Ukraine needs as much outside help as it can get to build back after Russia’s attempt to destroy it. Denmark is helping pave the way and showing others how it might be done efficiently.

Ukrainian rescuers hose down a destroyed residential building as they move rubble after a missile strike in Mykolaiv on July 20, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The reconstruction plan for the city of Mykolaiv, Ukraine’s ninth largest, could become an anti-corruption model for all other Ukrainian cities as the Municipality of Mykolaiv partners with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and Denmark.

Taras Byk, board member of the Agency for Recovery and Development, and foreign businessmen from Odesa discussed rebuilding Mykolaiv at a meeting on March 14.

The city, which in Soviet times had the largest military shipyards on the Black Sea, was massively attacked by Russian troops in the first months of the war in 2022, due to its strategic bridge over the Bug River, the large natural barrier that blocks the road to Odesa. It was an obligatory passage for the Russians to conquer the rich ports of Ukraine.

As such, the city was hit continually, until the end of March 2022, by missiles and artillery shells. Even today it is attacked regularly with missiles and drones, like Odesa. Half of its 500,000 inhabitants have abandoned their homes.

In the summer of 2022, the mayor of Mykolaiv, Oleksandr Sienkevych, publicly asked for the UN’s help in developing a forward-looking master plan to rebuild his city, centered on people and the future.

The UNECE agency in Geneva mobilized the international architecture firm One Work in Milan to create the reconstruction master plan, according to the principle of build back better – that is, not redoing the city as it was before the destruction, but improving it. On the basis of the guidelines thus developed, UNECE will offer international tenders for the various works to be carried out.

A few months earlier, in July 2022, at the first international conference for the reconstruction of Ukraine, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal had presented a map with the assignment of Ukrainian cities and regions to various Western countries in Lugano. A sort of international piecemeal adoption of Ukraine, to concentrate foreign investments according to nationality.

This approach was then completely abandoned, with the sole exception of Denmark, which confirmed that it wanted to concentrate the work of Danish companies on Mykolaiv. Denmark has decided to play this important role also due to the country’s maritime tradition. In effect, it would allow Denmark to facilitate a special relationship with a Black Sea port for its operations.

Sienkevych said in a television interview that Ukrainians see Denmark as a perfect partner for cooperation. “We see Mykolaiv as ‘the new Copenhagen’ of the future,” he said. But the Mayor also made a provocative statement for some Ukrainian administrators: “We don’t need money, we need projects.”

He basically asked not to offer funds to his own administration, but to pay companies directly at their offices outside Ukraine, to neutralize the risk of corruption – a working method that could be copied by other cities in Ukraine.

Taras Byk, with his Recovery and Development Agency, manages this strategic collaboration with Denmark. His task is to assess the city’s needs and communicate them to his Danish interlocutors so they can identify which companies can carry out the projects.

“It’s not a system where Denmark just hands over the money and then decides what to do with it. We have to create the projects first and then find the financing,” Byk said.

Among the key sectors that Danish companies will have to deal with is the waste collection and disposal/recycling system, which is lacking throughout Ukraine. Greenery will also be a central theme of the reconstruction, Byk explained. “We see the development of Mykolaiv as a green city, so Denmark’s experiences will be significant.”

But the most pressing problem is that many buildings in the city no longer have water or heating. Today the inhabitants have to collect water in bottles distributed by public service vehicles. Also, in this field Danish companies can help with the reconstruction of the urban water system destroyed by the Russians and a modern water purification plant.

Of course, where Danish companies need subcontractors to carry out work on site more economically, there will also be work for Ukrainian companies, Byk added in his presentation.

The presentation of the Damage and Key Needs Assessment Report of Mykolaiv took place in Kyiv on Dec. 16, 2022. The study was conducted by the KSE Institute with the support of the EU Anti-Corruption Initiative (EUACI).

According to an EUACI estimate, the reconstruction of Mykolaiv is expected to cost at least €852 million.

Denmark initially allocated 100 million DKK ($14.6 million) for the reconstruction of the city. And according to Danish Development Minister Flemming Møller Mortensen, this amount will increase.