This research project reflects on the realities faced by Ukrainian grassroots civil society actors during the first three months of the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation in Ukraine. The study looks at the initiatives these actors created in response to the situation starting from the 24th of February reaching to the 31st of May.
The research project analyses the actors behind the initiatives, the activities they carried out, and the risks they faced whilst carrying out their work.
Based on the findings, the research paper offers recommendations and lessons learned for:
1. International intergovernmental organizations, such as the UN, EU, and OSCE;
2. International non-governmental organizations and individual consultants;
3. Donor agencies;
4. Ukrainian central and local authorities.
The civil society initiatives analysed in the study have been grouped under ten overarching practices:
1. Acts of resistance in the temporarily occupied territories;
2. Evacuation of civilians and civilian objects;
3. Negotiations carried out with the Russian military on local levels;
4. Provision of humanitarian aid;
5. Provision of accommodation and organization of shelters;
6. Provision of psychological support and conflict management services;
7. Provision of educational services;
8. Use of art as a response to the Russian invasion;
9. Documentation of war crimes;
10. Coordination of aid provided for Ukrainian military units.
The key recommendations concluded by the research project are:
1. Civil society networks are in urgent need of systematic and holistic support. This support should not only be financial, but provide civil society actors and individual volunteers psychosocial support as well as a chance to rest and recuperate.
2. The support provided to the Ukrainian civil society by the Ukrainian government as well as international donors should seek to preserve the structures and operating models of the grassroots networks. The provision of resources should aim at strengthening the capacity of volunteers and steer ongoing activities and initiatives towards professionalization and instinctualization – yet refrain from imposing ways of working and procedures or principles. Priority should be laid on protecting the unique nature and ability to deliver of the supported grassroots civil society actors and networks.
3. The support provided to civil society networks should gradually move from initiatives designed for urgent response and tasks substituting governmental functions towards initiatives addressing issues related to development topics, recovery initiatives, as well as economic and social modernization. Initiatives seeking to support the renewal of central and local governments should also be strengthened to ensure the sustainability of change.
4. Systematic approaches to counter the polarization of Ukrainian society and paving the way for enhanced social cohesion, resilience, and unity should be put in place already now, as the war rages on. The support should take the form of the provision of psychological support, conflict management services, as well as impartial, official communications.
5. A communication campaign expressing the gratitude of the Ukrainian society towards international partners and the international community should be launched in order to ensure long-term, international support and collaborations.
6. Room for improvement exists in the coordination of activities between donors, the government, and civil society actors. This includes collaboration done within communities (hromadas) as well as between hromadas and national structures with the aim of curbing the duplication of work and aid, the provision of superfluous or unsolicited assistance, and the selling of humanitarian aid by local actors. At the same time, the aid and support provided should avoid pushing civil society actors to take over the responsibilities of the government.
7. The trust created and strengthened during the first three months of the invasion between governmental authorities and civil society actors needs to be maintained and developed. Donor agencies and government actors have significant role to play in ensuring that a sense of trust is deepened.
8. Signs of the civil society achieving significant levels of mutual understanding with the government with respect to the de-bureaucratization of government procedures have been noted and should be supported to enable the optimization of public administration.
9. Steps should be taken to restore trust between Ukrainian civil society actors and large international organizations. This can be done by, for example, investigating the events that took place during the first weeks and months of the 2022 invasion and communicating the results of such an investigation as publicly as possible. Furthermore, international actors should proactively communicate and inform the public about their mandates and the limits of their work to better manage expectations going forward.
10. In order to enhance the efficiency of support, the levels of bureaucracy inherent to collaborations with international organizations and donors should be addressed and minimized. Focus is to be laid on simplifying restructuring of existing projects, the initiation of new projects, and reporting obligations related to completed projects.
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