On the 16th of August 2023, at the invitation of the European Wergeland Centre, Cedos Director Ivan Verbytskyi delivered a keynote speech during the discussion “Build back better after the war. Local Democracy in Ukraine”. This discussion was a part of the Arendal Week, a week of annual political debates, an important political event in Norway, organized by the Association of Local Communities of Norway and Habitat Norge.

Today is three thousand four hundred and sixty-fifth day of the Russian imperial war against Ukraine. One and half years ago, this war became full-scale, but it actually started back then on the twentieth of February 2014 when Russia began the occupation of the Crimean peninsula. This was a response to the victory of the Revolution of Dignity; therefore, this war is somehow a war against dignity. The concept of dignity is closely related to the idea of human rights a certain standard of living that is guaranteed to every human being by the very fact of its existence without any preconditions. This dignity and human rights are universal. This means that if someone may be deprived of their rights, then nobody is safe enjoying these rights.

Precisely because of this people of Ukraine started the revolution of dignity in the winter of 2013-2014 as a response to the police brutality against the peaceful rally of students and civil society demanding European integration of Ukraine. If somebody may be deprived of physical integrity and the right to assemble peacefully, then nobody is safe. Joining the Revolution of Dignity, Ukrainian people were demanding freedom and democracy, welfare and justice, integrity and equality. These values were unacceptable to Russia, so scared of a free and prosperous Ukraine. But Russian destabilising and radicalising interventions against dignity and human rights are far beyond Ukraine in Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Central Asia, Europe, America and Africa. Russia is the force fighting against democracy, freedom, journalism and truth, LGBTQ+ and gender equality, green transition and sustainability all over the world.

Over one hundred years ago, Ukraine lost its previous war against the Russian empire. Today with our partners’ support, we are fighting to be free. So, first of all, thank you so much for supporting Ukraine!

But the war is not over yet. The fight and the death are happening at this precise moment while I speak to you. Somebody’s life was just broken or lost. And again. And again. Every single day. Our first need for recovery is military support. The recovery won’t be possible without a just peace and restoration of full sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

This doesn’t mean we are waiting. Recovery starts the next day something was destroyed. People need to live somewhere. Children need to have a school.

Last month the Ukrainian Urban Forum declared five key principles for the Ukrainian recovery.

  1. Justice, which means the rule of law, inclusiveness, the practical implementation of human rights and prioritising the needs of those most in need of support.
  2. Participation, which means involvement and consideration of the needs of various social groups and stakeholders in the development and implementation of public policies and programs with a particular focus on transparency, as well as proper and timely informing.
  3. Subsidiarity, which means solving problems at the lowest possible level of government, where it can be done efficiently and effectively.
  4. Credibility, which means that all decisions should be based on high-quality and reliable data, research results, as well as critical analysis of previous experience and possible consequences of implemented solutions and programs. 
  5. Sustainability, which means long-term planning and consideration of total life cycles, striving for climate neutrality, care for future generations, preservation and restoration of nature.

We are fighting for democracy against tyranny, so we need democratic recovery. To sustain our democracy, we need social cohesion. We need to avoid deep social inequalities – the feeling inside significant social groups that they are left behind. This relative deprivation may lead to the rise of political populism and radicalisation.

Building back better and building forward also means leaving no one behind. In housing, this means affordability and a system of low-profit and not-for-profit housing that is nearly inexisting now in Ukraine. We need social housing. In educational policy, leaving no one behind means fighting learning losses and inequalities in access to good-quality education for children from low-income and rural households. We need investments in public schools and universities. In social policy, leaving no one behind means workplace creation and better working conditions for key workers. We need a stronger system of public social support for those in need.

For many years Ukrainians were deprived of dignity and human rights by different incarnations of the Russian Empire, including the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation. Today we are fighting not only against this imperialism but also fighting for freedom, democracy, dignity and human rights in Ukraine. Recovery simply means restoring and building a society based on these values. And we cannot do this without applying these same values to the recovery process itself.

Mutual aid and mutual support mobilised people and communities all across Ukraine to fight back, volunteer and assist each other in response to Russian aggression. This fundamental respect for every human being, this support and solidarity is the basis of our strength. This also is a cornerstone of our future.

Once again, thank you for your support of Ukraine!