The impact of COVID-19 on the EU’s neighbourhood: Ukraine

In this special series of commentaries, experts look at how countries neighbouring the EU are dealing with the coronavirus crisis, the challenges they face and the scope for EU support.  After just having managed to shake off its economic ills, Ukraine risks facing more economic and political turmoil in the wake of COVID-19. Europe should be prepared to step in and play a leading role in providing international assistance to Ukraine, to avert any form of instability. Ukraine is no stranger to crisis. However, the COVID-19 crisis comes at a time when the country is already faced with several serious challenges, including a fragile economy and ongoing conflict in the Donbas. Averting a new economic crisis and preventing the collapse of Ukraine’s under-resourced healthcare system will require strong leadership and a well-coordinated and properly communicated response at the national and local levels. Although the EU is also battling COVID-19, it must not forget its neighbours. Instability in Ukraine would have repercussions for the EU, too. An overwhelming challenge The first COVID-19 case in Ukraine was reported on 3 March, carried reportedly by migrant workers returning from Italy. As of 30 March, there are 549 confirmed cases and 13 fatalities.[1] The numbers are expected to sharply rise once testing, which was limited so far, increases: 250,000 express test kits arrived from China on 24 March. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has also promised to make available a further 10 million tests. The initial response of Ukraine’ new government – which took office only three weeks ago following an unexpected reshuffle – was rather chaotic. However, today the steps taken mirror those adopted by many other countries. These include banning public gatherings, closing schools, forbidding cross-border and inter-regional transport and asking citizens to remain at home from 12 March until 24 April. On 24 March, a month-long, nationwide state of emergency was introduced. While Zelenskiy holds a daily media briefing to update citizens on the efforts to fight the virus, an additional country-wide information campaign should be implemented as disinformation from both internal and external sources is widespread. Ukraine’s parliament has introduced several key measures to fight the spread of COVID-19 and support Ukrainian citizens and businesses. These include simplifying the procedure of the prompt procurement of goods and services required to combat COVID-19: importing medication duty- and VAT-free and introducing salary increases of up to 200% for doctors working directly on the virus. To protect the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) – some 1,500,000 people following the conflict in Donbas –, it is now forbidden to cancel their registration certificates for the quarantine period and an additional 30 days after its abolition, as well as to freeze their state aid during the quarantine. An inadequate healthcare system Ukraine’s under-resourced and only partially reformed healthcare system is not equipped to deal with such a crisis. Zelenskiy has asked medical facilities to suspend non-urgent operations to prepare for the treating of COVID-19 patients. Shortages of crucial equipment, such as ventilators and critical protection items including masks and gloves, have already led to some doctors becoming infected with the virus. There are also deficiencies in the communication between hospitals, local authorities and the Ministry of Health. While the Cabinet of Ministers has allocated ₴100 million (€3 million) for critical protection items and Ukrainian businesses have purchased equipment for hospitals, it is doubtful whether this will be sufficient to cope with a massive influx of new cases or not. Economic implications With the Ukrainian economy having only just returned to growth following its 2014-15 economic meltdown, this crisis is bad news. Ukraine has an export-oriented economy and, with the stagnation of international markets, demand for Ukrainian exports, not least agricultural products and metals, has plummeted. Besides the impact on different business sectors, there are other serious risks, including those related to currency devaluation. For one, while a lower exchange rate and slightly weakened hryvnia may provide short-term benefits for the economy and intensify exports, the expected global downturn may limit the extent to which the Ukrainian economy will be able to benefit from a weaker currency. For another, if the exchange rate drops by more than 15%, almost all Ukrainian banks will need additional capital. Furthermore, a significant amount of national debt payments (i.e. ₴400 billion, or almost €13 billion) – some 40% of the national budget – is planned for 2020. In the event of expanding deficit, there will be an urgent need for the government to start a dialogue on debt restructuring with the International Monetary Fund and private owners of national bonds. The National Bank of Ukraine’s intervention to stabilise the economic situation, including spending more than $1 billion to support the hryvnia, was important. The Cabinet of Ministers has also announced that it will create a stabilisation fund of some ₴200 billion (€30 million) to support its citizens and businesses. Despite these efforts, Ukraine will continue to need assistance from international donors. Given the present uncertainty in Ukraine, estimates of the economic impact of COVID-19 differ greatly. According to multiple recent estimations, Ukraine’s 2020 GDP may decline from the earlier predicted growth of 3.2% to 0.5% and could even fall to -4%.[2] The by now very optimistic scenario of low growth assumes that the lockdown will not be prolonged beyond 24 April and that the Ukrainian economy will regain some of its positions during the second half of 2020. Meanwhile, a prolongation of the lockdown and the widely anticipated global economic recession may result in a very negative scenario; one similar to the economic crises of 2008-2009 and 2014-2015, with the GDP plummeting by as much as 20%.[3] Currently, it is too early to anticipate which way the situation will go. Moreover, there are several other factors which are difficult to predict, such as how the population will spend its ‘savings’, how the shadow economy will behave, and how economic actors will react to breaks in the global production and supply chains. Other challenges The virus could also impact Ukraine’s geopolitical environment negatively. With EU member states focused on pressing domestic priorities, Ukraine may face difficulties in maintaining international support for issues relating to the resolution of the conflict in the Donbas. Moreover, with many EU member states set to face serious damage to their economies, maintaining EU-wide unity on the sanctions imposed on Russia in response to its aggression against Ukraine may become more difficult. Always on the lookout for an opportunity to exploit EU divisions and weaknesses, the Kremlin has already tried to demonstrate its goodwill to help Europe by sending planes of medical equipment to Italy, a country already sceptical about the sanctions. Ukraine’s ability to maintain an effective and coordinated policy within the country – between the central government and local authorities – will also be put to the test. However, the crisis may inadvertently help the nation overcome its divides and converge around a common understanding of national interests, such as investing in healthcare and critical infrastructure. What should the EU do? While EU leaders are focused on their respective domestic impacts of the coronavirus, it would be a strategic error to ignore the developments in its neighbourhood. Ukraine is going to require international assistance to overcome the COVID-19 crisis. The EU should be playing a leading role in this, by providing funds for the production of test kits and other crucial medical equipment, allowing Ukraine access to the strategic rescEU stockpile of crucial medical equipment (e.g. ventilators), offering support to small and medium-sized enterprises, and giving humanitarian and financial assistance for the potential humanitarian disaster in the occupied territories. The EU should also provide Ukraine with a new extraordinary financial assistance package to help the most affected areas of the economy once the crisis is over. Through such initiatives, the EU should send a message of solidarity to Ukraine at a time when the country faces multiple implications of the global pandemic. The EU cannot afford to ignore the impact of COVID-19 beyond its borders, as instability in Ukraine can quickly negatively impact the EU.   Amanda Paul is Senior Policy Analyst of the Europe in the World programme. Vasyl Filipchuk is Senior Advisor to the International Centre for Policy Studies in Kyiv. The support the European Policy Centre receives for its ongoing operations, or specifically for its publications, does not constitute an endorsement of their contents, which reflect the views of the authors only. Supporters and partners cannot be held responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein. [1] Kyiv Post, “Homepage: COVID-19 in numbers” (accessed 31 March 2020). [2] Åslund, Anders, “Ukraine urgently needs a new IMF agreement”, Atlantic Council, 22 March 2020. [3] Garton Ash, Timothy, “Timothy Ash: Ukraine’s choices ahead of big vote in parliament”, Kyiv Post, 27 March 2020....


"Respect UA": Ukraine celebrated World Zero Discrimination Day

On Friday, February 28, in the framework of the Respect UA campaign implemented by ICPS under UNDP Ukraine, events dedicated to World Zero Discrimination Day took place in Kyiv. Zero Discrimination Day in Ukraine brought together prominent cultural figures, human rights activists and representatives of the Ukrainian authorities. This year, Zero Discrimination Day, which has been celebrated in the world on March 1 by the UN decision since 2014, has the main theme - "Combating Discrimination against Women and Girls". Within the framework of the capital event, a panel discussion was held in which the Deputy Minister of Social Policy for European Integration Serhiy Nizhynskyy, Head of the UNDP Democratic Governance Project Team Olena Ursu, civic and cultural figures Larysa Denysenko, Alevtina Kakhidze and Zola Kondur participated. Speakers discussed issues of oppression of women and girls in Ukraine, combating domestic violence and issues of equal access of women to participation in Ukrainian politics. In the following panel discussion "Ukraine without discrimination: from dream to realization", the origins of intolerant attitude towards different social groups and ways of overcoming this problem were discussed by philosopher Mikhailo Minakov, public figure Ulyana Pcholkina, writer Lubko Deresh. Participants of the discussion  emphasized the inadmissibility of discriminating against persons on the basis of racial, ethnic or national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, social class, age, gender or marital status. The event also featured the presentation of five microfilms that became finalists of the Zero Discrimination Social Advertising Competition held by UNDP in Ukraine in partnership with the Molodiya Festival. In their work, the authors of videos have raised the issues of ageism, discrimination against people with disabilities and people in difficult position, calling for tolerant attitude to LGBT people and the need to respect human rights in any situation. The winner of the competition was a microfilm by producer Andriy Lagutin. You will soon be able to see video works of all finalists on our page! Zero Discrimination Day in Ukraine was held as part of the Respect UA Communication Campaign to Promote Tolerance in Ukraine, conducted by the International Centre for Policy Studies with the support of the United Nations Development Program in Ukraine....


At Yalta conference, for the first time was held the discussion on the role of Ukraine in overcoming of climate changes

On Friday, 13th of September 16th conference YES in Kiev held the discussion on the subject of "Climate change: challenges and opportunities for Ukraine", which was sponsored by UN in Ukraine, International Centre for Policy Studies and "Ecoaction". A separate debate on this subject was held on the conference for the first time. "There are now many ambitious international projects about countering climate change. We need everyone to be active to bring about changes," noted Osnat Lubrani, UN System Resident Coordinator in Ukraine during the discussion. She added that in many cities of Ukraine people are excited about the presence of industrial enterprises. But we need to make entrepreneurs invest not only in present day, but also in the future of their children. Also, in the view of UN Representative, there is now a window of opportunity for environmental change and she hopes that the new regime will ensure that 2015 Paris climate agreement will be implemented swiftly. The need to end investing in 21st century technology was emphasized by Georg Zachmann, senior fellow at Bruegel and project leader of LowCarbonUkraine. "Ukraine is not only producing electricity, but also the appropriate technology," he stressed. "The development of the eco-friendlier methods of its production will help Ukraine to become more energy-independent, including from Russia. He added that Europe tries to support "green" initiatives of Ukrainian government, but moving in direction of green production requires large-scale reorganization of the system. Executive director of Center for Environmental Initiatives "Ecoaction" Iryna Stavchuk reported that 250 million people may become climate refugees in the next few years. The reason is – climate changes, water shortage, inability to produce enough food. "People often think that choosing more environmentally-friendly life means limiting themselves, but this is not true. Those who use comfortable public transport are often happier than people that spend most of time in traffic in their own cars," noted Iryna. During the discussion, it was emphasized that moving to new environmental practices depends, on the one hand, on the ordinary people and on political decisions, on the other. Moderator of discussion, associate expert of ICPS Kateryna Soroka noted the need to incite the Government to support the move towards the renewable energies, stop assistance to enterprises which heavily contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, including those in Ukrainian agriculture sector. "I'm amazed at how Swedish government encourages split garbage collection. I feel from our people that we need to give them information first. But in Sweden it's only a part of the whole process. But the main thing is to change lifestyle. First, measures should be taken to ensure that people can do it. Second, economic incentives need to be used to remunerate and to punish. For example, if you buy a car with high emissions, you pay to State. If it is more ecologically clean, State gives you some rewards," proposed Iryna Stavchuk. Participants of discussion agreed on the following that Ukraine has a great potential in reducing greenhouse gas, without actual damage of economic development, but now we don’t have enough substantive discussion of this question on the highest level.   YES © 2019. Photos: Sergiy Illin, Olexandr Indichy and Olexandr Pilugin...


Creative works contest for journalists, bloggers, designers and digital content specialists

International Centre for Policy Studies announces a Creative Works Contest for journalists, bloggers, designers and digital content specialists “Tolerance” conducted within the framework of the UNDP’s communication campaign “Reinvent Respect”. This project aims to decrease polarization of the public mood and promote dialogues among different social groups.   We invite you to highlight an issue of tolerance in Ukrainian society using the media content. To participate in the Contest you can provide any videos, photos, animations, posters, banners and any other creative works that you consider helpful in visualizing the term of tolerance and mutual respect. The relevant materials should be sent via e-mail [email protected] up to 20th February. According to the results of the project winners of the Contest will receive a ₴ 10000 reward, as well as awards from the International Centre for Policy Studies and the United Nations Development Programme in Ukraine. The UNDP Ambassadors for Tolerance will also give their special awards to the best works. The winners’ works will be used in projects of the UNDP and ICPS subject to winners’ consent. Awarding ceremony will take place within the framework of the final event of the project “In pursuit of respect” with the participation of the Ambassadors for Tolerance among whom are writer Lubko Deresh, Honored Artist of Ukraine Natalia Sumska, singer Katya Chilly, journalist Andriy Kulikov, writer Larysa Denysenko, artist Alevtina Kahidze, philosopher Myhailo Minakov, human rights advocate Evhen Zaharov, historian  Gulnara Abdulaeva, TV presenter Slava Varda, writer Mariana Savka, musician and ecoactivist Pavlo Vyshebaba.  ...

ICPS Press

Ukraine presented the report at UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

February 14, 2017 at the UN headquarters in Geneva Ukraine presented its eighth periodic report for 66-th session Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (Committee CEDAW). According to the procedure of the reports presentation, public organizations of Ukraine prepared and submitted independent reports and participated in discussions with the Committee members. Mariia Veselovska, ICPS expert on gender issues, said that according to the report of the Committee the appropriate recommendations to the Ukrainian government were provided. In the report was presented the main problems of men and women equality in Ukraine as follows: • Women in Ukraine are 24% paid less than men. This indicator has not changed since 2009. • Gender-based violence is very widespread in Ukraine. 22% of women and girls aged 15-49 have suffered from physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime. •The percentage of women in power is quite low. The part of women working in the Parliament is 11% and in government - 12%. Overall, 16% of civil servants in Ukraine are women. Accordingly, the Committee members were interested in state level mechanisms existence addressing these problems in Ukraine, what obstacles should be removed to ensure equality between men and women, especially in politics and decision-making positions, as well as the problems of vulnerable groups of women as older women, women with disabilities, women from rural territories. NGOs highlighted in the reports a number of challenges faced by women in Ukraine: Reduction of social spending and jobs adversely affect the economic situation of women. A) Women and families are the primary beneficiaries of state social spending. B) That is women who are widely involved in areas affected by jobs reduction (education, medicine, social services). The report indicates problems for women in rural areas, in particular: "More than two-thirds of women from rural territories of active working age are working or self-employed unofficially. Thus, they are not protected by labor laws, have no social insurance and therefore can not receive pension». Separately highlights the problem of social payments for IDPs, most of them - 62% - are women, and a lack of sources of income for women who are in areas close to the line of conflict....

ICPS Press

Beyond the protocol: women participation in international politics

International politics, diplomacy, issues of peace and security are traditionally considered as areas of male dominance and even explained by masculine terms. At the same time studies show that due to taking into account the views and experiences of women in conflict resolution, their involvement “beyond the protocol”, it is often adopting a less militarized and more stable and peaceful solutions. The event “Beyond the protocol: women participation in international politics in Ukraine and Germany” was held within the framework of the ICPS project, which is implemented in cooperation with the German think tank “Polis 180”. On this occasion it is also presented a photo exhibition which is created during the project implementation and meetings in Kyiv and Berlin – 15 portraits of female experts of Ukraine and Germany and their statements about women and international politics. People’s Deputy of Ukraine, Chairman of the Committee of the VRU on foreign affairs Hanna Hopko in her speech stressed the role of women in international politics and diplomacy, expressing gratitude to all the women who work on the diplomatic front, making every effort to defend national interests. “It is necessary to recognize that gender issues – it’s not just a matter of women and we have to involve as many men as we can. If similar event would be held in Sweden, there would be significantly more men”, - Ambassador of Sweden in Ukraine Martin Hagström said. In her turn, Ambassador of Portugal in Ukraine Ms. Maria Kristina Serpa di Almeida stated that for a long time area of politics and diplomacy in general were closed to women, but through overcoming of gender stereotypes, will and great desire of women they were able to take their rightful place and leave its mark in history.  ...

ICPS Press