Urban Transformation

Even as the war persists, Ukraine is rebuilding — here's how

Ukraine is rebuilding, even as the war, which began with Russia's invasion, persists.

Ukraine is rebuilding, even as the war, which began with Russia's invasion, persists. Image: REUTERS/Oleksandr Lapshyn

Jeff Merritt
Head of Centre for Urban Transformation; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
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Cities and Urbanization

This article is part of: Centre for Urban Transformation
  • Damage to Ukraine caused by the ongoing war with Russia has an estimated cost of between $411 billion and $1 trillion.
  • Despite the ongoing conflict, rebuilding efforts continue with help from around world, including the Davos Baukultur Alliance.
  • Government ministers, private sector partners of the World Economic Forum and civil society organizations pledged rebuilding support for Ukraine at a gathering in Davos during the 2024 Annual Meeting.

The war in Ukraine has caused unprecedented damage. In March 2023, the World Bank estimated the cost of rebuilding to be $411 billion over 10 years, a figure that rises by $10 billion every month. Today this cost is estimated to be closer to $1 trillion.

The current environment in Ukraine is a challenging one. In January 2023, the Kyiv School of Economics reported that in the first 10 months of the war, 149,300 residential buildings had been damaged, along with more than 3,000 educational buildings, 330 hospitals and almost 600 administrative buildings. The telecommunications network has been heavily impaired — with approximately half of the power grid damaged or destroyed. Approximately 20% of the country’s farmland has been wrecked and 30% of land either littered with landmines or unexploded ordnance.

With the war ongoing, talk of reconstruction may seem premature in all but essential circumstances. And yet, commitments and funding are materializing, along with a growing support network.

The EU has been particularly active, creating a multi-agency donor coordination platform in January 2023 and, six months later, the Ukraine Facility was established, providing a dedicated financial instrument to enable coherent and predictable support from 2024-2027.

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A holistic approach to Ukraine's reconstruction

Given the size and complexity of the task, an inclusive, multi-stakeholder process is essential to ensure that reconstruction work is fit for purpose, sustainable, cost-effective and enduring for generations to come. A holistic approach to reconstruction, maintaining and preserving the built environment and Ukrainian heritage and culture must be at the heart of this.

Fortunately, there is an existing framework for building and maintaining sustainable cities, villages and landscapes called “Baukultur.” This word translates to “building culture” in English and recognizes that shaping places is driven by culture as much as economic considerations.

To this end, the Davos Baukultur Alliance — launched in 2023 at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in collaboration with the government of Switzerland and public and private sector leaders from across the globe — has formed a special focus group on Ukraine to mobilize support and provide expertise in support of reconstruction.

Out of conflict, there is the imperative to reconstruct a sustainable, resilient and regenerative living environment that ensures Ukraine’s current and future position as a modern, European state.

Jeff Merritt, Head of Centre for Urban Transformation; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
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Baukultur: Rebuilding Ukraine, for Ukrainians

The Davos Baukultur Alliance includes government ministers of culture, urban planning and environment from more than 30 countries, including Anastasia Bondar, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister for Culture and Information Policy, with whom the Alliance collaborates closely to convene key rebuilding experts and supporters to help with reconstruction.

With the flood of interest and support from international organizations and the private sector — coupled with Ukraine’s own multi-ministerial goals and ideas for reconstruction — the Alliance’s value is first to understand what is already happening on the ground, assist with building local capacity and embed best practice into the reconstruction and cultural preservation process wherever possible.

Challenges abound, however. The ongoing destruction is the primary obstacle. But another is the trade-off between rebuilding quickly and rebuilding sustainably. Doing this at minimal cost seems the obvious answer. Deputy Minister Bondar has underscored that it is important to reconstruct Ukraine for Ukrainians. She envisages a country that Ukrainians feel reflects their own diverse cultural heritage.

The war has prompted large-scale displacement — approximately 6.2 million refugees from Ukraine have been recorded globally and 5.1 million have been displaced internally as of May 2023. Deputy Minister Bondar wants Ukrainians to come home and, importantly, wants them to want to be able to go home.

To achieve this, a well-considered, well-functioning living environment is essential. Social value considerations must be integral to planning, design and construction to reap the longer-term benefits of sustainability, circularity and durable quality.

Partnering to rebuild Ukraine

Davos Baukultur Alliance partners and affiliates are providing support across sectors, including business, civil society and government.

French construction company Bouygues, for example, is the joint head of the Alliance focus group on Ukraine and will take the lead on project coordination, while Danish manufacturing company VELUX is committing to building several orphanages with a low carbon footprint in line with its Living Places project in collaboration with SOS Children’s Villages International. VELUX will work with local construction companies and use locally sourced materials to create sustainable, affordable homes.

Avison Young, a global commercial real estate services firm, is dedicating the company’s supply chain expertise to ensure a pipeline of building materials. Other actors and re-building proposals are on the table and the Alliance will coordinate and provide resources wherever possible.

Civil society members of the Alliance, such as UNESCO and the International Council on Monuments and Sites, are producing a heritage damage assessment with funding from Japan.

Meanwhile, UN-Habitat is engaging several ministries and municipalities to help strengthen national-level policy and local-level capacity, including creating an Urban Lab. In this physical space, architectural experts can engage with their Ukrainian counterparts. The European Council of Spatial Planners also established a Ukrainian chapter in September 2022 to support Ukrainian planners in developing a pipeline of shovel-ready projects.

Governmental members of the Alliance such as Lithuania are helping Ukraine update its legislation to comply with European standards now that Ukraine’s membership in the EU is moving forward. Lithuania is also funding a competition to help design new schools. Estonia’s government is holding a design competition to build orphanages using Baukultur principles.

Out of conflict, there is the possibility – indeed an imperative – to work with the national government of Ukraine and local municipalities to reconstruct a sustainable, resilient and regenerative living environment that ensures Ukraine’s current and future position as a modern, European state.

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Urban TransformationGeo-Economics and Politics
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