War in Ukraine: a country caught between a state of emergency, everyday life and ambitions for the future

Where does Ukraine stand around a year and a half after the start of the Russian war of aggression? What challenges do the economy, trade relations, logistics and supply chains in Ukraine and Eastern Europe face as a result? Experts from business, politics and academia discussed these issues at the second Ukraine Conference organized by the German Eastern Business Association (OA) and KLU – and all agreed that despite the serious consequences of the war, Ukraine is a functioning and country, ready to face the future, with considerable economic potential.

The President of KLU, Prof. Dr. Andreas Kaplan, and Prof. Dr. Peer Witten, member of the Executive Committee and spokesperson for the Logistics and Transport Infrastructure Working Group of OA, emphasized the close ties with Ukraine at the opening ceremony. The future of Ukraine lies in Europe – and possibly also in the European Union.

Reconstruction with Europe in mind

Dr. Iryna Tybinka, Consul General of Ukraine in Hamburg, emphasized the resilience and adaptability of her compatriots in her keynote speech. "Ukraine is doing everything it can to become a trigger for good news," she said. Despite continued high inflation and destroyed infrastructure, international organizations expect Ukraine's economy to grow this year, with the country's ongoing digitalization also contributing to this.

This is about more than just reconstruction – the goal is the complete transformation of the country and reconstruction in line with the principles of the EU. Ukraine has high hopes that the planned conference on the reconstruction of Ukraine on June 23, 2024 in Berlin will provide the necessary support. "I would like to call on you once again to invest in Ukraine, to work together with Ukraine, to believe in Ukraine and in their own strength," she said.

Dr. Melanie Leonhard, Senator for Economics and Innovation of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, also turned her attention to the Berlin conference. "The EU and its member states are determined to help rebuild Ukraine as a free, stable and economically strong country. We want to make our contribution." Nevertheless, the loss of Russia as a trading partner continues to affect logistics and transportation between Europe and Asia. "It is precisely because of the traditional relationships that Hamburg has in foreign trade with Central and Eastern Europe that we are well positioned to deal with all these difficult issues of overcoming supply chain challenges."

Seizing opportunities

The subsequent panel with Dr. Iryna Tybinka, Dr. Malte Heyne (Managing Director of the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce) and Harald Nikutta (Managing Director of Control Risks Gmbh) took another look at logistics and business in times of war. "Companies need to show a clear edge," demanded Harald Nikutta, Managing Director of Control Risk GmbH. Many German companies are still heavily involved in Russia. From the Ukrainian point of view, this cooperation and the commitment of some companies to remain permanently active in Russia is unacceptable. He encouraged German companies to get a picture of the situation for themselves on the ground and "to think in terms of feasibility; this also includes exceptions. What did I take away from my trips there? An enormous willingness to adapt, great opportunities to make contacts now and the chance to rethink business approaches."

No reconstruction without infrastructure

The second panel discussion was dedicated to supply chain management and the situation of supply chains to Eastern Europe and Ukraine. In addition to the lack of infrastructure, the long waiting times at border crossings, in particular the current blockade at the Polish-Ukrainian border, are particularly challenging. Thomas Fiedler, Forwarding Manager at dls Land und See Speditionsgesellschaft, emphasized that improvements are urgently needed here. Philip Sweens (HHLA) and Per Brodersen (German Agribusiness Alliance) called for an improvement in Ukraine's transport connections, particularly in the rail sector. After all, Ukraine itself is still an interesting economic partner.

Ivan Lugovoi, Assistant Professor of Medical and Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Management at KLU and himself a native of Ukraine, agreed with this view: "I would see the current situation as an opportunity, and not just view Ukraine as a supplier of agricultural goods or raw materials." Ukrainians are hard-working people, very intelligent, and there is now a young generation with many opportunities.

"Without infrastructure, the reconstruction of Ukraine will not be possible from the European side," said Marina Basso Michael, Regional Director Europe (Hamburg Port Marketing e.V.). "Before reconstruction can begin, even if the Ukrainians need these funds, we must first play firefighter on the European side and provide money so that the infrastructure is in place and reconstruction can begin."

At the end of the conference, Michael Harms, Managing Director of the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, made an appeal: "Promises of billions and declarations of solidarity are important. But pragmatic implementation with common sense and simple instruments is also important. We can do better in this respect."