Week 5: To Build Social Cohesion

I spent much of this week finishing first drafts of two pieces for an affinity group on social cohesion in Ukraine, one of five affinity group sessions moderated by my supervisor on justice sector reform in Ukraine. The affinity groups are meetings of top leaders, experts, and stakeholders on a particular issue relevant to justice sector reform. This past week, USIP hosted two affinity groups: one on War Crime Prosecution Strategy and the second on Military Justice. These were dynamic discussions between Ukrainian civil society members and foreign experts that aimed to give participants a real lay of the land when it comes to the particular sub-issues of justice sector reform. It’s been so engaging and educative to be a part of these rich discussions.

For the upcoming social cohesion affinity group, I am helping my supervisor define what the challenges to building strong social cohesion in Ukraine are/will be. Social cohesion is about the strength of relationships between different social groups and between society and authorities. It is measured by the levels of trust and reciprocity, the strength of civil society, and the competency of conflict management institutions in place. Strong social cohesion is necessary to secure internal peace once conflict ends.

While the Russian invasion and ongoing aggression in Ukraine has triggered an unprecedented strength of Ukrainian sense of national identity, the war has brought conditions in which societal rifts can spread. For example, Ukraine will have to figure out what they will do with Ukrainian collaborators, and particularly murky will be the question of how to treat public servants who continued their work in occupied territories under Russian military administration. There have been anecdotal reports of neighbors accusing neighbors, suspicion, and distrust in occupied neighborhoods as well.

There will also need to be efforts into how to integrate/reintegrate internally displaced persons, returnees, and veterans back into their communities once hostilities come to an end. There are millions of internally displaced whose homes have been destroyed by the fighting, refugees abroad who wish to return eventually, and millions of military fighters who will need psychological and social support.

These are just parts of Ukraine’s ongoing and foreseeable challenges to social cohesion. Fortunately, Ukraine’s civil society is quite strong, and many non-governmental organizations have been competently working to address these issues since Russia’s aggressions in 2014.