The war against Ukraine is only a few days old and yet it is already showing its ugliest face. Endless suffering, dead, injured; dreams and hopes destroyed. In addition to irreparable human losses, the economic and infrastructural devastation of this war in the heart of Europe is already enormous.

Numerous important infrastructure facilities, dozens of schools, hospitals, bridges, airports (as in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Vinnytsia, Dnipro, and elsewhere), train stations (Zaporizhzhia-2), thousands of kilometres of roads and rail tracks and thousands of residential buildings have been destroyed or damaged along with the world’s largest aircraft, the famous AN225. In total, according to Ukrainian Ministry of Interior, 230 transport infrastructure facilities have been destroyed so far. According to estimates, the losses already amount to more than 100 billion USD; half of the country’s economy is at a standstill – the IMF echoes these assessments/

Municipalities are under an unprecedented stress just to maintain basic services for the population. At the same time ­­in Central and Western Ukrainian cities are accommodating large numbers of internally displaced persons both for long-term and for short-term, en route to EU countries. 

Challenges and potential approaches on national and regional level 

Regional and global level challenges are affecting Ukraine but also many other countries:

  • Even (and hopefully) if only temporary, Ukraine will most likely be almost completely dependent on transit to the west (PL, RO, HU, SK) if the blockade of Odesa continues; the eastern parts of the country are closed off (at whatever line), trade with Russia and Belarus will be very limited.
  • Long-distance connections by train / road are considerably restricted, freight rates are becoming more expensive.
  • Europe's "eastern" access via Belarus and Ukraine is already or will be largely closed. This increases the dependence on shipping routes via the Suez Canal or Turkey/Iran. Rail connections from China to Europe are shut down.
  • Ukraine is one of the largest wheat exporters for countries in the global South countries (8% of wheat exported); interruption or disruption can have significant consequences also for the global South.

Ukraine's importance for international food supplies is coming into focus; trade flows will shift significantly. Ukrainian Railways (UZ) reports, for example, that, “Almost 95% of agricultural products were exported through the sea commercial ports of Ukraine. Currently, only two of Ukraine’s ports – Izmail and Reni – are able to reload cargo for export, though only in small quantities. In February 2022, 2.9 million tons of grain were loaded, which is 37.4% more than in February 2021. For 11 days in March 2022, 100.2 thousand tons of grain were loaded, which is 87% less than in the same period last year.”

In the short term, it is necessary to strengthen the handling capacities of the Ukrainian railways as well as the border points and the corresponding road capacities. The UZ has calculated the capacity of freight wagon traffic via different border points; here, different transport scenarios depending on factors such as agricultural development should be kept in mind and traffic flows should be monitored.

It has become clear that over the long term, the Ukrainian transport system needs to be significantly adjusted. In addition to reducing dependence on access to the Black Sea, this also means a greater diversification of transport routes via Western Europe. This requires improving the infrastructural preconditions, including the rerouting of central railway connections, the improvement of road connections, an increase in the efficiency of border crossing points as well as the promotion of modern logistics solutions. UZ has already initiated this process and invites investors to set up logistics facilities in Lviv and Transcarpathia regions. An important building block here can be the re-construction / re-gauging from broad gauge to Euro tracks (1435 mm) to central locations in Ukraine in order to facilitate logistics and to reduce costs.

Furthermore, considerable interruptions and disruptions of the energy supply are to be expected both in terms of electricity and liquid fuels. On the energy side, it is therefore necessary to further reduce dependence on imported fuels. The focus must be on the further expansion of public transport, better conditions for walking and cycling and a renewal of the vehicle fleet towards energy-efficient electric vehicles using renewable energies. This is, of course, a medium and long-term perspective; the focus now is on conservation and immediate reconstruction.

Challenges and potential approaches on local level

This is clearly evident in the cities of Ukraine. In the embattled cities of Kharkiv, Mariupol, Kyiv, and more, considerable destruction of traffic routes and means of transport is already visible: "Kharkiv's tram depot after the Russian attacks:" The exact extent of the damage is hardly foreseeable.

But even non-embattled cities are facing major challenges due to a significant influx of internally displaced persons (combined with rising expenses), dwindling revenues due to reduced economic activities, a dwindling supply of spare parts, and so on. Let us look briefly at Lviv and Rivne:

1. Both cities are accepting huge numbers of IDPs and act as hubs for the distribution of IDPs and refugees. By information of the Lviv city mayor, the city has taken more than 200,000 new people in addition to it's normal population of about 750,000 and is likely to reach 1 million, with many newcomers coming by cars and using the cars to run errands. This leads to drastic increase in modal share of cars and congestion.

2. City budgets revenues are falling sharply; as a result, many city council employees are sent on non-paid leaves of one to two weeks and city employees' salaries are reduced for the entire staff.

3. The city's regular public transport services are reduced. Lviv has reduced from approx. 650 units [trams, buses, trolleybuses] in daily services to approx. 300 units, and Rivne, from 230 to 60. Many buses belonging to municipal and private operators are used for refugee evacuation and mobilized for the provision of transportation to the defense forces. In addition, diesel reserves are depleted and commercial cost for fuel skyrockets, spare parts and bus drivers are in short supply.

4. Lviv is providing evacuation buses (taken from regular services) between the station and the border – 70 bus trips per day – fully funded by the municipal bus company. In Rivne, 30 buses are removed from regular services to provide evacuation.

5. The supply of spare parts for tram and trolley networks and rolling stock is depleted in Ukraine as many producers are located in East and South of Ukraine and there is a break in the usual supply routes.

6. Since March 2022, Lviv has experienced increased congestion (above regular), parking violations and abandoned cars. The trend is likely to continue.

7. Cost of fuel has increased from UAH 26 per liter (before the war) to a current rate of UAH 40; UAH 50+ is expected.

8. Electricity costs have increased since the pre-war period by UAH 3 per kWh, up to UAH 5; even greater growth is expected.

9. Cities lack infrastructure for the collection and storage of fuel for buses. This becomes more relevant as the invaders are destroying national fuel supplies and refineries.

10. A reduction in the level of solvency of the population does not allow an increase in the level of fares.

Other cities, such as Ternopil, are reducing the collection of fees and rents to support local business – the mid- and long term impact of these policies on local revenues bases needs to be monitored.

At the local level, in the short term, it will be necessary in non-embattled cities to strengthen reception capacities for refugees and to strengthen basic provisions in the area of municipal services. This will also help to better manage refugee flows and accommodate them closer to home. At the same time, Ukrainian cities have also invested in significantly improving municipal services as part of the decentralisation of administrative services, and these achievements must not be risked. In the non-embattled cities, the following needs can be identified:

-       Preparation of emergency transport plans for cities, which help to identify relevant, strategic transport needs and back them up with transport services accordingly;

-       Strengthening the technical basis by supplying vehicles/spare parts (buses, trams);

-       Budget support for transport companies to compensate for revenue shortfalls and purchase of fuel;

-       Pop-up infrastructure for cycle lanes and special public transport lanes to promote energy-efficient solutions;

-       Provision of (electric) cargo bikes and electric vehicles for municipal service providers to reduce energy consumption;

-       Mass provision of bicycles for emergency bike sharing systems (to offer viable alternatives and to reduce energy consumption).

Potential Action Plan

With a short-, medium- and long-term view, an action plan for local, regional and national level could look like this:

  • Short-term (now)

-        Humanitarian support for cities across Ukraine

o   Establishment of transit camps

o   Strengthening of municipal (transport) infrastructure and services

o   Support for the organisation of transport for refugees

  • Logistics emergency aid for Ukraine (support for transport corridors, logistics services, etc.)
  • Establishment of “Ukraine Transport Observatory Center” with national and international partners to reliably and immediately provide information and data on damages, transport needs and sharing of practices
  • Medium-term: Winter Package 2022/23
    • Pragmatic support to municipalities for purchase of fuel, maintenance support,
    • Strengthening public transport companies and municipal energy suppliers (including emergency generators, supply to refugee settlements, development of renewables)
    • Key question: What happens in the event of an oil/gas/coal import/export freeze?
  • Medium-term: Technical assistance for reconstruction planning
    • Recording and assessment of damage
    • Concept development
    • Tender support
    • How can this transformation be made sustainable, climate neutral?       
  • Long-term:
    • Ukraine Freedom and Green Recovery Infrastructure Fund with substantial international financial support
    • Green reconstruction
    • Long-term EU Accession Support on Transport and Energy

Immediate action is required to address the above-mentioned challenges, to support Ukraine and to materialize the European orientation of Ukraine (association agreement). Without support for the transport sector, Ukraine will face severe trade challenges, urban service delivery challenges and remain reliant on foreign fossil fuel imports. International partners can support a sustainable modernisation process of the transport sector through immediate and concrete actions in the field of transport – both the urban dimension, regional connectivity and international trade corridors.

Viktor Zagreba, Armin Wagner (contributors: Demyan Danylyuk, Marta Pastukh)