
The Russian troops who pulverized the small town are gone, but they left devastation and rubble in their wake. Over 1,600 community buildings were destroyed, countless local people’s homes were obliterated and the town had to deal with regular blackouts and freezing temperatures during last year’s cold winter months.
“The challenges were overwhelming and the main street of our town was wiped out,” said Bulbanik. “It was a very tough time for our community, but we are strong people and we have begun to rebuild our lives.”
The deputy mayor said that many local people are now living in prefabricated, dormitory-style housing modules, which have been provided by Poland.
“We are very grateful to our neighbours in Poland, who provided us with a range of support, including generators, electrical equipment, food and clothes,” said Bulbaniuk. “Last winter we had to live with blackouts, but we have already restored 30% of our heating facilities and this winter we are better prepared.”
Bulbaniuk said that the town’s focus is now turning to recovery. “We want a recovery that is focused on green, sustainable infrastructure, not just building energy efficient housing or sustainable transport, but building a new culture of inclusivity,” he stated.
“One of our big plans is the reconstruction of our water sewage plant, so it is more environmentally friendly. We hope the Ukraine Facility can support this objective.”
Support from Polish neighbours
One of the first Polish communities to provide support to the people of Borodianka was the town of Mińsk Mazowiecki, a municipality of Warsaw.
Mińsk Mazowiecki has sent more than a dozen trucks carrying humanitarian aid to Borodianka, supported by local resident and volunteers. Donations have come from Poland, France, the USA and Ireland. As the situation in Borodianka has improved, recent donations have consisted of school desks, chairs, blankets and nappies.
Katarzyna Łaziuk, Deputy Mayor of Mińsk Mazowiecki, said that the decision to provide support was an easy one to make. “We don’t want to be thanked, we provided support to our neighbours because it is the right and humane thing to do. The people of Borodianka are suffering and we are doing everything we can to support them,” said Łaziuk.
Łaziuk stressed that each pillar of the Ukraine Facility should contain support for city municipalities, providing grants and support to help with capacity building and greening facilities.
“Towns such as ours can provide aid and some expertise, but to bring about the investment and expertise that is required to transform local communities, we need a unified framework at EU level,” she said.
Recognising local funding needs
Gabriel Blanc, Team Leader for the Reconstruction of Ukraine in the European Commission, explained that the needs of local authorities were given “special attention” by EU policy makers involved in drafting the Ukraine Facility proposal.
“The details of this regulation are still being discussed by the European Parliament and members states, but the needs of cities and municipalities are being recognised,” said Blanc.
The event also heard from a Ukrainian government official who explained the current proposals to disburse the funds under Pillar One of the Facility.
In his presentation, Ievgen Apalkov, Expert of the Reform Support Team, The Ministry for Communities, Territories and Infrastructure Development (Ukraine), said that 15% of Pillar One’s funds will be allocated to local governments in Ukraine. This is a proposal from the European Parliament that is still under discussion.
He also stated the necessity to build the capacity of cities and municipalities so they have the ability to manage allocated funds.
“At local and regional level, the emphasis needs to be on rebuilding housing and social infrastructure,” said Apalkov. “It is vital that we attract international investment and local communities are given the significant funding they need.”
Ensuring technical assistance
Speaking at the meeting, Eurocities Project Coordinator Yanina Basysta outlined the importance of ensuring the voice of local authorities has been heard at both national and EU level.
“Today’s event gave local governments in Ukraine the opportunity to hear from the European Commission and the Ministry for Restoration in Ukraine about the funding and support that will be available to them through the new facility, and to ensure that the importance of capacity building for Ukrainian hromadas is recognised.”
She continued: “Local authorities also made it clear to the EU that there is a lack of concrete provision as to how technical assistance for capacity building, under Pillar Three of the Facility, will be provided, either to them directly, or to international associations of cities, or through another route.”
A complex situation
“Russia’s war in Ukraine continues,” concluded Katarzyna Łaziuk, Deputy Mayor of Mińsk Mazowiecki. “We can’t let Russian aggressors stop us from thinking about the future, but it is complex.”
“While planning, we have to have in mind sustainable development, but violence and terrible tragedies are still taking place. We must look to the future, but we have to be sensitive and aware that this war continues to affect the lives of millions of people.”
She added: “We must stay united for Ukraine.”