How has Ukrainian society resisted the Russian invasion?
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How has Ukrainian society resisted the Russian invasion?


"In many ways, it is puzzling that Ukraine – with its limited resources – has been able to resist and maintain a functioning state, economy och society. The key is the decentralisation reforms that have been conducted and which have given municipalities and local authorities more self-governance. When the invasion happened this allowed them to quickly mobilise the necessary resources and provide local solutions, as people were not prepared that this would happen on as large a scale as it did,” says Oleksandra Keudel, political science PhD and researcher at Södertörn University.

Despite almost daily attacks on civilians and infrastructure, to some extent life is continuing as normal. Children go to school, adults go to work, the state still pays wages and shops are open. At the same time, everyday life is entirely different to the way it was before 24 February 2022.

Routines for unforeseen crises
Oleksandra Keudel’s research has examined democratic governance at the local level. Due to the war, she has also become interested in how a society resists, in how everyday life continues although war is raging. In a study funded by the Council of Europe (Congress of Local and Regional Authorities), she and her colleague Oksana Huss, who also has a PhD in political science, studied Ukrainian local authorities and their routines relating to unforeseen crises.
“What we saw was that a great deal revolves around communication and coordination, between local authorities, with residents and with businesses, as well as with regional and notational authorities. For example, one local authority used existing institutions to manage large numbers of internally displaced people, and the local youth council took responsibility for this,” says Keudel.

The issue of Ukrainian resilience was also the subject of a conference hosted by Centre for Baltic and East European Studies at Södertörn University. One of the speakers was Yaroslav Zhalilo, economics PhD and deputy director of the National Institute for Strategic Studies in Kyiv. Among other things, he highlighted the importance of sustainability and adaptability in making a society truly resilient.

“The model that is used in Ukraine is not hierarchical. Instead, it builds upon communication and cooperation between the primary stakeholders, where each is prepared for different scenarios. Good communication runs throughout the model, but well-considered strategies and policies are fundamental for the model to work and be sustainable,” he says.

Five factors for a resilient society
Yaroslav Zhalilo has identified five factors on which the model is based and which are vital to a resilient society, whatever type of crisis it encounters:
  • Well-developed entrepreneurship, with a wide variety of small and medium sized enterprises that supply and produce food, fuel and transport.
  • Communication/infrastructure – effective communication between regions, based on transport and logistics within a community and on digital communication, which is vital – not least for maintaining payment and banking systems.
  • The local community’s organisational and financial capability based on decentralisation reforms. The ability to able to deal with a great many problems is vital for citizens.
  • Networks in civil society. These were strengthened during the Maidan revolutions of 2004 and 2014. During the war, civil society has taken huge responsibility in various areas, from humanitarian aid to volunteers in the army and direct resistance to the enemy.
  • An open society: a result of long-term work towards more European and Euro-Atlantic integration and cooperation with international institutions. Humanitarian, military and financial support are currently decisive for Ukraine.
The conference brought together researchers and other stakeholders from around the world, which indicates the wide relevance of this issue and its importance, even for nations that are not under attack. Discussions largely focused on local stakeholders, communication and civil society, but many also covered digital resilience: how can we, as a society, resist a tsunami of disinformation?

“It became clear to me that resilience is multidimensional and exists at several overlapping levels. And we cannot talk about resistance without looking to citizens and to our international relations. I recognise a great deal from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden is well equipped. You have to be able to identify the resources that exist, the expertise you have, who knows whom and that they have mutual trust and confidence,” Keudel concludes.
Regions: Europe, Sweden, Ukraine
Keywords: Society, Politics, Social Sciences

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