Ihor Liski, chairman of EFI Group and co-founder of the Ukrainian Institute for the Future
1. How do you envision Ukraine's post-war recovery? Where should the main efforts be directed?
I don't like the word "restoration". It means return to the previous form, the previous state of what was destroyed. We do not need to return to the period of 2014, nor to the beginning of a full-scale invasion. For a long time, we have been capitalising on the main achievements of the Soviet totalitarian country. Taking into account all the pros and cons, we learnt to survive. But do we really need to reconstruct this past?
In fact, I want to talk about modernisation, building something new. I believe that we now have a chance to design a country of a new quality. In my opinion, the main meaning, the foundation for rebuilding Ukraine is the people who fought for its freedom. They are the ones who should get a decent and qualitatively new standard of living and have a new country. The main value is a person, his or her well-being and the ability to fulfil their own potential. Therefore, I am convinced that we need to focus on creating innovative enterprises and modern infrastructure that will meet the needs of Ukrainians.
We have to raise social standards. We need to abandon the Soviet rules and approaches to urban development and adopt the most effective practices of modern urbanism. Ukrainians who were forced to move to European countries have experienced local standards of living and quality of services. Our IDPs have learnt what European schools and hospitals are like, a completely different approach.
Therefore, rebuilding destroyed Soviet-style businesses, schools and hospitals, which were of poor quality and inefficient, is a lost cause. We need to provide modern hospitals, developed cultural centres, and progressive educational institutions to bring our people back home. We need to take the best of the European experience and supplement it with Ukrainian achievements, digitalisation, speed of services, creativity and identity.
The new country project should focus on creating new growth points. Starting with the development of modern factories, production facilities, competitive enterprises and agglomerations, we must build infrastructure. Moving towards European standards means a new quality of life, not mindless imitation. It is important to apply a scientific approach and innovative urbanism to build something that is truly thoughtful and beneficial to Ukrainians. It is the rethinking that is important here. This also applies to the introduction of the principles of circular economy and resource efficiency, which should become the rule for businesses – they should be greener, not only comply with environmental standards, but also look for new solutions to conserve resources. There are examples of such successful projects in Ukraine. In particular, the fight against plastic has not only become an incentive to comply with standards, but has also developed into an innovative production of eco-friendly food packaging. Now our startup is actively exporting products and even creating special equipment and production lines.
We understand that schools and higher education institutions are not just a story for parents who want to work at a particular enterprise or in a region, because there is a place for children to study. It is important to create modern educational centres for economic development. Of course, an economically secure country needs qualified personnel throughout the production system. Only a sensible approach to building the country will make investments effective.
What will restore us and give us a chance to create our own future is a vibrant economy. We need to launch industrialisation, attract foreign investment, and do this through joint efforts of the entire country. Ukrainians have changed, and so has their vision of the future. We have begun to understand ourselves and our needs better, and we have identified our priorities. Yes, our partners who have not lost their humanity can help us, but we are the customer.
We are in a better place to see what we need help with, because we are the ones fighting, we are the ones living in this country. And I believe that we can regain subjectivity or even realise it only by focusing on ourselves. And the new vision of Ukraine's development and its recovery is based on this idea. Our task is to take responsibility and demand honest work from ourselves and from all members of society.
Let's be honest, what is our strength? Unity, humanity, and titanic efforts for the sake of freedom. I can hardly single out just one aspect. This war, like many others that our people had to overcome, will be recorded in the genetic memory of generations. But I see it as a chance to change the world. And it is not about luck or the help of other people or countries that will solve all our problems. No-one will really understand our experience and how we have changed and are changing. No-one has ever lived, worked, lost family or property in our conditions,, and no-one has ever been killed by corruption or saved by courage. That is why we are the only ones who need a strong Ukraine.
2. Which industries should drive the Ukrainian economy after the war?
There can be many drivers. The main thing is to determine how efficient you can be. What place should Ukraine take in the global economy? To answer this question, we need to do our homework, and maybe it will suit us.
We are currently exporting commodities, but we need to focus on maximising added value in the agricultural sector. My company did this, for example, with honey. For years, the country has been a leading exporter of raw materials. We have created a brand of high-quality Ukrainian honey and export it to 26 countries.
The same goes for large mineral deposits. It is vital for the country to modernise industries that work with raw materials, this is a rule of economic growth. Thus, developed industries also need to be modernised, involving new technological solutions, carbon footprint reduction practices, and green energy. We need to create a finished product in some industries or significantly improve it in others. Our metal can be used to make modern wagons, ships and cars, which will increase added value.
Export orientation, value-added products, and modern circular economy technologies are our difficult but only possible path. There are few examples of large-scale modern production facilities based on sustainable development and the circular economy in Ukraine, but they do exist. Feednova, a plant producing high-protein animal feed additives, has been in operation for over two years. It is not only about the impact on the country's export capacity, but also about the impact that such a plant has on the development of the entire industry.
Having more than 20 years of experience in attracting investment, I know that Ukraine can become an industrial platform for Europe and the world, replacing production from Russia and China.
Of course, we will focus on construction, as restoring enterprises and infrastructure is an important step. But here, too, we need to be more ambitious: modern materials, green technologies and, ultimately, effective results. When we talk about setting up such enterprises, we must not forget about energy, without which none of this is possible. Restoring the old energy system is simply dangerous. We need a transition to green energy. Using wind, solar and hydrogen will make the whole system more efficient. Finding a balance between new and nuclear energy is also an important task, as is gas production. In particular, increasing gas production will not only meet our own needs, but will also give us a chance to become an energy hub for Europe.
I am convinced that it is possible to set up an oil refinery in Ukraine. For example, we have good logistics capabilities in Odesa, a different type of oil (in particular, raw materials from the Middle East or even the US), and the experience of potential investors in implementing similar projects. This will give us even more independence from Russia and Belarus.
Our vast experience in the defence industry in the midst of the largest war of the 21st century is a chance to make this industry a key contributor to the development of the Ukrainian economy. I believe that this is a great driver for attracting investment and increasing the number and quality of technology companies. And most importantly, we will be able to fully provide our armed forces with the necessary equipment.
There are many drivers, but the main one is people who have already attracted investment and built Greenfield and Brownfield projects. When you talk to international partners, you realise how little they actually know about Ukrainian business. In particular, about our success stories, our ability to work in crisis conditions and during global challenges. The peculiarity is that investments are made in specific projects, in people who have a reliable reputation.
We have the resources and human potential to make such projects attractive to investors. Mechanical engineering, defence, integrated IT solutions, agriculture – this is the base. The key is to prepare the project well and work on long-term, transparent business relationships with our partners.
3. What are the main challenges in the post-war development of Ukraine?
It is easy to live with the idea that someone will come and make our country successful. It's a fairy tale: some mythical investors will come and shower us with money, we will spend it and live happily ever after. The main challenge for Ukrainians is to understand that there will be no easy way. Development is a hard way of hard work every day. On the other hand, accepting reality is also difficult. After all, there will be no messiah, no government, president or foreign politician who will make our dreams of a successful Ukraine come true.
The state is us, each of us in our place. And we are the ones who cannot allow anyone to steal our future, negligently do their job and hinder our development. Organisational efficiency of ourselves and the authorities is important at every level. Demanding that united territorial communities, the government, or the president care about the country and pay efforts to develop the country means being a full-fledged member of this state. I am convinced that this is what will make it possible to turn our ability to unite and defend our freedom into a brand of winners. This will then enhance our investment attractiveness and make it possible to live in a leading country.
In my opinion, it is also critical to restore trust in each other, in state institutions, and in the authorities. Yes, this is not an easy task. To do this, we need to change a lot of things. Starting from the HR policy, where we not only find the best managers and more efficient specialists, but also let them do their work, support and motivate them. Honest, transparent relations with the authorities go a long way. The demand for trust in society is very high and cannot be ignored. This applies to the honesty of officials, their efficiency, and the deadly corruption that affects all areas of life. Of course, the desire for quick wins and solutions can make all Ukrainians lose faith. But without trust, we will not bring back the people who have left. Neither will we keep those who want to stay.
People are the driver of the economy. And we need to create not only jobs, but also conditions for the return, life and development of our people. Having tasted all the benefits of Western infrastructure and living standards, Ukrainians are yet to decide to return. And they will do so not only because of their love for the country, but because of our joint actions for its development.
The lack of reforms can kill our victory. The desire to live in the old format, the flourishing of corruption – all this is feeding uncertainty, all this is killing our victory right now. Changing the vision is a profound necessity. That is why it is time not only to discuss it, but also to actually act.
We need to integrate veterans into society as much as possible. They should not feel abandoned. And the state, you and I, should give our soldiers the opportunity to set up their own businesses and get jobs at modern enterprises. Inclusion is crucial for Ukraine's recovery.
4. What should be the role of the state and the private sector on this path?
The state and the private sector need to hear each other and work towards a common goal, which is to achieve peace. Businesses know what is needed to attract investment easily, what needs to be changed and improved to attract foreign capital. Competition and transparent rules of the game are a win-win story for everyone. Of course, on the one hand, the role of the state should be minimal. But we, as a business, cannot completely separate ourselves from the state, we must be the customer for changes and comprehensive reforms.
We, as a society, are saying how to prepare for international investment and demand that this preparation be carried out. Stop playing with fakes. We have had enough of all these useless institutions, when there was only an imitation of work. We have seen how effective such self-deception is. Without a proper healthcare system, how many lives did we lose? We realised only through a hard blow how important the army, intelligence, and the defence industry as such are. The role of the state in the recovery process is to provide guidance. Yes, we all understand that a clear, well-defined strategy would help. But we can wait for a strategy for years. We are fighting for survival and peace now.
The main thing that society needs to see from the state is the reform of core institutions. Judicial reform, the priority of attracting international investment. And everyone should work on this. The private sector understands its needs and communicates them to the government. However, there should be synergy in addressing painful issues for the sake of efficiency, for the sake of clear and transparent interaction in society. I believe that our joint work will convince global investors to come to Ukraine.