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AFTER WAR: Between Happy End and Hard Work

Sophia Opatska

Founding Dean and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Lviv Business School at the UCU, Vice Rector for implementation of UCU strategy at the Ukrainian Catholic University

My friends and colleagues in Ukraine would argue that the title should be different—”Victory in War: Between Happy End and Hard Work” as it is the belief in victory that keeps Ukrainians moving forward. As intellectuals, we clearly understand that it will be hard work because achieving freedom requires hard work. Freedom comes with responsibility. Historian Timothy Snyder from Yale University, whose video lectures on Ukraine have gained immense popularity over the past year, emphasizes that currently many people around the world are rethinking the meaning of freedom as it entails taking responsibility for our actions. Something indecent is happening and Ukrainians are reacting in a very humane way.

On a Saturday morning in March 2023, the UCU Business School in Lviv hosted a breakfast for 25 Ukrainian business leaders. Despite the rainy weather, they came to meet a prominent design thinking expert from California, Barry Katz, who was teaching at our school. As this was a fundraising event, all 25 generously donated to a scholarship fund named after Oleg Vorobyov, a student who was killed by Russian occupiers. During the event, our guest speaker asked the attendees about their biggest challenges. Over the next one and a half hours, we had a thoughtful and engaging discussion about the many challenges Ukrainian businesses are facing today. However, rather than focusing solely on their individual businesses, every participant was thinking about how their company could be a proactive element of the larger ecosystem that is Ukraine. The discussion highlighted five major challenges that Ukrainian business leaders are currently grappling with, which are deeply important to all of us. At the heart of these issues is the overarching theme of how not to lose victory after victory.

Challenge 1: Traumas

The challenge of addressing the trauma caused by the war in Ukraine is immense, given that it is one of the largest armed conflicts since World War II, with an active front line spanning over 1,500 kilometers. The global community can observe the war as if it were a reality show, and the horrors of war are evident whenever Russian troops withdraw from any city or town, leaving a trail of devastation. According to the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, more than 72,000 war crimes have been recorded in Ukraine since the full-scale Russian invasion began. Approximately 1,5 million individuals in Ukraine have been or are currently located on the front lines, and many will require physical and/or mental support. Society and organizations must be prepared to offer the necessary resources and support to aid in the successful reintegration of our courageous men and women who have put their lives on the line for their country.

Challenge 2: Past vs. future?

Balancing society’s needs and expectations between past and future is a complex issue, particularly in the aftermath of war. It is essential to recognize the widespread demand for justice that arises due to the brutalities of war. However, the pursuit of justice often involves a focus on past events, potentially creating tension between these efforts and the imperative of prioritizing the future.

Achieving a delicate balance between past and future needs and expectations in society following war requires careful consideration and collaboration among all stakeholders, including those advocating for justice and those focused on building a better future.

It is essential to acknowledge that different individuals may play varying roles in this process, and their state of mind may differ, with some emphasizing empathy and others emphasizing hopefulness. But when we push for both justice and progress, we can work towards building a sustainable and stable post-war society.

Challenge 3: Flight and return

Ukraine faces an acute danger of brain drain resulting from the mass exodus of refugees and displaced persons to Europe and beyond. While the exact numbers remain unknown, 4.5 million Ukrainians are registered in other countries, with two-thirds of them women and children, and only a small number of elderly. 70 percent of the women who fled had a university degree, suggesting that the very educated and skilled left the country in high numbers. What is particularly worrying is that despite the overwhelming desire of many Ukrainians to return home, the recognized Ukrainian migration expert, Professor Ella Libanova, has expressed caution regarding how many can be brought back.

Research on local conflicts in the 20th century has shown that only around 30 to 40 percent of those who had left returned. We must strive for a higher percentage, however, given the entrepreneurial mindset of the majority of those who left, and the skills they bring to the table. Fortunately, there is a silver lining. Many Ukrainians have come to realize that despite the poor infrastructure, they have had a relatively good standard of living in their home country, including access to services they cannot afford abroad. To further improve the situation, we must create an environment that encourages those who have left to return and contribute to the rebuilding. Equally important is maintaining strong ties with those who have chosen to remain abroad, as they can play a crucial role in soft diplomacy and developing partnerships around the world.

Challenge 4: Active citizens

Throughout Ukraine’s long history as a nation, the state has often been perceived as an enemy to the nation, as we have been conquered by other states for extended periods. However, over the past three decades, the state has become ours, and this realization has become especially pronounced since 2014. It is vital that Ukrainians learn to live in a state for which they are responsible, without relying on paternalistic expectations in society toward the state. Instead, we must strive to become active citizens and move away from opposing the state at every turn.

Challenge 5: Accountability

When discussing Ukraine with our international partners, we agree that there has been tremendous support from international organizations. However, there is also growing concern about potential chaos. Currently, coordination between donors is limited, and most recognize the need to transition from an emergency mode to an operational long-term mode. Reconstruction efforts are already underway, with a focus on combining seemingly incompatible objectives—such as building high-quality homes for 600,000 people with limited resources, and doing so quickly. It is crucial that we, as Ukrainians, do not just rebuild but build forward, with a clear vision for the future. Additionally, our international partners insist on accountability from us, which is essential for building trust and long-term partnerships.

Stronger than ever

In conclusion, the end of war in Ukraine is not a happy end that comes without hard work.

It requires a great deal of effort to overcome the challenges faced by the country, such as addressing the trauma caused by the war, balancing society’s needs and expectations between past and future, and finding ways to bring back the millions of refugees and displaced persons who have left the country.

However, the Ukrainian people have shown resilience and a commitment to building a better future. By prioritizing justice and progress, and working together towards a sustainable and stable post-war society, Ukraine can overcome these challenges and emerge stronger than ever.


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