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AEBR on Ukraine

AEBR is in a unique position of having historical and current stakeholder links with Ukrainian border regions, on its western border and also including a research information point at Simon Kuznets University, Kharkhiv. AEBR has engaged with stakeholders in Ukraine in the course of its normal organisational activities since the formation of the Ukrainian Euroregions and has maintained close contact with stakeholders particularly since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

AEBR, as a strategic organisation with a unique special focus on the role of border regions in the European integration process, therefore has a particular perspective on the importance of effective and responsive cross-border co-operation – and of appropriate capacity-building for multi-level governance to enable this- in the reconstruction of Ukraine and more immediately in the bolstering of the Ukrainian western regions in meeting the current challenges which they now experience, having to be at once engines of the Ukrainian economy, and places of increased population due to the movement of peoples caused by the invasion and ongoing war.

AEBR’s work will focus on the middle to longer term efforts necessary to secure a sustainable and citizen-centred reconstruction of Ukraine which has a focus on cross-border co-operation and the role of Ukrainian western border regions in this unique generational challenge faced by Europe. We will do this with a combination of research, advocacy, and ongoing support and engagement with our stakeholders in Ukraine and neighbouring border regions.

It is AEBR’s view that the challenges for a citizen-centred reconstruction (which is what it must be) range from effective decentralisation of resources, place-based models of economic and social recovery, to energy independence for cities and regions, and the creation of a sufficiently reformed utility economy that provides access to basics like clean drinking water (Ukrainians already pay several times over for water services and still have to purchase drinking water). Additional challenges will be the post-conflict supports for families, combatants, in terms of rehabilitation, access to skills and economic activity, disability supports and supports for post-traumatic mental health recovery including dealing with the multi- and inter-generational aspects of these.

AEBR supports a Europe for citizens. The burden of war and post-conflict recovery will fall disproportionately on women and children; and on key sectors such as healthcare, social services and education services, as well as housing and utilities- this will be exacerbated for western border regions by the influx of displaced people from the East of the country. The EU institutions should be mindful of where the recent experience of post-conflict transformation exists within the wider European neighbourhood community and consider how these kinds of knowledge support will also be hugely beneficial to lever.

A major and immediate challenge also relates to the urgent necessity of ensuring that adequate logistics infrastructure is in place across the land border with Ukraine, to support the recovery of the Ukrainian economy through its production and export activity. The shift from sea logistics to over-land logistics for Ukrainian trade exports which can now travel to third country markets through the EU, creates an immediate need for analysis of macro-regional logistics infrastructure needs and the creation of strategies to inform the necessary investment levels and pace at which this infrastructure can be stood up. The need for neighbouring border regions to be supported to deal with the demand for logistics infrastructure resulting from the need to support Ukrainian export logistics will only increase. This is without Ukraine having full access to the single market, which when sufficient capacity is built within the Ukrainian economy for goods and services to be exported into the EU, will mean an additional need for effective means of conveyance and logistics support. A further burden will be placed on logistics infrastructure and capacity at the Ukrainian/EU border when the point comes at which materials and plant transport into Ukraine may be necessary in the process of physical reconstruction.

All of these issues are particularly burdensome for the Western regions of Ukraine which are also border regions. Effective governance, technical capacity and agility will be essential for these regions to cope with the lion’s share of driving recovery and reconstruction- not only physical but also economic, social and cultural. Relationships and working arrangements with their neighbouring border regions in other member states will be crucial, particularly for ensuring that any structural funds and/or additional assistance programmes are targeted to the needs of populations and of territories themselves. Macro-spatial strategies will be essential to inform investment at scale, of EU and other donor resources. These strategies must be based on documented needs and linked to place-based decision making as well as informed by sectoral expertise which can ensure that resources are used for what will make the difference. A clear understanding of the magnitude of the challenge is essential at the level of the European institutions. Europe has not faced a challenge of this scale across its border regions (in this case its Eastern external border) since before the EU was founded. Effectively responding to this challenge will require innovative and flexible thinking and a whole-systems structural approach to ensuring that the processes by which resources are accessed for reconstruction are tailored to the needs, urgency, and scale of the challenge.

AEBR is uniquely placed to work as an independent NGO voice, with its member regions and sectoral stakeholders across the Western Ukrainian border, on both sides. In this context and in keeping with our core mission to promote cross-border co-operation and related policy for Europe, we are aiming to identify support for a package of interventional and advocacy-related support which will raise awareness for European policymakers of the kind of needs response required across a range of sectors and with a focus on what these needs look like for border regions and what their implications are for the focus, depth and capacity of cross-border co-operation on Ukraine’s western borders. We are investigating options for accessing the necessary resources in order to work with Ukrainian stakeholders on the ground, including the Ukrainian Business and Trade Association, in order that an evidence-informed approach can be taken to supporting cross-border co-operation in the context of Ukrainian reconstruction.

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