Recovery and reconstruction in Ukraine: supporting partners to create safer, more resilient communities

As the Ukraine Recovery Conference takes place in London this week, we are reflecting on the work underway in Ukraine and providing insights into the crucial demining work we deliver. 

Tetra Tech has been working in Ukraine for more than 20 years. During this time, we have developed deep connections across Ukraine’s public and private sector and civil society. With these longstanding relationships in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries including Moldova and our longstanding offices in Warsaw, Tetra Tech has been working closely with our Ukrainian and global partners to create safer and more resilient communities.

Tetra Tech brings the strength of a leading, global management consultancy and the speed of a local team to deliver a full range of services in Ukraine and the region. Tetra Tech is currently delivering a range of work from energy sector support, anti-corruption advisory, and humanitarian mine action:

  • The Energy Security Project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), has been working in-country since 2018 to strengthen the country’s energy security and independence. We partner with Ukraine’s energy sector institutions to help open electricity markets, improve district heating services and facilitate physical and commercial connection of Ukraine’s energy systems with the European Union. In 2022, Tetra Tech expanded our work to support emergency infrastructure repair and reconstruction, helping Ukraine to keep delivering electricity to homes, hospitals, schools, and public institutions.
  • Under the USAID Support to Anti-Corruption Champion Institutions programme, our team builds upon nearly two decades of our previous anti-corruption work. Tetra Tech has played a critical role in advancing anti-corruption reforms that empower the Government and people of Ukraine to reject and combat corruption, including helping to reboot the National Agency of Corruption Prevention (NACP). To support the development of a comprehensive reconstruction plan, SACCI is advising the government on best practices to prevent corruption in major reconstruction efforts. We are now supporting the coalition of Ukrainian civil society organizations – RISE Ukraine – which promotes integrity, sustainability, and efficiency of the country’s recovery.
Below, Tetra Tech’s Steve Priestley gives insights into the challenges of Ukraine’s recovery in the context of humanitarian mine action.

Creating safe ground in Ukraine

Headshot of Steve Priestley, Vice President, Tetra Tech

Steve Priestley, Vice President, Tetra Tech

Steve Priestley is the liaison for donor coordination on the U.S. Department of State- and Global Affairs Canada-funded humanitarian mine action program. He first traveled to Ukraine to look at potential demining support in 2019 and has more than three decades of experience working in conflict zones.

Even before the escalation of the conflict, the invasion of Ukraine’s Donbas and Crimea region caused Ukraine to have some of the highest numbers in the world of civilian accidents involving landmines and anti-vehicle mines in particular—surpassing countries such as Iraq and Syria. “People often forget that there is still a lot of munitions contamination from World War II. Wherever new transport infrastructure or renewable energy projects are being planned, you will almost always find remnant mines from that era,” he says.

Working with Ukraine’s Ministry of Veteran Affairs and Ministry of Temporary Occupied Territories, they developed a concept to provide deminer training to help reintegrate veterans back into society. “We learned a lot in the process about the coordination and regulation systems in the country. We established links with the Ukrainian Deminers Association, and, more importantly, participants in the Mine Action Sub-Cluster, part of the UN protection cluster. This gave us a strong local partner on the ground and left us in a good position when the situation escalated.”

“Cannot rebuild schools if they are not safe for children to return”

Russia’s invasion has exacerbated a situation that was already hazardous. Doing demining may seem like a Sisyphean task in a war that is ongoing with no end in sight. But it could hardly be more important.

“We learned a long time ago that people return to their home areas as soon as they can”, Steve explains. Ukrainians have started going back, especially in the deoccupied areas. So we need to make these areas are as safe as they can be.”

Besides, demining is a precursor for all other redevelopment activities. “Emergency responses have sometimes been uncoordinated. But you cannot rebuild schools if they are not safe for children to return.” Many donors therefore label the number of mines cleared as an output, not an outcome—the first step of a long road to safety.

Steve points out that there are two factors that make Ukraine unique: “its size and its position in producing food for large parts of the world.” That is why from an international perspective, “we need people to be able to go back to where they need to be, enable them to have a livelihood, and move around the country.”

Putting pragmatism first

There is no doubt that the sheer volume of contaminated areas is overwhelming for the Ukraine government. And as new landmines are deployed every day, it is difficult to determine how many years or decades training, detection, clearance, and education efforts might take to demine Ukraine. 

It is a difficult mission, and one that comes with a myriad of challenges. One of the biggest challenges Steve and his team have encountered in supporting Ukraine’s munitions response is the need for flexibility and pace of response. “Ukraine has laws about humanitarian mine action – who can do it, and how it has to be done – and we have to respect those.” But the situation has changed dramatically since these laws were written. 

“Luckily, Ukraine’s Government is pragmatic and making efforts to fast-track new legislation,” Steve said. “Two months ago, the Ministry of Economy became involved in planning and coordinating along with the ministries of defense and interior because they realised demining is vital for the economy and recovery of Ukraine.” 

This was welcome and good news for the team. “Last week, we were able to bring in proven innovative humanitarian mine action technologies,” Steve said. “These sensors have proved highly effective in rapidly releasing land in countries with similar landmine contamination issues and we are confident they will do the same in Ukraine.”

A long way to recovery

Steve is under no illusion of the challenge that lies ahead for Ukraine’s recovery. “Having worked in conflict zones for over 30 years, the scale of the destruction is unbelievable. At Tetra Tech, we understand that material does not equal capability when it comes to recovery and redevelopment – resources, and how they are employed, are just as important.”

“That’s why we are here working closely with our Ukrainian partners, using our decades of experience and expertise in a wide range of areas to support people in Ukraine through our partners and clients – and be ready for when the real recovery can begin.”

A mural in Kyiv by Aleksey Postulga that symbolizes hope prevailing over the threat of explosive ordnance.

A mural in Kyiv by Aleksey Postulga symbolizes hope prevailing over the threat of explosive ordnance.

About Tetra Tech

Tetra Tech is a key supplier of international development services globally including for the FCDO, USAID and DFAT. Tetra Tech has more than 40 years of experience working in conflict-affected environments to deliver innovative and sustainable management and technical advisory services. Our approach focuses on empowering local communities and leveraging private investment to create safer, healthier, more equitable, and prosperous societies. We are differentiated by Leading with Science® to provide innovative technical solutions to our clients. We support global commercial and government clients focused on water, environment, sustainable infrastructure, renewable energy, and international development. With more than 27,000 employees worldwide, Tetra Tech provides clear solutions to complex problems.