The Role of Civil Society in Ukrainian Reconstruction

The war in Ukraine has internally displaced over 8 million Ukrainians, forced more than 5 million Ukrainians to leave the country and cost the lives of over 14,000 civilians. Since Russia’s invasion in February 24,2022, the conflict has caused more than $100 billion in damages to infrastructure, including at least $47.7 billion in  damages to apartment buildings and homes. Despite this devastating destruction, the war has demonstrated the incredible resilience of the Ukrainian people. Post-war reconstruction will be costly and complex, but it is also an opportunity for Ukraine to build back stronger in terms of economic modernization and governance, including full integration into the European Community.

Ukrainian reconstruction already faces many challenges, including donor fatigue, a slowed economy, energy shortages, food supply emergencies, and corruption. Of all these challenges, corruption can cause the most long-term damage to a reconstruction process if left unaddressed. The ongoing conflict continues to turn attention away from anti-corruption activities, leaving space for oligarchs to take advantage of future foreign aid to replace the assets they lost throughout the war. Moreover, armed conflict is known to increase existing corruption, and as anti-corruption organizations shift their focus to providing essential survival services to citizens affected by the war, this is certainly a risk in Ukraine.

To shield the reconstruction process from corruption, post-war Ukraine will require a robust anti-corruption governing body to monitor the use of humanitarian aid, a strong court system to prosecute war crimes, and an independent media to counter misinformation and disinformation. Ukraine’s civil society is critical to achieving these benchmarks, and now is the time for civil society activists to mobilize around the high levels of national sentiment and extensive volunteer networks that have formed over the course of the war.

Countering Corruption and Fortifying Democracy in Ukraine

Despite improvement over recent years, corruption has been endemic in Ukraine since its independence from Soviet Russia in 1991, with Ukraine repeatedly scoring lower than all of its neighbors besides Russia on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. While the government has made efforts to counter kleptocracy, issues with government transparency and accountability remain. Ukraine has the worst rate of corruption among all of its neighbors besides Russia, with a corruption perception index of 32, compared to a 57.42 regional average. In a 2021 survey conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI), Ukrainians ranked corruption as the number one issue facing their country. Trust in judicial institutions is especially low—64 percent of Ukrainians believe that bribery is commonly practiced in courts.

A vibrant civil society can help combat challenges to democratic governance in Ukraine by providing oversight to anti-corruption activities and legislation, policy reforms, and distribution of funds. Civil society also empowers citizens by encouraging participation in various political processes, exerting pressure on government agencies, and publicizing legislative and judicial activity through investigative journalism. For example, Ukrainian civil society organizations CSOs, ie volunteer organizations separate from the state, have previously provided information and analysis on the importance of journalists during wartime, the ways in which freedom of expression is impacted by martial laws, and the rights of marginalized groups such as the LGBTQ community.

Throughout the past decade, CSOs in Ukraine made significant progress toward implementing anti-corruption reforms and mechanisms. ProZorro, an online procurement platform developed by a collaboration between civil society, businesses, and government authorities, now offers free and public access to an online portal which anyone can use to track spending of public funds. In ProZorro’s first two years, the platform saved the Ukrainian government over $1.9 billion in budget funds. Because government authorities still could not keep up with the number of contracts that needed scrutiny, DOZORRO was established in 2017 as an extension of the ProZorro platform to enable already existing networks of civil society watchdog groups to monitor public procurement processes. The platform allows citizens to submit feedback and report violations in procurement processes and set the foundation for the involvement of citizens in watchdog roles. Between 2017 and 2020, 30,000 illegal tenders, a total of $4 billion, were reported on the platform, highlighting the potential of civic monitoring.

Furthermore, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other civil society actors have collaborated to find on solutions to pressing governance issues. Formed after the Euromaidan uprising in 2013-2014, the Reanimation Package of Reforms (RPR) Coalition brings together NGOs and experts in governance to consolidate efforts toward implementing legislative improvements and reforms. The RPR Coalition contributes to the development of important judicial, constitutional, and anti-corruption reforms. Some examples of reforms that have been implemented include the creation of the High Anticorruption Court and new anti-corruption bodies such as the National Corruption Bureau of Ukraine.

Moreover, CSOs are already organizing themselves to address the needs of citizens and the government throughout the war (Box 1).

Box 1: Examples of Civil Society Projects Throughout the War

  • The Anti-Corruption Action Center (AntAC): was founded in 2012 to fight corruption in Ukraine and is on the frontlines of the movement for government transparency and accountability. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, AntAC joined with civil society partners to create the International Center for Ukrainian Victory, a coalition of CSOs that advocates for military assistance and funding for the rebuilding of Ukraine after the war. Leaders from AntAC have met with foreign government officials and organized protests in Brussels and Washington, D.C. AntAC also launched a successful campaign called “Block Putin Wallets,” which urges Western governments to seize Russian oligarchs’ assets.


  • Teple Misto: In Western Ukraine, the Teple Misto project successfully created an innovation center that brought NGOs, small- and medium-sized businesses, local officials, and activists together to facilitate investment in art and education. In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the project developed a platform that allows citizens who have been forced to flee their homes in Ukraine to stay connected with family, friends, and allies, and to find shelter. Teple Misto also supports the logistical and defense capabilities of Territorial Defense members from the Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast while also providing humanitarian aid to those who remain in combat zones or have been displaced.


  • Euromaidan SOS: The Euromaidan SOS initiative began during the Maidan Revolution of 2013-2014 in order to monitor the abuses against protestors by former president Victor Yanukovych’s security forces. The movement has now been adopted to suit the needs of the ongoing war. During the current conflict in Ukraine, Euromaidan SOS has organized volunteers to document war crimes and other atrocities committed against Ukrainian citizens in order to hold Russian soldiers accountable after the war. The leader of the movement articulates this by explaining, “Before the war started, we had experience of how to make civil oversight available for ordinary people, we had a lot of civil monitors of police, courts in Ukraine, and now we use the same approach.”


A Way Forward

Addressing corruption by supporting civil society is one way to ensure that Ukraine will not “lose the peace” when it wins the war. Civil society can help engage the private sector in the financing of Ukrainian reconstruction by increasing investor confidence that their money will be allocated fairly and effectively. Moreover, countering corruption will finally give Ukrainian citizens confidence in their government institutions and judicial processes, increasing electoral participation and civic engagement for many years to come.

To ensure accountability, transparency, and fairness in Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction process, Ukrainian leaders and the international community should focus on the following:

(1) Use existing networks of volunteers and activists present within Ukraine’s civil society. Although many activists have fled Ukraine, some still remain in-country, and even those who have fled are working to protect democratic institutions from outside. Instead of stretching out an already thin national government with anti-corruption reforms, the government should allow activists who are experts in anti-corruption legislation to take the lead in monitoring government activity. CSOs demonstrate their ability to mobilize their vast network of supporters and volunteers by building evacuation services and providing medical care when the infrastructure to do so is damaged or destroyed, such as in the case of the bombing of the maternity hospital in Mariupol in March. With help from the international community, the inspiring ability of CSOs to organize their members can be channeled toward oversight and monitoring activities by including citizen experts in anti-corruption efforts.

(2) Employ civil society in monitoring, regulation, and decision-making activities. Many activists involved in CSOs have specialized expertise, such as in legislation and legal issues, and understand local politics on a deeper level than a typical government bureaucrat. The regional expertise acquired by many CSO experts allows them to catch gaps or mistakes within reforms that a governmental organization might otherwise miss. With this knowledge, Ukraine’s civil society can produce research and analyses that support evidence-based decision-making by lawmakers and authorities. This enables CSOs to act as a critical partner to Ukraine’s local and national government.

(3) Take advantage of the ethos associated with CSOs. Public opinion polls demonstrate that Ukrainians trust CSOs such as volunteer organizations more than government institutions (70 percent of Ukrainians trust volunteer organization while 68.5 percent distrust public servants). This is largely because civil society is considered separate from the government, diminishing the risk that citizens will view civil society as just another corrupt body of government. Therefore, creating a significant role for civil society in the reconstruction process will empower Ukrainians to take the lead in rebuilding their country while building institutional bodies that are trusted by the public.

Anti-corruption experts have understandably turned their attention toward operational work for the war effort in Ukraine, but there is a need to focus on the role of CSOs in the monitoring and oversight of the post-war reconstruction process. With a successful track record of supporting and implementing anti-corruption reform, civil society can fill gaps in governance that have been exacerbated by the war. In their mission to develop the most effective approaches to reconstruction, the Ukrainian government and the international community should consider the expertise of CSOs throughout the process. Their inclusion can facilitate the development of institutions that hold the trust of the Ukrainian people and promote trustworthy, transparent, and equitable governance.