Panelists discuss post-war reconstruction efforts in Ukraine


Berkley Center Hosts Conference to Affirm Commitment to a Free, Independent Ukraine at the Heart of Europe

By: Siobhan Cooney

March 14, 2023

In recognition of the one-year anniversary of the Russian war against Ukraine, Georgetown University brought together a diverse group of scholars and policymakers for a March 2 conference to explore the impact of the war on Ukrainian society, the dynamics of reconciliation across religious communities and civil society, and the domestic and international dynamics of post-war reconstruction within the country.

Thomas Banchoff, director of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and vice president for global engagement at Georgetown University, delivered opening remarks for the event. He acknowledged the sobering conditions shadowing the gathering, namely the changing military situation and the terrible suffering of Ukraine’s civilian population, but also highlighted the resilience of Ukrainians as as a crucial foundation for a peaceful future.

“Our hope is that Georgetown—with our academic strengths; our Washington, DC, location; our Catholic and Jesuit commitment to the common good—can be well positioned as a convening space for scholars and practitioners, committed to understanding and supporting the path forward for Ukraine and collaboration with the international community.”

This conference was sponsored by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs; the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security; the Walsh School of Foreign Service; and the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University.

Transformation of Ukrainian Society

Berkley Center Senior Fellow José Casanova moderated the first panel, “War and the Transformation of Ukrainian Society,” which explored the profound developments in Ukrainian civil society under the ongoing impact of the war.

Serhii Plokhy, director of Harvard University’s Ukrainian Research Institute, opened the panel by underscoring Ukrainian resolve, as well as the historic tendency to underestimate the nation.

“It always started with the idea that Kyiv would fall in three days and Ukraine would not last for more than two weeks. And we are now marking a year of a horrible war, but the war in which Ukraine still fights and even wins.”

Even in the midst of displacement and the destruction of livelihood, 60% of Ukrainians, according to Plokhy, believe that their country is moving in the right direction.

An active force behind this positive transformation is the contribution of Ukrainian women, both in spearheading humanitarian efforts and in driving the “diplomatic battalion” of women parliamentarians and leaders of non-governmental organizations. Despite being disproportionately affected by the war, these women are not silent victims, said Melanne Verveer, executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.

“If there’s going to be peace, if there’s going to be recovery, if there’s going to be a viable economy, if there’s going to be a bright future with all of the aspirations that Ukraine has always had, it is not going to happen if the women are marginalized.”

This engagement at every level of Ukrainian civil society since the start of the war is emblematic of a fragmented and dramatic national history that has bred resilience and “a political culture in which dialogue and compromise became the norm,” said Plokhy.

The Role of Religion on the Road to Reconciliation

This spirit of dialogue extended into the second panel, “Religion, Civil Society, and Paths to Reconciliation.” Moderated by Berkley Center Senior Fellow Katherine Marshall, panelists examined the potential role of churches, public intellectuals, and civil society in facilitating discourse and developing pathways to peace and reconciliation within Ukrainian Orthodoxy and—when the war ends—between Ukrainian and Russian Orthodoxy.

Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun, professor of ecclesiology, international relations, and ecumenism at Sankt Ignatios College in Stockholm, argued that we cannot properly understand the nature of this war without first acknowledging religion and the distortion of religion that has taken place.

“Just like the international community helps Ukraine now to survive and to fight this war, we need a global ecumenical effort to tackle the ideology of Putinism,” said Hovorun. He also echoed how important spaces like Georgetown are for deconstructing what he calls a “totalitarian theology.”

Most Rev. Borys Gudziak, archbishop-metropolitan of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, expanded on this by describing fundamental tensions between the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox communities. “It is the tension, the anxiety of having in one’s body, one’s soul, completely incompatible positions,” Gudziak explained.

Archbishop Gudziak posited that churches can help pave a more constructive path forward by defining what peace and reconciliation mean in concrete terms. Above all, he said, Ukrainians want peace.

“Listen to the victim. If you have that point of departure, you’re on the track of the Good Samaritan. If you want to know how churches should act, listen to Jesus. That is where you can come to understand the remedies for the tensions that might be in churches, between churches. I think we still have quite a way to go to have that kind of attentiveness.”

Civil Society and Innovative Reconstruction

The final panel, moderated by Thomas Banchoff, focused on “Post-War Reconstruction” and exploring possible paths across multiple sectors of Ukrainian society.

According to John E. Herbst, senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center and former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, one of the major sources of real reform in Ukraine has come from civil society which “has been active in Ukraine pre-dating the fall of the Soviet Union, and that’s really important. It’s both a symptom of the greater openness and diffusions of power in historic Ukraine,” said Ambassador Herbst.

John F. Tefft, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, echoed these sentiments, emphasizing that “when the history of these times is written, civil society in Ukraine is going to be one of the key factors that historians will mark as the reason why things changed.” The future of reconstruction, in Tefft’s view, is investing in human capital and bolstering civil society on a personal level.

“This has to be part and parcel building houses, but [also] building minds, building the intellectual capital of the country, and not just rebuilding the property and the industries of Ukraine.”

These decisions should not be limited to future reconstruction, but rather integrated into the real-time, rapid recovery work that is happening in Ukraine. Oksana Markarova, current ambassador of Ukraine to the United States, stressed the importance of developing a clear vision for resources, partners, and strategies for engaging the private sector.

“All of us in Ukraine know that it has to not only be a reconstruction, but we have to build something new. We have to build something more innovative. We have to build something more efficient.”

Building Relationships for the Future

In his closing remarks, Thomas Banchoff reiterated how commitment and collaboration extend beyond statements and gestures, both in the present and into the future. It is crucial that we remain in solidarity alongside the governments and citizens around the world that have lent a material hand to the Ukrainian cause.

“Georgetown, our whole university community, is part of this worldwide network and alliance of solidarity,” said Banchoff.

This conference is part of a series of initiatives, both through the Berkley Center and across Georgetown University, to strengthen relationships with partners in the United States, in Ukraine, and around the world in order to better understand the challenges that Ukraine faces so that all can be a part of the solutions going forward.

Related Feature | Expert Panel Says Religious Freedom in Ukraine at a Critical Juncture

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