February 24 marks 12 months since Russia launched its full-scale, illegal, inhumane invasion of Ukraine.
Russia’s ongoing war of aggression is not only an assault against a sovereign country but against democracy everywhere. This has not stopped Ukraine from moving further toward the European family of democracies, setting an example for democratic progress in the region and beyond.
In the early days of the invasion, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development; the U.S. State Department’s Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; Global Affairs Canada; and the United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office, worked tirelessly to provide rapid, critical support to its partners from civil society, government, and academia. IFES has maintained a continuous presence in Ukraine since the invasion began to ensure our work would continue without interruption.
Ukraine has needed to withstand not just missiles but bombardment in the cyber domain as well. IFES’s work has included cybersecurity and operational assistance to key government bodies to safeguard the nation’s electoral infrastructure and to ensure continuity of governance even through war.
Persons with disabilities have been disproportionately affected by the hostilities. IFES has worked with organizations supporting persons with disabilities to evacuate nearly 1,000 persons with disabilities and immediate family members from cities under attack to secure locations and assisted hundreds of persons with disabilities and immediate family members with specialists, temporary housing, medicine, food, and personal hygiene products.
Through its partnership with Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and 60 universities and colleges throughout the country that offer IFES’s civic education course, IFES provided support to educators and students on educational resilience through war. Thousands of students deepened their knowledge and skills around democratic citizenship in shelters and through air sirens over the past year. When surveyed, 84 percent of students noted that IFES’s civic education course helped them learn ways to be active in helping to rebuild and strengthen Ukraine. One student noted, “We develop the skills throughout our small project, such as the assistance to shelters, but the same skills can be used to help all citizens of Ukraine.”
Responding to the forced displacement of millions of Ukrainians within and beyond Ukraine, IFES engaged its regional civil society networks that have championed the electoral and political rights of Ukraine’s internally displaced over the past year to support widespread informational campaigns to inform recently displaced Ukrainians of their rights and services in various locations.
Looking ahead, IFES is prioritizing support for Ukraine’s continued democratic and electoral progress to ensure that a primary pillar of democracy—elections—will be inclusive, free, and fair once Ukraine has secured victory. This includes working with Ukraine’s Central Election Commission, the National Agency on Corruption Prevention, lawmakers, and civil society to enfranchise millions of displaced Ukrainian voters and to further political finance transparency and accountability.
As noted in a recent article for the Atlantic Council by IFES’s Peter Erben and Gio Kobakhidze, ”Ukraine must not only win the war but also win the peace.” Continued democratic resilience will be key to winning this peace and fundamental to Ukraine’s continued trajectory toward joining the European Union.
The courage Ukrainians have shown in their commitment to freedom makes the nation a beacon for democracy around the world. To uphold the rule of law, human rights, and democratic values, Ukraine’s partners must continue to support not only Ukraine’s military goals but also its democratic ambitions. This increased support must happen now in order to lay strong foundations for continued democratic progress after victory.
IFES has stood, stands, and will continue to stand with Ukraine on this journey.