“Our efforts were seen as immaterial, but are now something we hold on to”
– The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has overturned the European security order and has had far-reaching consequences for Swedish foreign and security policy. The new situation in our immediate area places demands on flexibility and re-prioritization for FBA's work to be able to meet new challenges and needs. The goal is for the FBA to be a relevant, fast, and flexible actor whose contribution makes a difference given the difficult situation Ukraine is in, says Carl Fredrik Birkoff.
The project Local Self-Government and the Rule of Law in Ukraine was initiated in 2014 and was funded by Sida. It was initially intended to end in 2017.
However, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the escalating conflict in the Donbass region, the project team saw an increased need for research, training and advice on veteran reintegration and services provision to other conflict affected groups. These added objectives, alongside the continuing active engagement of partners and stakeholders, as well as the need to ensure the sustainability of results led to the project being extended multiple times.
– We were always open to adapt when new topics appeared within our mandate. When the project was planned, there was no war. But while we were doing assessments of rule of law principles in local governments, more and more issues appeared in relation to services provision to veterans and internally displaced persons. We realized that we could apply FBA’s expertise in veteran reintegration within our project, says Julia Sedyk.
In the end of 2021, the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs approved the new strategy for Sweden’s reform cooperation with Eastern Europe. This new strategy includes direct assignments for FBA, allowing new activities to be initiated.
– FBA can play an important role in the difficult process through which the countries in Eastern Europe are going on the path towards democracy and sustainable development. With our continued support to reforms in Ukraine, we also contribute to fighting poverty and peaceful and inclusive societies. At FBA in Stockholm there is also a team representing different areas of expertise working with Ukraine. Our own personnel play an active part in carrying out activities and monitoring their results. For instance, we provide expert advice and tailored trainings for key actors in Ukraine, on issues such as reintegration of ex-combatants, says Carl Fredrik Birkoff.
When the Russian federation armed forces invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the armed conflict that started in 2014 moved to a completely different level and scale. Although the outcome of the current situation is unclear, a need for substantial efforts in the field of rule of law in services provision and veteran reintegration is expected.
FBA is now working with new activities in response to the challenges that have appeared because of the war.
One of these activities is to support an initiative by the Rule of Law Center at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy called “Rule of Law during Wartime”. The idea is to provide local authorities with guidance on how to apply existing laws on complex issues related to services provision and other pressing issues, while the capacity of the national government to legislate is limited because of the war.
Another initiative is to develop guidelines for the local authorities on how to assess the need for rebuilding their communities after the destruction and losses brought by war. This methodology would be complementary to the assessing the losses, but will aim into the future – based on a principle “build back batter” and not to plan to rebuild exactly as everything was before the hostilities.
– Later this year, we also plan to reach out to each of our partner municipalities, even those in exile, to bring them together in a safe place along with our implementing partners. Before the war, we used to arrange these peer-to-peer exchanges. That was the most appreciated activity. Now we will bring them together again to sum up what we did, to connect it to what we do now in response to the war, and to proactively plan what to do after the war, says Julia Sedyk, and adds that the war has put the value of the project and the achievements from previous years into a new perspective.
– I think that some very pragmatic public authorities mostly saw us as a project that did not bring computers or build new services provision centres. Sometimes, I complained to myself that my work was not tangible. But what we did was to aim at people’s minds, to create common values around rule of law principles. Computers and buildings are of course also important, but you cannot destroy values as easily as bombs can destroy houses or administrative services provision centres. That has validated our efforts, that were always seen as immaterial, but are now definitely something we can hold on to, Julia Sedyk concludes.
Photo 1: Julia Sedyk and Carl Fredrik Birkoff
Photo 2 and 3: Activities from the project Local Self-Government and the Rule of Law in Ukraine.