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Looking ahead – Rebuilding of Ukraine conference at AIAS

This week’s interdisciplinary and future-oriented AIAS conference on Rebuilding of Ukraine offered insights and constructive discussions on a very difficult, complex and emotional topic: How to best develop Ukraine in a post-war scenario.

Photo: Alina Zubkovych, Director of the Nordic Ukraine Forum presented an overview of the challenges and trends of the war. Credit: Lars Kruse, Aarhus University.

Ten panel talks, two keynotes, including the 2022 Peace Prize Nobel laureate and the Ambassador of Ukraine to Denmark, aimed at coming to grips with how to rebuild a post-war Ukraine. This was the agenda of the conference Rebuilding of Ukraine - People, Ideas, Technologies, and Resources held at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies at Aarhus University, Denmark, on 28 March 2023. The conference is an initiative of the 12 AUFF-Ukraine fellows who have been at AIAS and at Aarhus University for close to one year, since the beginning of the war.

Displaced Ukrainians and scientists as resources

In his welcome address, Ambassador of Ukraine to Denmark Mykhailo Vydoinyk expressed his gratitude to the many Ukrainian women at AIAS and around Europe who are working hard to support their families, and encouraged them to return post-war as resources to help the recovery of Ukraine. The ambassador emphasized that the rebuilding of Ukraine is not just a reconstruction of buildings and institutions.

It is also important that all Ukrainians who return to Ukraine will bring and implement new ideas and inspirations for cultural and societal re-organization and improvements.

On a similar thread, opening keynote speaker, Secretary General of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, Thomas Sinkjær acknowledged how scientists are resources to help rebuild trust and cohesion in society by application of science diplomacy and investing in long-terms collaborations. Sinkjær revealed a 10-point action plan with possible initiatives towards helping Ukrainian scholars, developed and signed in collaboration with other scientific academies and international organizations in June 2022 in Warsaw, Poland.

Transformation in order to rebuild

The first panel on ”Visions and Plans of the Post-War Recovery in Ukraine” opened with a talk by Sweden-based Alina Zubkovych, Director of Nordic Ukraine Forum, who presented an overview of the challenges and trends of the war. The conference participants held their breaths while a moved Zubkovych enlisted the devastating atrocities that the war is leaving behind, of human lives lost and collective traumas induced and a massive financial loss:

”The World Bank Group, the European Commission, and the United Nations estimate that the cost of reconstruction and recovery in Ukraine has grown to US $411 billion.”

The last three talks of the panel by political scientists Lars Johannsen, Mette Skak and Jakob Tolstrup from the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University also drew rather gloomy perspectives.

Lars Johannsen pointed out the necessity for a transformation rather than a rebuilding of Ukraine, and highlighted that getting rid of corruption is a prerequisite for continuous financial support and collaboration with e.g. the EU, but on the positive side, a decrease in corruption will increase trust and equality in Ukraine.

Mette Skak looked at the short- and long-term factors working against Russia. A long-term factor is that climate change and the melting of the permafrost will hit Russia hard as two-thirds of the country is in the Arctic climate zone. She encouraged Ukraine to take an active and different position than Russia’s framing of climate change as ‘fake news.’

Jakob Tolstrup drew a range of likely scenarios to how the war will end and whether Putin will continue post-war. Looking to the past, history tells us that if Putin falls democratization is highly unlikely and most likely another autocracy will take over.

Increase in military investments, decrease in World stability

In a moving keynote talk, Nobel Prize laureate of the peace prize 2022 Oleksandra Matviichuck, a Ukrainian human rights lawyer, emphasized the urgent need to “defend the freedom to have the right to take a democratic choice.” She raised her concern about recent developments not only on behalf of Ukrainians, but on behalf of humankind:

”Governments will invest in military and nuclear weapons – it will be dangerous for everyone to live in such a World.”

In her devotion of her talk “to the ordinary people who can change the World history quicker than UN conventions,” Matviichuck acknowledged the many people who have put their lives at risk or lost their lives to defend freedom and our basic human rights, but simultaneously Matviichuck called for action from the international organizations, such as the UN.

Maintaining and supporting learning from child to scientist

The second panel put “People and Institutions as a Key Factor in the Post-War Recovery in Ukraine” in focus. Vera Skvirskaja from the Department of Cross-Culture and Regional Studies at University of Copenhagen looked at the potentials for diversity and unity, and the practices of coexistence after the war.

Simon Calmar Andersen from the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University presented his collaborative project with AUFF-Ukraine Research Fellow Nadiia Pavlyk to scale up and offer a successful Danish reading skills project to Ukrainians as a concrete way to maintain learning during replacement caused by the war.

Birgitte Beck Pristed from Global Studies at Aarhus University called for “science diplomacy as a soft power tool in hard times of war,” and for a globalization of academia in order to be genuinely open to all parts of the world, e.g. via “a decolonization of academic lingua franca.

In every crisis lies opportunities

The topic of last panel “Financing, Pathways and Mechanisms. Reintroduction of the scientific "refugees" into the Post-War Recovery Infrastructure” was reflected upon by the three speakers: Winnie Johansen and Adam Vigdor Gordon from the Department of Management at Aarhus University and AUFF-Ukraine Research Fellow Sophia Opatska, Vice Rector of Strategic Development, Ukrainian Catholic University.

The three panelists presented research from their joint collaborative project: “How to maintain organization future-preparedness for times of crises?” initiated upon the arrival of Sophia Opatska in Denmark. In their project, they have interviewed 20 companies in Ukraine to gather data to map and predict how businesses cope and continue in times of an ultimate crisis as the war of Ukraine is.

To end on a positive note Winnie Johansen emphasized that “In every crisis there are opportunities,” and Adam Gordon pointed out that in their first findings of the project “was a potential for a grand reset, to build a creative, new platform to rebuild Ukraine upon.”

Closing off with AUFF-Ukraine Research Fellow Sophia Opatska who draws our attention to strike a delicate balance in reconciliation:

”How to look for justice in the past, but not to lose sight of the future.”

Empowering and supportive network

Of concrete initiatives, the AUFF-Ukraine Research fellows at AIAS have initiated a Facebook group to bring Danish and Ukrainians together in an empowering network to collaborate, share experiences and support each other.


Thank you to Aarhus University Research Foundation for funding the AUFF-Ukraine Research Fellowships and to the Carlsberg Foundation for supporting the conference.


Lotte Holm, Head of Secretariat, Deputy director at AIAS, Acting director
Phone: +45 2134 2914

Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, AIAS
Høegh-Guldbergs Gade 6B
DK-8000 Aarhus C