From ruins to resilience on the road to recovery in Ukraine

How UNDP and the international community aim to help Ukraine to build back better

September 21, 2023

The “build back better” approach offers an opportunity to rebuild stronger, safer, more disaster-resilient infrastructure and systems, using environmentally friendly furnishings and equipment.

Photo: UNDP in Ukraine

KYIV — In the wake of Russia’s devastating invasion of Ukraine, an opportunity has arisen—not just to rebuild but to rebuild better. Despite the unprecedented challenges and widespread destruction, Ukraine continues to function at a high level and is providing services to its people. Its capacity to endure amidst such adversity can be attributed largely to significant investments in transformative change over the last 30 years—notably to reforms bolstering institutional capacity, digitalization of public services, civil society engagement, and voluntarism. 

In the face of adversity, Ukraine, with support from international partners such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) where I serve as Ukraine Resident Representative, is embracing the “build back better” philosophy. This approach, which has guided UNDP’s work for decades particularly in post-war or post-disaster scenarios, aims to ensure that societies emerge from crises stronger, more equitable, and better prepared for the future. In this way, by prioritizing resilience, sustainability, and inclusivity in its reconstruction efforts, Ukraine aims to rise from the ashes of this war stronger and more resilient.

The vision for a rebuilt Ukraine

The 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, from 18-26 September 2023, is themed “Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity: Accelerating action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress, and sustainability or all.” This theme resonates deeply with the current situation in Ukraine, with the renewed focus on trust, solidarity, and pursuit of the 2030 Agenda as a beacon for national recovery.

The “build back better” approach offers an opportunity to rebuild stronger, safer, more disaster-resilient infrastructure and systems, using environmentally friendly furnishings and equipment. 

We at UNDP emphasize the need for energy efficiency across all sectors during Ukraine’s recovery, and we promote decentralized renewable energy sources to enhance energy systems’ flexibility, resilience, and eco-friendliness. Investment in green projects, targeting green transport, sustainable agriculture, bioconservation, ecosystem services, and smart debris management—such as taking debris from buildings destroyed in the war and recycling it in other projects such as road repairs—is vital. We are also working with the Government of Ukraine to develop financial instruments and resources to support these reforms and transitions.

UNDP’s recovery emphasis in Ukraine is centred on green recovery and sustainability. Repairs to infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, and housing, when undertaken in partnership with UNDP, are designed to meet inclusivity, environmental sustainability, and energy efficiency standards. These measures, such as improving heating systems and reducing energy use, promote environmental sustainability and produce cost savings.

Our interventions include repairing critical energy infrastructure and clearing debris and explosive ordnance in liberated areas, thereby addressing immediate needs while paving the way for broader development.

Photo: UNDP in Ukraine

Facing challenges head-on

The road to recovery is pockmarked with challenges, above all the sheer enormity of destruction. With millions displaced and in need, the sheer scale of damage is staggering: More than 1.4 million houses have been damaged or destroyed, impacting nearly 18 million people or roughly 40 percent of the population; 15 years of development gains were wiped out in a single year; and the poverty rate has increased fivefold, from 5.5 percent to 24.1 percent since 24 February 2022, plunging an additional 7.1 million Ukrainians into poverty.

The widespread lack of security is also a serious concern: The ongoing hostilities, particularly close to the frontlines, are hindering rebuilding efforts. Every brick laid in reconstruction might be broken by the next attack.

Another challenge is transparency: With Ukraine’s history of corruption, rebuilding efforts must remain transparent to retain public trust. Here, the country’s improved standing on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, along with a strong civil society sector and investigative journalists witnessing the recovery process, offer hope. 

The imperative of immediate action

With total recovery and reconstruction needs estimated at a staggering $411 billion, international cooperation will be vital. Today, we stand at a turning point of history, where the weight of our collective action could set us on course either for hope or despair. With Ukraine's resurgence hanging in the balance, international cooperation isn't merely beneficial—it is indispensable. Pooling our resources, expertise, and passion can and must transform the enormous challenges into opportunities, steering Ukraine away from disaster and along a more sustainable path.

The importance of what we do today cannot be overstated. Our immediate actions will shape the trajectory of an entire nation. As we rally together under the “build back better” banner, let Ukraine's recovery serve as a compelling testament to the infinite potential of global unity. We have an opportunity to inspire the world with a narrative of resilience, solidarity, and hope: Let's seize it, and ensure Ukraine's renaissance serves as an example for generations to come.