Newsletter February | 2024

Two years of war:
GFA STANDS BY THE PEOPLE OF UKRAINE

Editorial

Anja Desai (Managing Director)

On 24 February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine in an escalation of the Crimea annexation and the armed conflict in Donbas since 2014. The invasion, exactly two years ago, is the largest attack on a European country since World War II, causing tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilian and hundreds of thousands of military casualties. About eight million Ukrainians have been internally displaced and more than another eight million have fled the country, creating Europe's largest refugee crisis since World War II. Beyond the sheer shock of war and human rights atrocities, the Russian invasion has sparked an unprecedented humanitarian and mental health crisis for the Ukrainian people. Two years on from the invasion and ten years after the protests of Euromaidan, we present in this edition of GFA’s newsletter some of the brave and determined work GFA has been privileged to carry out with our colleagues and partners in Ukraine.

And this edition is more than just an overview of our current projects in Ukraine, with which we are helping to improve the acute living conditions of the population affected by the war. From different health services to water supply and cyber security, our work on the ground also addresses future issues such as reconstruction, the integration of refugees and the country's turn towards the European Union. All of these topics and projects illustrate our stance that real solidarity is demonstrated in concrete work, in direct, trusting contact with the people on the ground. Therefore, I would like to thank all those GFA staff members in Ukraine and Germany who have not only dedicated their efforts and expertise to the implementation of projects in Ukraine under the most challenging circumstances, but who have supported Ukrainian colleagues and their families to evacuate and re-establish themselves in different European countries right from the beginning of the Russian aggression. Their engagement has gone far beyond their ‘normal’ job obligations and has often extended into substantial private engagement.

In this context, I would also like to mention the Professional Initiative for the Psycho-Social Support of Victims of War of GFA BRIDGES, in which GFA staff every year identify and implement projects that are then financed and supported by the company. In 2022 and 2023, the GFA BRIDGES team supported the Mental Health Program for Ukraine with more than EUR 41,000 for the ongoing training of psychotherapists and psychosocial support for victims of war. This initiative is well connected with the mental health project in Ukraine funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). You will find more information on the SDC project in this newsletter.

In globally challenging times like these, social cohesion and civil cooperation are more important than ever. This is why we gave the newsletter the title: “GFA stands by the people of Ukraine”: We as a company and as individual experts strive to contribute to Ukraine’s peace, recovery and future prosperity in the European family of nations.

WORKING TOWARDS THE RECOVERY OF A WAR-TORN COUNTRY

Dr Victoria Jennett | victoria.jennett@gfa-group.de
©Tasha Art | istockphoto

Through its staff and projects, GFA has long had individual and professional ties to Ukraine. As Europeans, colleagues and partners, GFA personnel is committed to supporting the country’s path to peace, prosperity and EU accession.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine not only affects the military and the country’s infrastructure, but first and foremost the people of Ukraine. Civilians live under the stress of constantly fearing for their lives, they suffer from human rights abuses and displacement, as well as attacks on civilian infrastructure that deprives them of food, water, heat and electricity. Since the beginning of the war, GFA has adapted ongoing projects implemented on behalf of a range of donors to respond to peoples’ needs. At the same time, GFA has prioritized the safety and care of its national and international experts who are working across the country.

Cross-departmental Europe/Ukraine portfolio focusing on Ukraine

At its headquarters in Hamburg, GFA has set up a cross-departmental Europe/Ukraine portfolio focusing on Ukraine that pools GFA´s expertise across essential sectors of service provision including governance, energy and water, sanitation and waste management. The portfolio also covers EU accession countries such as Moldova, Georgia, and countries of the Western Balkans. This ensures that GFA´s approach to Ukraine’s preparation for joining the European Union can draw on and learn from the experiences of other countries at different stages of their EU accession path. In Kyiv, GFA has posted a dedicated project liaison person, Iryna Lupashko. She supports the company’s work with Ukrainian authorities, international donors and local partners and experts so they and GFA understand and respond to Ukraine’s needs. Iryna Lupashko presents herself in the interview below.

In this newsletter, GFA highlights a selection of ongoing projects and reflects on challenges raised by implementing projects during an active war. Despite the hardships, GFA experts and their local partners have come up with innovations and solutions to achieve projects’ objectives and the aspirations of the Ukrainian people. The EU cyber-security project supports cyber defense systems of Ukraine and neighboring countries. The ICRC water project helps build a sustainable and resilient water supply system in Mykolaiv. The Just Energy Transition project that GFA is implementing on behalf of GIZ facilitates the Ukrainian government’s policy of phasing out of coal mining. EU- and Swiss-funded projects foster the mental health of citizens affected by the war.

GFA´s project experience in Ukraine

In addition to our current projects, GFA has a range of project experience in Ukraine including areas such as public administration reform, private sector development, EU accession alignment, energy efficiency, public financial management and regional development. Here are some highlights:

International Ukraine Recovery Conference (URC24)

Together with Ukraine, Germany will host the international Ukraine Recovery Conference (URC24) in Berlin on 11-12 June, 2024. GFA supports URC24, which offers companies the opportunity to present their commitment and get in touch with Ukrainian partners.

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"Dedicated to building on GFA’s vast experience in war-affected countries"

Iryna Lupashko | iryna.lupashko@gfa-group.de
Iryna Lupashko, GFA project liaison person in Ukraine

Iryna Lupashko is the GFA project liaison person in Ukraine where she prepares the ground for projects across all areas of GFA’s expertise. She also maintains the network of the company’s highly valued local experts, partners and key local and international stakeholders. Iryna Lupashko is an expert in private sector development (PSD) and will continue to work as a consultant in this field. In this interview, she provides some insights into her motivation and daily tasks.

Iryna, why did you decide to work in your new role in war-affected Ukraine?

The decision to become GFA’s project liaison person in Ukraine in addition to my work as a PSD consultant was both a personal and professional calling. My profound connection to Ukraine, combined with my experience in private sector development, has equipped me with a unique perspective and a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities in Ukraine right now.

What is particularly important to you in this work?

What is important to me is the potential to make a tangible difference in the lives of the Ukrainian people. By facilitating international development projects and providing technical assistance, I aim to contribute to the rebuilding and strengthening of local communities, economies, and infrastructures. It's about creating a bridge between the needs of war-affected regions and the global support that can help them recover and flourish.

What exactly are your tasks?

As a GFA’s project liaison and PSD consultant, my primary tasks involve conducting thorough pre-acquisition research to identify potential projects that align with GFA's expertise and the specific needs of different sectors in Ukraine. This includes analyzing market trends, identifying cooperation opportunities, and understanding the complex socio-political dynamics at play. I am also responsible for building and maintaining relationships with national and local partners, experts, and stakeholders in key areas such as private sector development, energy efficiency, good governance, the water sector and other priority sectors. In essence, my work is about being at the forefront of GFA's efforts to contribute to Ukraine's recovery and development. I do my best to ensure that we are not just participants but active contributors to the resilience and prosperity of the country, leveraging our extensive global experience and knowledge.

The key to managing this complexity lies in our ability to leverage local insights and expertise, allowing us to build strong, collaborative relationships with local partners who are essential to our projects' success.

Iryna Lupashko

The project topics that GFA takes on in Ukraine are very diverse. How difficult is it to coordinate and implement all of these projects under the current circumstances?

GFA currently implements a number of projects in Ukraine, covering sectors such as health, cyber security, digitalization, water sector reform and so on. The key to managing this complexity lies in our ability to leverage local insights and expertise, allowing us to build strong, collaborative relationships with local partners who are essential to our projects' success. These partnerships enable us to navigate the logistical, regulatory, and security challenges that come with working in war-affected areas. At the same time, they ensure that we can adapt our strategies in real-time to meet the evolving needs on the ground.

What helpful skills and experiences do you personally bring with you from your previous work?

In Ukraine, I have collaborated closely with stakeholders at all levels, including national, regional, and local governmental bodies, international organizations such as GIZ, EU, EBRD, UNDP, OECD, or USAID, civil society, and the business community to support systemic, smart changes for a more business-friendly environment. My efforts have focused on strengthening this environment through capacity-building measures for the private sector, developing programs, concepts, and standards, aiding in the development of the national legal framework, and promoting access to knowledge and finance.

How do you see yourself – and GFA – positioned to meet the challenges ahead?

GFA has vast experience in implementing projects in war-affected countries like Afghanistan and Iraq as well as helping countries throughout the Western Balkans in their transition to democracy and getting prepared for EU accession. We are dedicated to building upon this experience. GFA's portfolio spans hundreds of projects worldwide, each upheld by our commitment to deliver high-quality results. Our work is well-regarded locally and receives commendations from final beneficiaries, official authorities and donors. This positive perception underscores our efforts not only to meet but exceed expectations, ensuring satisfaction among all our partners.

Thank you, Iryna. All the best for your work and take care of yourself!

BLOOD DONATION FOR NATIONAL SECURITY

Mohammed Abouelfarag | mohammed.abouelfarag@gfa-group.de
Mural from artist Hamlet Zinkivskyi

In Europe, blood and blood products are often just sufficient to cover demand, but the act of blood donation never receives much attention. In Ukraine, however, blood donation has become an act of supporting national security as a result of the full-scale war.

GFA has been supporting the Ukrainian blood management system since 2019 through the EU-funded Support to Ukraine for Developing a Modern Public Health System project. The GFA team of national and international experts is working from Kyiv and abroad to support the Ministry of Health and the Ukrainian Center for Transplant Coordination (UTCC) in their efforts not only to keep the system operational but to get it ready for EU accession. GFA consultants work on structural reforms, a keystone of which is restructuring and ensuring the country’s operational capability of the blood system´s infrastructure. In addition, they are actively assisting in the alignment of Ukraine's blood management system with pertinent EU directives. Notably, GFA experts contributed significantly to the development of the Law on Blood Safety in September 2020. The war has also provided a big push towards advancing the full digitization of the blood management IT system, which the GFA team is actively supporting. It comprises elements for blood donation and management such as electronic donor registry, planning and mobilization. The project is supporting the transitioning from a paid blood donation system to voluntary and non-remunerated EU standard.

To ensure a constant supply of blood, the local partners with the support of the project team have developed a campaign called "Your blood can fight. Become a donor". Central to its narrative is a mural on the gate of a shelled house in the center of Kharkiv. Artist Hamlet Zinkivskyi (Instagram) created it after he donated blood for the front. The author granted the right to use his work for the project campaign, hoping that it would inspire others to donate. The mural is part of the opening sequence of the project donation campaign.

CYBER-SECURITY EAST PROJECT COMPLETED AMIDST SEVERE CRISES

Sascha Kuhn | sascha.kuhn@gfa-group.de
Speaker Yuliia Volkova at the State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine (SSSCIP), ©GFA

The GFA-led project supporting cyber governance in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine has come to a successful conclusion despite multiple challenges like the Corona pandemic and the Russian Invasion in Ukraine.

Cyber-attacks are increasingly common and ranked among the top security threats worldwide. Phishing, ransomware and malware attacks are used by cyber-criminals as much as state actors – be it for extorting money or paralyzing defense systems and critical service infrastructure. Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus were no exception.

In late 2019, the EU launched the Cybersecurity East Project to support cybersecurity governance in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Four years later, the GFA-led project has come to a successful conclusion even though the GFA team and its partners were up against severe challenges. Covid-19 hit right at the start, Armenia and Azerbaijan engaged in an armed conflict, and above all, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine fundamentally changed the context in which the project had to operate. Belarus, originally among the partner countries, was excluded in response to the authorities’ brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters in 2020.

Yet, the project kept delivering. It has assisted governments in their efforts to align legal and policy frameworks with international standards such as the EU Network and Information Security Directive, and to improve specific operational capabilities regarding swift responses to cyber-attacks. To this end, the project team has used direct consultancy, trainings and certified on-site/online courses to support specialized staff from governmental Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs), Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRT), and critical services and infrastructure providers. Related personnel has had a chance to learn and better contribute to their organizations’ cyber resilience. In addition, the GFA team has conducted cyber awareness and cyber hygiene activities, i.e. security-oriented thinking and behavior that private individuals and employees in organizations should internalize in order to contain potential threats from the Internet and prevent exposure to cyber-attacks before they unleash havoc.

Sascha Kuhn, GFA Project Director

PROJECT RESULTS IN UKRAINE

Counting on years of good cooperation with Ukrainian partners, the project quickly resumed its support after the Russian invasion in February 2022. Ever since, 220 Ukrainian cyber practitioners have participated in trainings and the capacities of 62 public institutions, operators of essential services and companies have been improved. Local experts have applied change processes through remote consultations. GFA has provided management consultancy to the National Security and Defense Council and supported the establishment of virtual training and testing environments. Together with their Ukrainian partners, they have developed key policy documents on critical infrastructure and facilitated international exchange with a view to support European integration. The latter included the EU-Ukraine Cyber Dialogue, steering committee meetings of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence and European Union Agency for Cybersecurity conferences.

MENTAL HEALTH AS A CENTRAL PILLAR OF GOOD HEALTH

Heiko Königstein | heiko.koenigstein@gfa-group.de
Continuing cooperation between MH4U and the provincial administration of Rivne during project phase 2, ©MH4U/GFA

The war in Ukraine has increased the need for mental health care. Despite the challenges posed by war, the Mental Health for Ukraine (MH4U) project, funded by Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC) has been making progress by contributing to the reform of the Ukrainian mental health system.

The MH4U project has been assisting the reform of the Ukrainian mental health system since 2019 as part of the Ukrainian government’s overall health sector improvements. As the project is now entering its second phase (2024 – 2028), activities have been aligned to the challenges of a country at war that have led to an unprecedented level of mental health needs. Women have lost husbands, children have lost fathers, and the armed conflict is putting great stress on all segments of the population. GFA and its partners have supported the government by training health care and social care professionals in the public system in modern mental health treatment methods. At the same time, they have enhanced access to new community-based mental health service models by piloting mental health centers, and have supported living services across cities and communities. For example, in December 2023 a house for assisted living was opened in the city of Pereyaslav in the Kyiv region. Instead of living in a neuropsychiatric clinic, ten people can now live in a safe environment close to home that is supported by qualified caregivers. For people with mental disorders, this is an opportunity to settle as independently and actively as possible, to learn to look after themselves, and to run a household.

MH4U as contributor to a national forum for psychosocial care, ©MH4U/GFA

The war has led the GFA team to adapt some of the project activities to providing short-term, needs-based support to beneficiaries with strong civil society engagement and to setting up and improving the provision of war-specific mental health and psychosocial support. These measures target individuals in front-line territories, families of military personnel, and first responders, including proposals for local and national standards for mental health as well as psychosocial support (MHPSS) and direct support for affected individuals and families.

Video clips on various mental health-related topics are accessible on social media channels, for example this one on stress and resilience in war times: “Afford Life: How to overcome stress and be resilient”:

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In addition, public talks on mental health issues help people deal with delayed life, constant stress and their own emotions, and learn exercises to build resilience.

More videos on project activities can be found on YouTube, more information on the project website and Facebook (Ukrainian).

Study: CLEAN AND SAFE WATER SUPPLY – A LIFELINE FOR MYKOLAIV

An irrigation canal and one of the two points of water intake from it for Mykolaiv city, ©GFA

Initiating important interventions amidst the challenges posed by the war in Ukraine, GFA carried out a diagnosis study to analyze the current status of the Mykolaiv Vodokanal's water supply system and to recommend areas for improvement.

Almost two years ago, Mykolaiv – a major shipbuilding port on the Black Sea between Odesa and Cherson – came under attack by Russian Armed Forces in the war on Ukraine. In November 2023, GFA completed a comprehensive diagnosis study of the city’s entire water supply system to fortify water supply resilience and improve the overall capacity of Mykolaiv Vodokanal, the operator of the system. The examination, funded by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), prepares the ground for ICRC plans to extend its support beyond repairing current damage to a more long-term, holistic and structured approach.

The primary objective of the study was to gain an understanding of the city's water supply infrastructure, its integral components, and the operational processes managed by Mykolaiv Vodokanal. This comprehensive examination of the system’s weaknesses was crucial for laying the groundwork to propose effective measures and project proposals for the short to medium term. The broader goal of ICRC is to optimize the impact of its activities to prepare the water utility for future challenges.

One of the pumping stations of the city's water supply network, ©GFA

A dedicated GFA team of both international and local experts worked together in the face of the humanitarian crisis in Mykolaiv to gather data, examine available documentation, undertake a comprehensive field visit to collect missing data, and pinpoint the city’s most pressing needs. The study mapped the water supply system’s organizational structure, assessed information systems, and provided a detailed diagnostic report of the existing infrastructure and key facilities within the water supply system.

Building on the findings of the diagnostic study, GFA consultants have recently also developed a detailed overview of donor activities in Mykolaiv city. The project team, together with the personnel from Mykolaiv Vodokanal, have formulated priority and medium-term projects that establish a clear framework and guidelines to enhance Mykolaiv Vodokanal's operations.

In these turbulent times of conflict and uncertainty, the unwavering commitment of the GFA team is a beacon of hope that delivers tangible solutions and will provide Mykolaiv's residents with access to an essential resource – clean and safe water.

Dijana Delic, Project Manager

ADJUSTING HEALTH CARE PROVISION DURING WAR TIMES

Dr Juma Khudonazarov | juma.khudonazarov@gfa-group.de
Mobile Medical Team training: From April to December 2023, 42,823 people received medical and psychological services and necessary medications from 10 mobile teams in Dnipropetrovsk, Lviv, Poltava, and Rivne regions. ©SDG/Project

Since the onset of the war in Ukraine, the SDC-funded Act4Health project has added new activities to meet the needs of patients and institutions providing health care and health education in this challenging environment. New service models have been adopted, and existing services reshaped.

The Act4Health project, started in 2020, aims at reducing risk factors for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases. It is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, NCDs were estimated to account for 86% of annual deaths in Ukraine. The project not only works to improve health care services for people at risk of or living with NCDs, but also provides funds and expertise to promote healthy behavior of men and women. This includes improving school meals served to students, introducing workplace-based health programs and nationwide health education campaigns. An example for a short video ad from the Guard your Heart campaign can be screened on YouTube.

Ever since the war broke out, the Act4Health project team has supported new service models and reshaped existing services related to health care and health education in a challenging environment. With the “Leave no one behind” principle in mind, the project supported the Ministry of Health of Ukraine in achieving the SDG targets through medical mobile teams providing medical and psychosocial services as well as medications and home-based care for chronically ill patients and elderly people that are less mobile. From April to December 2023, about 43,000 people have been reached in the Dnipropetrovsk, Lviv, Poltava, and Rivne regions, while about 4,000 patients and their families have received home-based care. In the following video, the Act4Health team and its partners share summaries and results of each initiative.

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Given the resilience of the Ukrainian population in wartime, many project activities remain to be carried out as initially intended including those for children and young people. In collaboration with local partners, the Act4Health team continues to work on changing the school nutrition system to ensure Ukrainian children consume healthy food of good quality. At the end of 2023, the Strategy for School Nutrition Reform until 2027 has been adopted by the Cabinet of Ministers. A short YouTube clip shows how the project improves nutrition in schools and ensures that qualified school nurses are available.

The work with and in schools is complemented by a training program for physical education teachers that was developed to make physical education classes even more beneficial, engaging, inclusive, and effective for children. Despite the war, the health and education system has been taking steps forward to ensure the health and well-being of the Ukrainian population. More information (Ukrainian) on the entire scope of activities can be found on the project website.

Art Therapy and Hibuki Therapy in Libraries. ©SDG/Project

SUPPORTING STRUCTURAL CHANGE IN UKRAINIAN COAL REGIONS

Ievgenii Cherviachenko | ievgenii.cherviachenko@gfa-group.de
Old coal factory, ©GIZ

Amidst the challenges posed by the war in Ukraine, GIZ contracted GFA to provide vital support in the nation's energy transition. GFA crafted a national Just Transition Strategy that offers training and capacity building for stakeholders to fortify territorial plans and project implementation.

The Ukrainian government remains committed to making its international contribution to decarbonization and the phasing-out of coal production despite massive infrastructure destruction and energy challenges in the wake of the Russian invasion. At the same time, it aims at safeguarding an economically and socially just transition for the five regions directly affected by the phasing-out of coal production, as their labor market, manufacturing industry and economy are still highly dependent on this sector.

In the context of the Just Transition Ukraine project (2021-2024), a GFA team of experts started providing technical assistance based on European transition experiences in 2022. This assistance includes developing a methodology for just transition strategies, emphasizing stakeholder engagement and supporting interventions. GFA advises key actors, prioritizes transition projects, and formulates recommendations for a national Just Transition Strategy aligned with EU accession goals. The GFA team facilitates dialogues at the national level and proposes guidelines for all Ukrainian coal regions. Additionally, the team supports stakeholder engagement, networking and capacity building, connecting stakeholders with relevant organizations, and facilitating working groups. GFA experts also provide tailored trainings and relevant toolboxes for stakeholders at various levels to create a national pool of experts on structural change processes.

More information about the project on GIZ website.

Contact: Silke Bahn, Project Manager