On June 27, the first civil society summit of the OPORA Civil Network "Security Guarantees for Ukrainian Democracy in Times of War" was held in Kyiv. The summit was designed to become a professional platform for high-level political dialogue on the future of Ukrainian democracy in war conditions and effective means for achieving victory.

The event consisted of several parts: a presentation of OPORA's research on Ukraine's bilateral security agreements with partner countries, a speech by US Ambassador Bridget Brink, an open-panel discussion with invited speakers from different sectors of the government and civil society, and a closed discussion among all event guests under Chatham House rules.

Participants of the public discussion included Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine Oleg Nemchinov and Deputy Minister of Defense of Ukraine Natalia Kalmykova, members of the Ukrainian Parliament Olena Shuliak (Servant of the People) and Serhiy Rakhmanin (Holos), representatives of civil society from the volunteer movement Director of the Come Back Alive Foundation Taras Chmut and founder of the namesake Foundation Serhiy Prytula, as well as expert on European integration issues, Director of the New Europe Center Alyona Getmanchuk, and director of advocacy in the energy sector of the International Center for Ukrainian Victory Viktoriya Voytsitska.

Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine Oleg Nemchinov, who heads the Interdepartmental Working Group dealing with the implementation of security agreements, noted the symbolism of holding this public forum to discuss security agreements on the day when the President signed an unprecedented multilateral agreement with the EU. The agreement stipulates that two more states — Estonia and Lithuania — have pledged a percentage of their budget for annual support of Ukraine, as Latvia had done before.”

“In general, the implementation of these agreements, which goes almost non-stop, indicates that the civilized world supports Ukraine. We are currently working on two agreements - with the USA and with Japan. This additionally speaks to the fact that we have very serious support, and it gives hope that the civilized world will stand by Ukraine in all its struggle for independence,” he said.

Head of the Committee on State Building, Local Governance, Regional and Urban Development, People's Deputy of Ukraine Olena Shuliak spoke about legislative decisions that work to strengthen Ukrainian democracy. For example, the parliament has already adopted draft law No. 7283, which introduces the following means for community residents to influence decisions regarding community life: public consultations, reporting by local deputies at open meetings, general meetings, and community participation in the formation and distribution of the local budget. “For us, for everyone today, recovery is a process inextricably linked with European integration and democratic processes, and it is important that at every stage of decision-making, whether at the local or national level, community residents actively participate,” said Shuliak.

Olena Shuliak spoke about another draft law that strengthens Ukrainian democracy and was also recently passed by the Verkhovna Rada. It is draft law No. 4254, which provides for public consultations by all executive authorities, local self-government bodies and so on when implementing any management decisions: “In this form, it is fixed as one of the indicators of the Ukraine Facility, which will become operational in Ukraine after the end of the full-scale war. Undoubtedly, this will increase citizens’ trust in authorities and the legitimacy of their decisions.”

“I would like to remind you that we are also very actively promoting and working to ensure that digitalization enters all the processes of our societal life. And not so long ago, the Verkhovna Rada also adopted a corresponding law,” Shulyak noted. - Not everyone likes it but the law concerns the fact that when the State Regional Development Fund becomes operational in Ukraine, we have already made the appropriate changes allowing citizens to vote for a certain regional development project using the “Diia” application. Without introducing such digital mechanisms at the level of local democracy tools, it will be quite difficult for us. True democracy begins with the ability of the population to self-organize."

According to Verkhovna Rada deputy Serhiy Rakhmanin, the conclusion of a series of security agreements is the first step from partner status to ally status. However, how many more steps will be needed to become allies is unknown.

“The second point is how democratization affects military aid. I am specifically talking about military aid because there can also be humanitarian aid, financial aid, etc. In reality, there is no direct immediate connection.

You know, just as recruiting cannot replace mobilization, democratization cannot replace, let’s say, the strengthening of partnership between countries. Recruiting can be a nice bonus for a country that needs a certain resource in a major war. But this does not mean that it should cancel, unfortunately, forced mobilization. It’s the same here. Democratization is a nice bonus. Ukraine needed democratization even before the Russian-Ukrainian war, it was needed during the war, and it will definitely be needed after the end of the war. Moreover, no one knows when and how, unfortunately, this war will end. But let’s remember the conditions in which we live. We live under the legal regime of martial law. What is the legal regime of martial law? If you look at it from a lawyer’s point of view, by and large, it is a set of restrictions on rights and freedoms that the state is forced to go to in order to survive during a military invasion. No more, no less. Restrictions on rights and freedoms. What does this mean? This means forced, temporary, short-term, not essential, but still restrictions on democratic processes, whether we like it or not. The volume and nature of military aid from our partners is limited by three factors: internal problems, for example, internal competition, internal political struggle; the capabilities of our partners, the capabilities of their defense-industrial complex, their economy, their armed forces; and external factors, for example, the risk of escalation," he noted. 

Alyona Hetmanchuk, director of the New Europe Centre, during her speech emphasized that “security agreements should not be a bridge to NATO but a parallel path to Ukraine’s accession to the Alliance. They should complement our Euro-Atlantic track, not precede it.” She has long and publicly called for security agreements not to be called security guarantees: “We see today that, in the context of the agreement with the United States, it was not publicly called by the President or representatives of his team as security guarantees, although previous agreements have been. Therefore, there are already positive developments.” She emphasized that the primary goal of all the agreements should not be reforms and democracy strengthening, as they are not intended for that: “We should rather talk about the transformation process and push for reforms within the process of accession to the European Union.”

The focus of the speech by Deputy Minister of Defense of Ukraine Natalia Kalmykova was on human capital represented by Ukrainian military personnel and veterans: “Our problem with people is a nationwide problem. It is the problem of people leaving the country and continuing to leave. We are losing specialists, everyone is competing for people.” According to her, the Ministry of Defense team understands this: “We have been dealing with these issues for a long time: psychology, mental health, and engaging people where they can best realize their abilities. Therefore, a policy for the attraction, development, and retention of human capital in the Defense Forces has been developed. Even if we win tomorrow, the threat from Russia will remain. Therefore, we will always need trained people ready to defend the country. Our policy, which is evolving into a strategy, applies to every Ukrainian.”

The Deputy Minister of Defense of Ukraine shared that, together with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Defense is preparing trainers to work with schoolchildren: “These will be veterans who know what war is. They will teach children how to work with drones, geographic information systems, and tactical medicine. For young people aged 18-25, basic military training and changes in approaches to military departments are provided. We want military departments to become prestigious and for reserve officers to be ready to lead people. We support various recruitment initiatives: OLX, recruitment centers, etc. It is important to accompany each recruit and direct them to the appropriate military unit.'"

"We are working to ensure that service in the army is transparent and fair. It is important to ensure a transparent mechanism for appointment and promotion. We are also considering career opportunities for the mobilized, - said Nataliya Kalmykova. - Medicine and mental health of military personnel are also priority areas. It is important to support people during service and help them adapt to civilian life after discharge. We should not lose a person after he or she has served. A person is the most important value, it is a resource that cannot be bought, that cannot be earned, and that cannot be exchanged. You can buy a thousand shells, you can buy millions of FPV, but a thousand servicemen or a thousand citizens of Ukraine, those who will be able to defend the country, must be “made” for at least 26 years. And this is a huge period of time.”

According to Taras Chmut, director of the Come Back Alive Foundation, the formula for effective cooperation between civil society and the state during war can be the approach of "working, helping and not hindering the state." This is how his foundation works because the task is not to replace the state, but to help the state where it needs more time, more resources and more flexibility and to strengthen it where the foundation can do so.

"We are talking about victory, about reconstruction, and about peace too early. In May, we lost 400 square kilometers of territory: 170 in the so-called old fronts, and 230 in the Kharkiv direction. These are the largest monthly losses since June 2022. The trend is not positive. This means we are not moving towards a bright future, towards victory, or towards the borders of 1991. We are retreating. We have serious problems. And this needs to be talked about first and foremost. The task of society is to support the state, not to shift into total criticism, destructiveness, hyperbolizing mistakes, hyperbolizing corruption in the country, and being unwilling to lead by example and show how things should be done. Because today, it is very convenient for many, including the civil society sector, to say how things should be done, but at the same time, there are a large number of vacant positions in all ministries. Please come in and show how it should be done,” he emphasized.

Chmut noted that it is right and necessary to talk about security guarantees and implement reforms during the war but it is important to understand that if the war is lost, all this will lose its meaning. Therefore, it is important not to shift the focus: “We should clearly understand what is key and what is secondary. Every country has problems, every country has corruption, every country has internal political struggles, and every country has a desire for change and development. Yet, survival is the number one issue. And it seems to me that in Kyiv, we often begin to forget this and start playing various games instead of uniting around a common goal.”

Director of advocacy in the energy sector of the International Center for Ukrainian Victory (ICUV) Viktoria Voytsytska emphasized that representatives of the civil society sector, the Government, the Verkhovna Rada, local self-government, and international organizations should unite and realize the risks that are looming over Ukraine on the eve of next winter.

“Before the full-scale invasion, we had 36 GW of power and electricity generation. We got through last winter having 18 GW. During the campaign to destroy our generation facilities in March, April, May and early June of this year, we lost another 9 GW. That is, the scale of the disaster is actually very hard to overestimate. Therefore, when we talk about the stability of democracy, we have to talk about the resilience and capacity of the country to survive the next winter. And here I have not very good news, including for our partners, because it seems to me that there is no clear understanding that certain decisions that were taken late have a huge cost both for Ukraine and for Ukrainians.

We did not have the losses we have suffered now in the winter of 2022-2023. Therefore, comparing these two situations is not possible. That’s the first point. The second point, which is completely missing in the discussion, is that when the Russians hit our energy facilities, they create the danger of a potential nuclear catastrophe for our operating nuclear power plants. Finally, the IAEA has made statements in some of their relevant press releases that not only the Zaporizhzhia NPP is a problem but also the Rivne and Khmelnytskyi nuclear power plants were disconnected from our unified energy system due to Russian attacks. So I have news for our partners: if something happens at one of our nuclear plants, it is not necessary to hit the nuclear plants directly; it is enough to create conditions where the electricity generated by the operating reactor cannot be transmitted to the energy system. Not only will we suffer, but it will also pose a threat to our European partners, our neighbors,” she said, expressing hope that solutions for protecting critical infrastructure facilities will be found as soon as possible.

As the founder of the namesake Charitable Foundation Serhiy Prytula noted, difficulties in communicating with Ukraine arise for our international partners due to different approaches - we want everything here and now, while partners have developed various protocols with many safeguards over decades to protect themselves from mistakes.

“I am actually very pleased that today the focus of these security agreements and military cooperation agreements is not only on what our partners promise us but primarily on what we are obligated to fulfill. Our obligations in all these agreements strongly correlate with the commitments we must fulfill to join the European Union, and they, in turn, strongly correlate with the commitments we must fulfill to join NATO. It seems our partners are telling us: okay, if you didn't get it the first time, we don't mind repeating it a third time. And they are offering us a third platform, a third track, so that we do exactly what we have been asked to do for years. The rhetoric from our partners is that you are doing great, you are moving in the right direction, but a little slowly. Please, go a little faster with judicial reform. Please, do a little better on anti-corruption. Please, do a little better on the rule of law. We have been hearing this for years. And it is actually a bit embarrassing, not even so much in front of our partners, because they are used to it, but in front of our own society. Because we did not have this level of support for Ukraine's accession to the EU and NATO before the full-scale invasion, and there is a demand in Ukrainian society to fulfill these requirements and our obligations,” he said.

The volunteer also noted that conducting an audit of anti-corruption bodies would help increase public trust in state institutions. After all, according to him, the most crucial security agreement is internal, when Ukrainian society is consolidated and united around the simple idea that state interest should outweigh any other interest—be it of a particular individual with ambitions or a financial-industrial group.

“We have long ceased to have societal divisions over those trigger zones that were characteristic before the full-scale invasion. We no longer argue about the patriarchate of the church we attend or about language issues; we have found common ground regarding historical heritage. Yet, new challenges of societal division are emerging, which we need to mend, because only in unity can we achieve victory. This includes divisions in society between those who are fighting, those within Ukraine, and those beyond its borders. This is a slow-acting bomb because this is one of the areas where Russian propaganda and psychological operations are working at full capacity. Sometimes, we even play into their hands and give them opportunities,” he noted.

Prytula calls for caution in words and actions. He believes that during the confrontation involving Ukrainians within and outside Ukraine, the state must act wisely rather than take sides. According to him, Ukrainians abroad have been the main donors to the Ukrainian economy for many years, investing $12 billion annually and being key supporters of the Ukrainian volunteer movement and army.

“After the war, the question will arise: where do we get the workforce without a sound migration policy? We have approximately a million people abroad whom we need to bring back. Do we want to bring them back, or do we gloat over their misfortunes there? If we do not bring them back, our generation and the next will have to work twice as hard. Because we have a terrible demographic situation - within 15 years, people aged 60+ will likely outnumber other age categories combined. We need these people. Russians are engaged in dividing Ukrainians among themselves, while we need to unite society in various ways. Every Ukrainian abroad is our resource and lever of influence in various processes. We must do everything possible to ensure that Ukrainians do not lose their desire to return to Ukraine. This is crucial for state governance, the economy, and the nation's survival. Let’s propose some sort of social contract because a divided society has never won, unfortunately, and quite the opposite happens. Fortunately, in our case, if we preserve this unity, United, we are invincible,” he emphasized.

This is the first such event in a series of civil society summits of the Civil Network OPORA that will take place every quarter and focus on discussing the most important issues of preserving and building the democratic system of the country during the war and after its end. The summit became possible thanks to the support of the American people, provided through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the informational support of the Ukrainian Pravda online publication.