Protests have been held across Ukraine demanding the redistribution of money allocated to construction and rebuilding projects, driven by suspicions that officials and companies are failing to prioritize the conduct of the war. They’re achieving some notable successes and holding civil servants to account.
Odesa City Council’s decision to spend 106m hryvnia (about $2.65m) on renovating a courthouse, and Zakarpattia Regional Council’s plans for a $1m football stadium in one of its villages, have drawn particular fire.
Alongside these, a $26m tender for the reconstruction of Odesa Airport has baffled activists. Since the airport cannot be used during the war, the necessity of such spending is unclear, and the motivation behind it has generated suspicions of self-interest rather than the national interest.
With the help of the Ukrainian government’s ProZorro system, which tracks tenders public purchasing, citizen investigators have found a large number of projects they believe are either unnecessary in wartime, or have the kind of overinflated budgets associated with dishonest deals.
The protests have varied from direct action, such as in Zhytomyr, where blood-red paint was poured on the steps of the city council, to persistent campaigning, like in Odesa, where citizens have been demonstrating day after day in the main square.
In Kyiv, colorful banners and performances have been used to press local authorities and politicians to act.
Petro Obukhov, an Odesa City Council member, told these authors the protests had influenced decisions taken by the council and led to a change in the political mood. “Authorities realize that they should be able to explain the necessity of each accepted project,” he said.
After a month of daily demonstrations, Odesa City Council canceled two tenders for more than €2m ($2.1m) and announced the purchase of drones for the military from the city for $2.5m, protest organizers said. The total amount of aid from the city to the military amounts to around $46m.
The council has canceled all road maintenance scheduled for this year, except those deemed most vital, council member Petro Obukhov told the authors. Any rebuilding should focus on bomb-damaged infrastructure and buildings necessary to the life of the city, he said.
“Сurrently, the main point is to survive and win the war, which is far from an end,” Obukhov said. “It’s impossible to fulfill all the needs of military units, but at least we should try.” Odesa City and Region Councils declined to comment.
There was a similar story in Lviv, where the regional governor responded to protests by ordering a review of money allocated for low-priority construction projects, with the intention of redirecting it to military needs.
“It is only a slight generalization to say there are two types of projects, those which advance victory and those which don’t,” said Olexandr Solontai, an expert at the Institute for Political Education and founder of the Foundation of Regional Initiatives NGO. That binary choice should make prioritization straightforward, he told us.
The growth in renovation and new construction projects by local councils is in part driven by taxes paid by soldiers serving at the frontline. In Ukraine, income taxes are shared between local authorities and the central government, and the war has led to a significant increase in budgets.
The intention was that the extra money would be passed on to the military, but the influx has encouraged councils to divert the funds for use on local projects. Obukhov says the best way to handle this would be for local authorities to allocate the money directly to assigned army units.
In September, the Cabinet of Ministers submitted a draft law to parliament to centralize the process, directing military income tax to the purchase of equipment and production of weapons to the tune of UAH 25.8bn this year and UAH 93.7bn next.
Obukhov warns that such a decision will lead to an even larger accumulation of money and power in Kyiv, setting back the process of devolved governance. It would give more control to the Office of the President, which is currently a subject of concern for those fearing excessive centralization.
A detailed strategy for renovation, which takes in the needs of all levels of government, is required and now is the right time to develop it. Ukraine needs to plan for the future even while it actively fights for survival.
The most urgent requirement is a methodology for prioritization, at local, regional, and all-state levels. The renovation is not and will never be just about the buildings, roads, and streets that have been lost, it is about honoring the sacrifices made for Ukraine’s future and adhering to core principles as the country is rebuilt.
Kateryna Panasiuk is an author and journalist studying politics at the Ukrainian Catholic University. When war came to Ukraine, she set up a volunteer project to collect and share the stories of Ukrainians affected by the war.
Mykyta Vorobiov is a political adviser, journalist, and political science student at Bard College Berlin. Over the previous three years, he has studied at the Ukrainian Catholic University, the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, the University of Tartu, and the University of Zagreb. For the last two years, he has been developing articles for VoxEurop and others.
Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.