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Policy advice in times of war – 25th Ukraine Breakfast Debate


How has the work of Ukrainian think tankers changed since the Russian invasion on 24 February 2022? What challenges do they face and how can the international community support them? Representatives of three think tanks discussed.

The Russian war of aggression means a massive cut for civil society organisations in Ukraine. In a virtual panel discussion, three established Ukrainian think tankers active in different fields reported on their work in times of war and how international partners can help now.

Three key take-aways can be identified: First, due to structural challenges, Ukrainian think tanks have to reposition themselves financially and in terms of their activities. Secondly, they are dependent on the support and cooperation with international organisations in their work. Thirdly, the appeal to international politics to do everything possible to support Ukraine in its defence by supplying weapons.

In the first days after the invasion, the staff of many think tanks were in different places and without connection. Previous work had to be re-contextualised. "It took a few weeks to adjust to the new reality," says Yuriy Yakymenko, president of the Razumkov Centre, one of Ukraine's leading domestic and foreign policy think tanks. In addition, many Ukrainian think tanks rely on funding from international donors, whose structures now also have to be adapted to the state of war. There is a lack of institutional funding.

Other organisations have changed the focus of their work. The human rights organisation Center for Civil Liberties, with the help of over a hundred volunteers, documents war crimes and advocates for the creation of an international tribunal for Russia. Head of the Center Oleksandra Matviichuk pointed out that international courts will only take on individual, high-profile cases: "Thousands of perpetrators must be brought before Ukrainian courts, which are not prepared for such a large number of cases. There needs to be a permanent presence of international organisations in Ukraine to help gather evidence and prosecute."

The high number of Ukrainian refugees poses a challenge for the host countries, but also for Ukraine itself: "There is a massive housing crisis in western Ukraine and winter is not far away," reports the director of the Ukrainian NGO Cedos, Ivan Verbytskyi. There are already a number of initiatives to rebuild Ukrainian cities, but first the acute humanitarian crisis must be dealt with.

The event took place under the title "Policy advice in times of war: A conversation with Ukrainian think tankers" in cooperation with the Think Tank Lab, a joint initiative of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) and the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) and was part of the On Think Tanks Conference 2022.

Team & authors

About the GURN – German Ukrainian Researchers Network project: The cooperation between think tanks and politics are strengthened. GURN focuses on knowledge transfer, capacity building and bilateral dialogue. Current developments and German-Ukrainian relations are discussed in a variety of formats.

Image copyright: GURN