• Thu. May 19th, 2022

How the Ukraine Support Group reinvented itself hours after the Russian invasion

ByJulie J. Helfer

May 4, 2022

Direct commission (the European Commission’s internal magazine) recently interviewed Katarína Mathernová, Deputy Director General of DG NEARand Head of the Support Group for Ukraine (SGUA).

If you scroll down to the “Ukraine” page on the Europa Neighborhood Policy page, you will find two lines that define the SGUA:

“The Support Group for Ukraine (SGUA) was established by decision of the President of the European Commission in April 2014. The European Commission supports the political and economic reforms needed to consolidate a democratic, independent, united and prosperous Ukraine.

Katarína Mathernová adds more concretely thatit was created following the 2014 invasion of parts of Ukraine by Russia. The group is composed of DG NEAR staff and seconded experts from various DGs; they each bring their respective areas of expertise. The idea is to support Ukrainian reforms on a wide range of subjects such as justice, decentralization or border management.

“Amazing reaction”

Then came February 24 of this year. Suddenly, Russian troops attacked Ukraine from all directions. How did the Group react? She explains: “It has affected us all, personally and professionally. As President von der Leyen said: “Russia is waging a cruel and ruthless war also against the civilian population of Ukraine.” Within hours, colleagues from the Support Group and the EU Delegation were in touch with our implementing partners and grantees across the country. Their reaction has been astonishing: the vast majority of them wanted to stay on the ground and redirect their efforts to help protect Ukraine and its local communities, and thus redirect the existing funds available to emergency needs..”​​

“The Russian invasion has affected us all, personally and professionally.

However, reallocating allocated EU funds can be complicated and time-consuming. Not for the Ukraine Support Group, not when that country finds itself overrun by foreign troops.

“Within a few days, we were able to identify a handful of projects where the emergency needs were covered by the very design of the initial projects. The best example is our successful decentralization project, ULEAD, which, among other things, has supported building the resilience of local communities. This allowed us to reallocate funds immediately. Then, we focused on the adoption of a rapid financing decision, with the support of the central services of the Commission, to redirect all the other programs, according to the needs expressed by our partners: creation of refuges for Ukrainians displaced inside the country, support for local NGOs and the media, the setting up of makeshift hospitals, the organization of logistics and even mobile hygiene equipment.

In total, more than 100 million euros will have been reallocated, as announced by President von der Leyen during her recent visit to Kyiv.

An important point that she underlinedthis is how the Ukrainian authorities function well, despite the incessant bombardments from Russia and the millions of civilians on the roads “The Office of the President is functioning, the Cabinet of Ministers is functioning, Parliament is functioning, local authorities are functioning, civil society is very active. And do you know why ? Because the whole country has rallied to their fight for freedom and existence as a nation. And the courage and motivation of President Zelensky play a big role in this.”

A wide range of aids

And the support group since? It has been busy functioning as a clearinghouse for all inquiries from the Ukrainian government. But it’s not the only one. Other Commission services are also busy: DG ECFIN provided rapid macro-financial support, DG ECHO supports humanitarian actors and provides a lot of emergency material, DG TRADE and MOVE have played their part in ensuring that the help reaches Ukraine quickly, DG HOME provided rapid legislative support to millions of Ukrainian refugees in the Member States. And many other Commission services are directly affected.

A new assistance package is being finalized right now, consolidating the 2021 and 2022 bilateral allocations into one big pot. The aim will be to support internally displaced Ukrainians, local reconstruction and other emergency needs, as well as cyber resilience and countering the massive disinformation that has been such an important part of this military aggression.

After discussing the immediate future of the Support Group’s activities, one could imagine that the interview would end here, but it will not end the presentation before insisting on one last point: “The update on disinformation and propaganda warfare is important. In Europe, in the world and also within the EU institutions. Even before the war, Russia actively spread false narratives about Ukraine. They do it again, convincing large sections of the population on all continents that they are organizing a “special operation to liberate Ukraine from the fascists”. For the sake of millions of Ukrainian civilians, we must not fall into the trap of Putin’s disinformation machine!”