Resilience Exchange: Building a Stronger Future for Kyiv 

Written by Resilient Cities Network
Tuesday, 27 June 2023

Written by: Olga Balytska, Noémie Fompeyrine and Lina Liakou.                   

Cities around the globe are vital for providing essential infrastructure and services to communities—such as water, transportation, and housing. They also play a crucial role in maintaining the social fabric of nations, acting as central hubs for culture, economic development, and political power. 

The resilience of these urban centres is put to the test when sudden shocks occur. This was underscored on February 24, 2022, when Russian missiles rained down on Ukrainian cities—in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, explosions could be heard before dawn. 

487 days have passed, and despite significant damages to their urban systems, Ukrainian cities have endured—Kyiv has endured. The city’s resilience in the face of adversity has been a testament to its strategic actions and the strength of its people to move forward.  

During this period, the City of Kyiv has prioritised several key areas in its efforts to navigate the crisis and ensure the well-being of its people. While defence and security are evidently at the top of the national agenda, the city has also focused on other significant areas to keep life as normal as possible: 

  • Keeping the economy resilient: As the business capital of Ukraine, Kyiv has faced substantial economic losses due to the war, including a projected 30% GDP drop, a 30% spike in both unemployment and inflation rates, disrupted supply chains and structural damages, including energy interruptions. In response, the city is concentrating on supporting small and medium-sized businesses and key taxpayers. It is also facilitating the accommodation of businesses relocating from eastern Ukraine and encouraging private sector involvement in the recovery process. The city is fostering direct cooperation with IFIs, international institutions, and the private sector at the decentralized city level to expedite efficient outcomes. 
  • Affordable and temporary housing for a larger population: Kyiv is currently dealing with about 400,000 people who have been displaced or have lost their homes. The city is actively taking steps to provide affordable and temporary housing for this growing population. The aim is to do this in a way that is sustainable and that maintains a healthy living environment for everyone. Developing the Kyiv City agglomeration and buying or renting apartments on the resale market or from unfinished building projects are some of the options the city is considering. 
  • Monitoring environmental risks: Before the war, Kyiv was implementing sustainable solutions, targeting areas such as waste management, water supply, and sewage. The war interrupted the progress of these deeply needed transformations and introduced additional environmental threats. Explosions released toxic substances into the air, water, and soil, and the rubble of demolished buildings further contaminated the environment with construction waste and asbestos. In response, Kyiv has prioritized close monitoring of air quality and swift public communication about potential risks or necessary precautions. Despite the ongoing war, the city has recently approved the Kyiv Environmental Strategy 2030. This strategy sets clear goals to mitigate the impact of climate change and safeguard the city’s ecosystem for the future. 
  • Caring for people’s physical and mental health: Recognizing the importance of creating a positive environment amidst the crisis, the civil servants of the City of Kyiv chose to plant trees and flowers across the city. As a fast and cost-effective solution, this citywide urban greening effort reduce air pollution and enhance the city’s aesthetics, fostering hope among its residents during these challenging times. At a deeper level, Kyiv has responded with immediate support measures, including the opening of specialised rehabilitation facilities, and the newly established Resilience Center offers psychological assistance, particularly to ex-military personnel and those dealing with PTSD. More centres are under construction.  

 

Image by Viktor Bystrov on Unsplash

Looking into the future, Kyiv seeks to provide long-term water and energy sustainable solutions by strengthening the resilience of these key urban systems. It is also aiming to accommodate the internally displaced and support economic recovery by rethinking the growth model of the city. The city hopes to transform local governing systems and processes and is working on building local capacities to manage the recovery process. Understanding that recovery goes beyond immediate survival, the city is finalising the Kyiv City Recovery Framework. The framework considers factors such as sustainable development, resilience to climate change, and overall quality of life. 

To further support its resilience journey, Kyiv reached out to the Resilient Cities Network (R-Cities). The city’s commitment to resilience governance prompted a 3-day knowledge exchange, where Chief Resilience Officers (CROs) from London, Greater Manchester, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Paris, along with senior representatives of the city, shared their insights. The City of Paris, given the close relationship between the mayors of Kyiv and Paris, offered to host the meeting and facilitate the exchange.  

The City Knowledge Exchange 

Each city offered unique perspectives and experiences in resilience building. Rotterdam, rebuilt after the bombings of WWII, shared invaluable lessons on redeveloping a city with resilience at its core. Greater Manchester and The Hague delved deeply into resilience governance, while Paris showcased the development of a resilience agenda. London, Paris and Rotterdam steered discussions on climate-proof planning, using climate resilience as leverage for a more attractive and inclusive city.   

Key Insights from the Exchange 

The exchange shed light on the unique challenges Ukrainian cities face.  

  1. Mobilise funding and scale action:The current situation in Ukraine demands all available resources for survival. The energy system is failing, as well as the water system, which was already fragile even before the war. With winter coming and families returning home, these problems could intensify as consumption increases. The risk of a blackout looms just 1-2% away. While sending energy generators provides temporary relief, it is not a sustainable solution. 
  1. Leap forward and build capacity for the future: Ukrainian cities must be prepared to deliver high-quality services to their residents once the war is over. There is a need and opportunity for them to leapfrog ahead in areas such as climate action, energy, and construction. Efforts are underway to promote eco-construction and the use of innovative, bio and geo-sourced materials for reconstruction. The city administration is facing challenges in supporting these transitions as they lack the capacity and the skillsets required.  
  1. Thinking recovery as a whole: Right now, Kyiv, as well as most Ukrainian cities, are tackling problems as they come, one project at a time—recovery efforts primarily focus on incremental project development through project offices. This approach seeks to make progress gradually, addressing immediate needs, but to rebuild the city to be stronger and ready for future threats and shocks, they need to think holistically. This requires a lens that takes into account all aspects of recovery and avoids creating new vulnerabilities through siloed solutions while also seeking additional gains in recovery efforts and transforming systems. 
Kathy Oldman | Chief Resilience Officer | Greater Manchester.
  1. Establish resilience as a service: Making a city resilient is not just an action for recovery—it is a service for the future. To do this right, the city needs to decide what the resilience function should address and how it can add value to existing local services. Creating a clear mandate for the service is crucial. Resilience is about maximising available resources, and it is important to articulate why this is being done, for whom, and what the priorities are. The Resilience Office can play a vital role in driving the rethinking of public policies by considering the needs and well-being of the population, it can shape policies that prioritise community resilience and ensure the city’s long-term sustainability. 
  1. Involving Everyone: The relationship between local and national resilience governance is crucial. Collaboration between these levels of government is essential, and certain pre-requisites need to be established to enable effective cooperation. A case study that can inform this relationship is the devolution in the UK, which presents an opportunity to further build and strengthen urban resilience as a broader strategic approach.  
  1. Embedding resilience: Understanding the conflicts that arise from different agendas is essential. Infusing resilience principles within various thematic agendas of the city helps ensure a comprehensive and integrated approach. Building the city’s capacity to not only assess and raise awareness of known risks but also to prepare for the unknown requires a systemic change and shift. 

While the focus was on Kyiv, this gathering served as a platform for cities to share experiences, strategies, and innovative approaches to tackle various urban resilience challenges. 

Mattijs van Ruijven | Head Urban Planner | Rotterdam

Next Steps 

R-cities has already contributed to The Kyiv City Recovery Framework that is being finalised. Being just a framework document, it requires further deep dive and development of targeted solutions for specific areas. Recognising that supporting cities like Kyiv during or immediately after a war requires resources beyond its current capacity, R-Cities aims to activate the collective intelligence of its global community of resilience practitioners. Their experience working with local governments across various jurisdictions, and their ability to facilitate discussions and enable peer-to-peer learning among different actors and organisations can become a key pillar in the resilience-building and recovery process for Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities.  

By leveraging its network, expertise, and collaborative partnerships, R-Cities seeks to play a supportive role in the recovery and resilience-building processes of Ukrainian cities. As Kyiv continues to endure, the city serves as a reminder of the power of resilience in the face of adversity. 


About the authors:  

Olga Balytska, Advisor to the Mayor of the City of Kyiv. 

Noémie Fompeyrine, Chief Resilience Officer and Head of Resilience, Strategic Foresight, Research and Innovation at the city of Paris. 

Lina Liakou, Global Director of Network Engagement and Regional Director for Europe and the Middle East  


Participants in the knowledge exchange   

City of Kyiv  

  • Oleksandr Voznyi, Head of Department for Environment   
  • Olga Balytska, Advisor to the Mayor 

Paris

  • Pénélope Komitès, Deputy Mayor for Innovation, Paris 2030, Resilience 
  • François Croquette, Director of Ecological Transition 
  • Noémie Fompeyrine, Chief Resilience Officer and Head of Resilience, Strategic Foresight, Research and Innovation. 
  • Yann Françoise, Head of Climate 

Member Cities  

  • Greater Manchester: Kathy Oldman, Chief Resilience Officer  
  • London: Kristen Guida, City Resilience Manager  
  • Rotterdam: Johan Verlinde, Program manager Rotterdam Climate Adaptation Plan, Rotterdam. Mattijs van Ruijven, Head Urban Planner  
  • The Hague: Roos Meilink, Chief Resilience Officer  

UNDP  

  • Olena Zerkal, Senior Team Leader, Ukrainian Energy System Critical Infrastructure Damage Assessment and Recovery Preparation. 

R-Cities  

  • Alvaro Soldevila, Lead for Resilience Practice
  • Lina Liakou, Global Director of Network engagement and Regional Director for Europe and the Middle East  
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