Rebuilding Ukraine means building homes, a sense of belonging and civic engagement | The Hill

by UKCHP_Admin

The U.S. has committed more than $8.7 billion in recent military aid for Ukraine, as well as more than $1.45 billion in humanitarian aid for immediate support to local governments to help Ukrainians displaced by Russia’s war. That is a lot of money, but nowhere in our reading can we find mention of aid for housing reconstruction. To be sure, we must support critical military needs and lay the groundwork for reconstruction. But without support for rebuilding society, the billions of dollars spent on military aid will lose significance.

Following a meeting in July on reconstruction, sponsored by Ukraine and Switzerland, the German government will host a meeting at the end of October to move forward with a reconstruction agenda. Some experts are calling for reconstruction aid to promote democracy and thoughtful rebuilding. We urge the U.S. and the international community to target aid to rebuild Ukrainian civil society and make the region more stable by rethinking housing construction for the displaced, returnees and Ukrainians who did not lose their homes.

Russia’s destruction of Ukrainian housing is not collateral damage; it is “domicide,” a strategy to destroy a nation or community by targeting the population’s sense of home and place. The strategy — also employed by Russia in Chechnya and Syria — leaves its victims with a sense of hopelessness and disorientation, and little to return to but memories now tainted with images of war. But housing reconstruction is critical to defending and reinforcing the Ukrainian nation. 

Free, mass privatization of state housing after the breakup of the Soviet Union made housing the most important — and often only — source of household wealth. Through more than two decades of economic and political upheaval, homes have been a source of everyday security and stability, as well as a material asset for most Ukrainians. Russia knows this and went for the jugular. As calls for a new “Marshall Plan” for Ukraine’s reconstruction gain traction, cultural aspects of rebuilding Ukraine need to be central from planning through building. 

Our research on the experiences of Ukrainians displaced from the Donbas since 2014 shows the consequences of home loss. Even after finding jobs and housing, internally displaced persons (IDPs) are heavily disadvantaged relative to their new neighbors. They pay high rates for often substandard private rentals, eating up income that most other Ukrainians reserve for other expenses. Now too, many IDPs without financial resources are living in places never meant to be homes. 

Losing a home harms living standards and erodes a sense of belonging and civic engagement — the very characteristics a society needs to rebuild. Homeowners in Ukraine and other formerly Soviet countries have stronger senses of belonging, well-being and civic engagement relative to renters. The prospects for becoming owners after displacement from the Donbas have been poor: affordable mortgage finance is unavailable, while homes left behind lost market value and are at risk of expropriation by Russian-backed separatists. As a result, some returned to a war zone — or never left — specifically to hold onto their homes. Indeed, a young volunteer at the Hrebenne Polish-Ukrainian border crossing in April noted that his parents remained in Kryvyi Rih (Krivoy Rog) under attack because, “They have a big, beautiful house that they built. They won’t leave. They will not leave their home.”

The scale of Ukraine’s housing and displacement catastrophe since February 2022 dwarfs that of the period since 2014. Rebuilding will be a very heavy lift: According to a May 2022 report by the Kyiv School of Economics, residential buildings and roads account for about $60 billion, or nearly 10 percent of economic losses to date (and counting). As the region appears on course for long-term conflict concentrated in the east, Ukraine risks being further pushed into a society of housing haves and have nots. Already, stark housing inequalities are emerging among recent IDPs who are navigating exorbitant rental costs and eviction, without practical or legal recourse. 

Ukrainian housing advocates are proposing ways forward for long-term housing solutions (all of which will require major international assistance). For example, Cedos, the premier Ukrainian NGO conducting research-informed advocacy on housing policy, recommends investment in social (public) housing stock, which practically disappeared after privatization, plus measures to support and regulate private renting. We agree with these suggestions. Stable and affordable social and private rentals, which were lacking in Ukraine even before the war, are critical components of a healthy housing system. In Ukraine, an estimated 8 million internally displaced and 7 million refugees outside of Ukraine means that an estimated 37 percent of the total population is displaced — after only five months of war. 

Housing is a precondition for Ukraine to survive and rebuild. According to our research, the psychosocial benefits of homeownership in post-Soviet contexts, including Ukraine, are strongest among those who can purchase a home. Shared or subsidized homeownership models (e.g., with subsidized interest rates and insurance to protect borrowers from unemployment or inflation) would enable rebuilding a housing system with Ukrainian ownership norms, while expanding access so that options to own are not simply a function of family or (mis)fortune. 

This will require massive, Marshall Plan-level investment and technical support from wealthier democracies. In our view, rebuilding housing in multiple ownership models in Ukraine is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. Building “permanent” housing in less-than-ideal locations, as was done in Georgia after the 2008 Russian invasion, will not promote the sense of belonging that is so necessary to rebuild Ukraine. We can combat domicide by focusing on building new homes that solve problems, rather than create new ones. 

Housing, of course, is a basic human need and an economic asset. But it is more than that — it is the foundation of family, community and belonging. 



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