President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine addresses participants at a conference in Lugano, Switzerland via video link on Monday.Credit…Fabrice Coffrini/Agence France-Presse – Getty Images
For Ukrainians living through the war, it is difficult to estimate the cost of the conflict: Thousands of people have been killed, countless houses and buildings destroyed by rockets, families have been displaced and livelihoods lost. But international leaders are gathering on Tuesday for a second day in the Swiss lakeside city of Lugano to do just that.
The leaders, along with aid agencies and financial institutions, are outlining the monumental effort required to rebuild war-torn Ukraine.
Nearly five months of war have damaged vital infrastructure – factories, airports, train stations – and destroyed residential buildings, schools, hospitals, churches and shopping malls. And the bombs keep falling. Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal spoke on Monday to the congregation in Lugano about the cost of reconstruction was estimated at $750 billion.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned the conference that the task of rebuilding the country would be “enormous”. Russia’s indiscriminate shelling is an attempt to destroy not only Ukraine but also the vision of democracy and Europe, he said via video link, making the war “not just ours, not just local.”
“This is Russia’s attack on everything of value to you and me,” he added. “Therefore, the reconstruction of Ukraine is not a local project, not a project of a nation, but a common task of the entire democratic world.”
He repeated this message in his nightly address to Ukraine.
Whatever the cost, Ukraine’s international allies will face an uphill battle to help rebuild a former Soviet state with a culture of endemic corruption and fragile democratic institutions. Transparency International, an anti-corruption watchdog, ranked Ukraine 117th out of 180 countries on its 2020 Corruption Index.
While more pledges of aid would be welcomed by Ukraine, many Western countries and their publics are suffering from war fatigue amid rising inflation and food and gas prices. And it remains to be seen how far countries will be willing to help Ukraine when the war is finally over.
Earlier this year, donor pledges to Afghanistan and Yemen fell well short of targets set by the United Nations. In Afghanistan, where Taliban policies have hampered relief efforts, the United Nations said $4.4 billion in humanitarian aid was needed this year alone but $2.4 billion had been raised. Of the $4.3 billion requested for Yemen, $1.3 billion has been contributed.
Mr. Zelensky sent Mr. Shmyhal and other members of his cabinet to Lugano, a picturesque lakeside town, for two days of talks with a group of international heavyweights. Also present were European Union Executive President Ursula von der Leyen, who described Ukraine’s reconstruction as “a generational task”, and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, as well as senior officials from Europe, North America and Asia and representatives from the main international financial institutions.
The meeting was planned well before the war as one in a series of conferences focused on fighting corruption in Ukraine. But after Russia began its invasion on February 24, the focus shifted to recovery. Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska also spoke via video link at the Lugano Conference on Monday and announced another gathering of first ladies and gentlemen from around the world on July 23. She held the group’s first summit last year in Kyiv, the capital.
“Any discussions about the post-war recovery of Ukraine make no sense if they do not prioritize the restoration of people’s moral and physical health,” Ms. Zelenska said in her address on Monday.
The Lugano meeting continues to address issues of governance and corruption, which have regained prominence in recent weeks: when the European Union accepted Ukraine as a candidate for full membership last month, it said progress was being made on corruption and the rule of law would be required to submit the application.
But even before the conference started, some countries seemed ready to pledge financial support.
Britain said it would provide more than $1 billion in World Bank loans and fiscal support grants, and guarantee another half billion dollars in World Bank loans, along with immediate support for de-mining and rebuilding Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
Vivek Shankar contributed to the coverage.
July 5, 2022
In an earlier version of this article, the surname of the President of the European Commission was misspelled. She is Ursula von der Leyen, not van der Leyen.
– Dan Bilefsky and Nick Cumming-Bruce