Rebuilding homes in Ukraine

Julie Lawson

Ukraine is actively preparing for its own recovery, and has even established a Housing Policy working group as part of it, which is now active drafting which steps to take. What and how can ENHR as an organization and its members contribute to rebuilding homes in Ukraine? This article is an attempt to find an answer.

The consequences of Russian military aggression on Ukraine has led to considerable loss of life and the devastation of many homes, livelihoods, services and infrastructure. Millions of civilians have been displaced. Most people want to return but they cannot, as this requires having safe, secure and adequate home and neighbourhood to return to. Realizing these housing conditions will also underpin Ukraine’s economic recovery. Despite the ongoing conflict, Ukraine is already making plans for its post-war recovery. The UN, European Commission, national and local governments, as well as international financial institutions and housing providers, such as the EIB and Housing Europe, are getting ready to assist. Housing and urban researchers have a vital role to play informing the recovery plan process.

Russia’s war on Ukraine has greatly affected civilian access to safe, adequate, affordable, and sustainable housing. Damage to residential buildings represents by far the largest cost in the overall repair bill so far. By the end of March 2022, 35,000 thousand square meters of housing had been destroyed, representing the largest share (36%) of material damage, alongside roads, schools, hospitals, cultural centres, public transport, shopping centres, parks and playgrounds, based on reported survey responses (KSE, 2022).

Among those directly impacted are Ukrainian housing researchers – they too have lost their homes, been separated from family, and face a highly precarious situation with both homes and work. Despite this, many valiantly continue to report on housing conditions and actively contribute to research and policy making for a better future. EU research funds have also been provided to assist Ukrainian researchers, which is promising. ENHR researchers can also play a useful role – by understanding the context, reflecting on past reconstruction efforts, linking with Ukrainian colleagues and working collaboratively.

There are already efforts taking place between Ukrainian and international researchers as we write this. For example, the social policy think-tank CEDOS has launched an online discussion ‘Re.Housing for Ukraine’ on future housing policy inviting input from across the world. They hope this will inform the Ministry of Regions strategy towards the reconstruction of homes and neighbourhoods across the country.

We know that housing conditions were not ideal before the recent devastation. Research evidence demonstrates serious energy inefficiency, as well as overcrowding, and housing unaffordability. Many Ukrainians would like to see better housing conditions and they see an important role for good government in achieving this (UNECE, 2013; Bobrova et al., 2022; Liasheva, 2019; Lomonosova and Fedoriv, 2019; Durmanov, 2004). While housing policy had been progressing, much more purposeful and determined steps will now be required for this to be realized.

Wartime conditions have highlighted the importance
of housing and rental market reform

Since extensive privatization in the 1990s, most homes are individually owned flats in multi-owner buildings. There is an absence of public interest actors in the housing provision system, and lengthy waiting lists remain for scarce remaining public housing. Multi-owned buildings have proven difficult to maintain and renew, despite UNDP efforts to support Homeowner Associations. New more proactive approaches to housing promotion will be required to address now critical housing needs and housing conditions adequately, efficiently and affordably.

Wartime conditions have highlighted the importance of housing and rental market reform. Before the 2022 Russian war on Ukraine, several million people were already registered as being internally displaced (IPD) due to the 2014 invasion. It causes not only massive population movements, but the loss of safe adequate and affordable housing. Ukraine’s small unregulated rental market has not been able to respond adequately. Local experts in Kyiv and Lviv, report that limited capacity to control rents and protect tenants CEDOS (2022), has led to major rent increases and evictions. For example, in Lviv, rental prices increased by 72%, in Uzhhorod – by 46%, in Ivano-Frankivsk, Khmelnytsky and Lutsk – by 10-15%, in Chernivtsi – by 80%. (Liasheva, 2022).

In past reconstruction efforts, universities have played a pivotal role. Rotterdam’s capacity to rebuild was strengthened by expanding the education and training of planners, architects, builders, and all types of community and health workers by local university departments, often with considerable aid from the Marshall plan. Today’s challenges will require many different skills, beyond defense and reconstruction, to include supply chain logistics, alternative energy infrastructure, social and economic planning, decontamination and physical and mental health services. Undoubtedly, there will be a need to expand and open new universities and departments, especially to strengthen capacities in governance, urban planning, architecture and construction (Anisimov, 2022).

The rebuilding of Ukraine will be challenging and requires careful reflection and focused ambition. Given the massive task at hand in rebuilding homes and neighbourhoods, the private sector cannot be expected to perform this task alone – or even to lead it. Good governance will require the expansion or establishment of new institutions that can reliably guide Ukraine’s successful recovery. Vienna, Rotterdam, Helsinki and Hamburg have all walked down the post conflict path to successful recovery and retained key institutional elements today: public investment banks, mission focused land policies, strategic plans and affordable housing providers, such as housing associations and co-operatives. These early foundations of recovery continue to play a vital role in affordable rental housing today.

Recovery goes far beyond creation of a fund to reconstruct Ukraine’s devastated infrastructure. Any reconstruction plan will embody lasting political, cultural and economic values, as evident in the abovementioned European cities.

In 21st century Europe, the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) Agenda, EU Green Deal and #Housing2030 can provide overarching guidance, good practices and tools. Many donors, both public and private, will try to influence Ukraine’s Recovery Plan. For example, the EIB champions green sustainable development and has increasingly supported renewable energy infrastructure, energy efficient social and affordable housing, the EBRD emphasizes private sector growth and privatization. The many segments of the private sector have their own visions and interests too, and these may cohere or conflict with notions of mission focused recovery. Good planning is therefore essential.

There is a need to understand the differing causes
of housing outcomes to design appropriate responses

For researchers, understanding the context, crises and dynamics of Ukraine’s housing system, can play a constructive role informing Ukraine’s recovery. There is a need to understand the differing causes of housing outcomes to design appropriate responses. Different causes drive the needs of those whose homes were destroyed and damaged; which have become inaccessible by continuing hostilities; are overcrowded, of poor quality and energy inefficient or made precarious by through threat of evictions and rent hikes.

For those researchers dedicated to reform, there is also a need to study how the current housing system could improve and expand housing options in Ukrainian context. Following decades of centralized housing provision, its privatization and deregulation; and financialized development, which has exposed housing to numerous crises. Discussing and defining the necessary institutional capacities and tools to meet the diverse housing needs of all Ukrainians will be vital. Are there ways to establish more mission focussed, democratic and transparent mechanisms in the housing sector? How can new technologies and building processes be more people focused and foster ‘loveable’ neighbourhoods? How can good innovation be accelerated, and harmful innovation and corruption prevented? These are just some of the questions that will need to be answered towards the rebuilding of Ukrainian cities and villages.

Peace provides the best conditions for recovery, but crisis motivates action. Ukraine is already planning its own recovery – even amidst ongoing conflict. As in many post conflict countries, the nature of Ukraine’s reconstruction will shape far more than housing; it will underpin social, environmental and economic conditions for generations to come. Housing researchers, from urban historians to policy advisors, will have a vital role to play informing this process.


Dr Julie Lawson, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT, based in The Netherlands and Dr Alona Liasheva, Research Center for Eastern European Studies, University of Bremen, based in Lviv.

To write this article we have consulted with CEDOS, a social policy think tank based in Kyiv and active on housing issues, and also UNECE who is coordinating UN4Ukraine recommendations for recovery as well as Housing Europe, whose board has agreed to take an active role in providing technical assistance to assist to build a system for affordable housing provision. I also met with the Ukrainian Chamber of Architects in Madrid at the UIA’s AHA – they are determined to play a role – also in safe, adequate, affordable homes.