“This is what rebuilding is: Maybe it’s not fancy playgrounds, maybe it’s not new zoos,” she said. “But it must be a category of projects that fits within the wider strategy of how Ukraine will sustain this war.”
One of the officials in charge of rebuilding Ukraine, Mustafa Nayyem, acknowledged that reviving heavily damaged towns such as Trostianets would require major administrative muscle.
“The state has never done a comprehensive reconstruction of settlements before,” Nayyem, head of Ukraine’s Agency for Restoration and Infrastructure Development, told Reuters. “We don’t have that kind of experience.”
That’s why Kyiv picked six projects, each with different challenges, to be financed by a state fund comprised mainly of seized Russian assets. The aim was a complete transformation of those places into something better, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said when unveiling the programme in April.
In one case, a village is being entirely rebuilt, another is undergoing mass repairs of housing, while in Trostianets, which is home to a Mondelez chocolate factory, the focus is on several key projects in part to help restore economic life.
The skills required range from the often painstaking work of establishing legal ownership of properties going back generations to replanning entire apartment blocks or new energy networks.
“NOT RENEWING LIBRARIES”
So far, more than US$1.6 billion has been earmarked from the fund for reconstruction, Prime Minister Shmyhal said in October. The pilot projects received about US$86 million last year, though the 2024 budget has not yet been set, a spokesperson for the reconstruction agency said.
Overall, the World Bank has estimated that rebuilding Ukraine will cost more than US$400 billion over the next decade, and Western lenders have signalled they are prepared to provide the bulk of the financing.
But the ongoing war has made long-term planning difficult, Nayyem said, citing the destruction of the Kakhovka dam in June. The disaster forced his agency to rush to build a critical water supply line in southeastern Ukraine in a matter of months, sapping time and resources.
What officials can plan for, Nayyem said, was the “infrastructure of reconstruction” – firming up standards and procedures, building teams and nurturing relationships with international partners.
“These are things that we are developing to the maximum in preparation for the moment when we can allow ourselves to, more or less, plan in greater detail,” he said. “And it isn’t necessarily only after our victory.”
Nayyem defended the pilot projects against critics such as Kuzmenko, saying no one was rebuilding anything unnecessary, just homes and the services people need to live.
He said strategic roads facilitating military movements or trade across Ukraine, as well as administrative buildings, should also be priorities.
“We’re not renewing libraries or museums,” he said.
In Trostianets, the plan is to restore two apartment blocks, three medical facilities, the train station, the square, another building nearby and a main road through the town.
Money from international donors, meanwhile, has already helped rebuild a new wing of the main city hospital.
“We believe our town will become even better, to the detriment of our enemies,” said Natalia Androsova, 60, one of the many locals in Trostianets who praised mayor Bova for his leadership and for attracting state funding.
The five other pilot projects are in Borodianka and Moshchun near the capital Kyiv, Yahidne in the north, Tsyrkuny in the east, and Posad-Pokrovske in the south.
Despite the damage in Okhtyrka, which resisted a Russian onslaught despite three weeks of intense shelling, the town is full of life as families criss-cross a park and celebrate special occasions at one of several popular restaurants.
But some yearn for a sense of normalcy beyond critical or immediate needs. Yaroslav Bybyk, 19, said he wished officials would do more to revive the cultural and youth scene which flourished there before the war.
“I haven’t gone out much in the last few months,” he said. “I don’t see the point.”