Ukraine feels support of the international community
Liudmyla Denisova, Minister of social policy, talks about policy changes and the challenges facing Ukraine
Since its independence in 1991, Ukraine has been slowly but confidently striding toward the European club of young democracies, following its desire to have its own future apart from Russia. It was never easy to overcome the “post-soviet empire gravity wave” emitted by a Moscow unhappy to see its former satellites going to the Euro-Atlantic partners westward of Moscow. Russia’s intention to restrain and curb Ukraine is on the point of absurdity, bringing international trade sanctions, human tragedy, terrorism, and economic clinch to its own population.
Ukrainians are suffering now from a complicated social and economic situation, urgently needing in-depth social protection for internally displaced persons from the Crimea and areas of anti-terrorist operation. The burden of social care was never an easy mission to accomplish; it demands the professional skills and political and human courage of the Minister, who dared to take personal responsibility for social policy in Ukraine. Now there is a good opportunity to get a first-hand view of the Minister of social policy of Ukraine, Liudmyla Denisova, on the social situation in Ukraine.
Marit Fosse: Good afternoon. Madam Minister. Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you. In general, Europeans are aware of the developments in the Crimean Peninsula and tragic military operations in the southeast Ukraine, but probably they are not familiar with the true scope and complexity of the challenges you currently face as the Head of the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine. Could you please share your comments on the situation in Ukraine and what tasks are most important to you now?
Liudmyla Denisova: In recent months Ukraine has faced perhaps the most pressing challenges over our entire modern history. It is obvious that the Government as well has to solve new, very important and difficult tasks. As to the Ministry of Social Policy, the main tasks are social protection of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the Crimea and areas of anti-terrorist operation (ATO), and care of those who take part in anti-terrorist operation.
Social security bodies provide full support for IDPs in terms of renewal of all their social and insurance benefits and pensions at a new place of residence. Employment service works with these citizens, assisting them in finding new jobs. All applications from these people are processed promptly. The procedures such as social benefits and pension formalities, as well as acquiring of the unemployed person’s status and receiving appropriate assistance, have been simplified for the above-mentioned people. Thus far over 180,000 IDPs have applied to our Ministry on various issues of social protection.
Another focus of our work is solving the problems of our citizens that arose after the occupation of the Crimea. Back in March this year, right after the pseudo-referendum on the Peninsula and blocking of payment systems by Russia, we started developing mechanisms that allow Crimeans who retained Ukrainian citizenship to receive pensions and social benefits on the mainland Ukraine. Thus Crimeans may receive their money from the state in the Kherson region.
As for the participants in anti-terrorist operation, the Government understands: there is a new category of people who need special care from the state. They protect the territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine and are entitled to gratitude and care. In order to ensure adequate social protection for these people and their families, the Cabinet of Ministers established the State Service for Veterans and Participants of ATO, which is in charge of all their problems—from psychological rehabilitation to housing.
MF: The Ukrainian Parliament has ratified the Association agreement with the EU in September, simultaneously with the EU. What kind of tasks does the Ministry of Social Policy have in the European integration field? What reforms do you plan to carry out in Ukraine?
LD: Since getting independence, and this means more than 20 years, Ukraine has endeavored to build the state such that every citizen has a wide spectrum of rights for social protection. The social protection system we inherited from post-Soviet epoch needed radical reform and had to be brought in line with statutes of international law. At present we have established main institutions of social protection. But we are still looking for its optimal structure.
Today the system of social and pension payments covers 13.5 million pensioners, 2.1 million citizens affected by the Chernobyl Catastrophe who receive various social payments and privileges, about two million veterans and members of their families, 4.3 million Children of War, 2.8 million disabled persons, over 206,000 low-income families, over 1 million families needing subsidies for payment of housing and utility services, 90,800 orphans and children deprived paternal care, etc.
In the present conditions, when our government has to allocate financial resources for anti-terrorist operation and for overcoming the consequences of external aggression and destruction of a housing, transport, and social infrastructure in the East of our state, it became necessary to provide social guarantees for citizens covered by the existing system of social protection.
At the same time, along with provision of social support we have to advance and ensure implementation of new principles in our social policy. The Ministry for Social Policy actively participated in the process of drafting the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU and I am pleased to note that as a result of this the Agreement contains a full scope chapter—Chapter 21: “Cooperation on employment, social policy, and equal opportunities”—covering the wide scope of issues in social and labor field.
In addition, the chapter “Justice, Freedom, and Security” contains provisions related to the protection of migrant workers rights. And we hope that the implementation of these provisions by both Ukraine and the EU member states will contribute to the development of a regulated labor migration, promotion of social protection for migrant workers, and ensuring of equal treatment for Ukrainian workers. Thus, as the ultimate goal we consider provision of access to citizens of Ukraine to be one of four fundamental freedoms of the EU internal market—free movement of persons.
MF: What primary reforms lay the foundation for your long-term social policy?
LD: Young people are ready to leave behind the ideology of dependency, i.e. move from passive social policy, providing various benefits and allowances, to active, so-called “European” values-oriented policy. In the social sphere, this means that you have opportunities for self-fulfillment in your home country, for raising your social status, equal access to public amenities, high-quality life and work, etc.
However, we have to consider that elder groups are oriented mainly on the economic component of social policy, i.e. receiving assistance from the state. This means that the state should pursue a graded social policy, which would take into account the needs and interests of all social groups and provide for optimal correlation of different social groups interests.
The new principles of regional social policy shall also become a basis for social reform in Ukraine. It is necessary to abandon the idea of a purely centralized system associated with decision-making mainly in the center.
MF: You participate directly in your country’s cooperation with international organizations such as the International Labor Organization in Geneva, and you know the urgent needs of the citizens affected by the annexation of the Crimea by Russia and by the military actions in the southeast of Ukraine. What kind of help does your country need at the moment?
LD: The Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine has long and close partnership relations with many international organizations. First of all, the International Labor Organization, of which Ukraine has been a member since 1954. Over the last eight years we have been working in close cooperation with the ILO in the framework of the Decent Work Country Program. During this period there were implemented 10 technical assistance projects.
By the way, I know that you are Norwegian, and I want to emphasize that Norway is actively involved in international technical assistance to Ukraine. In December 2013 the project on enhancement of the children’s rights protection in Ukraine was launched within the framework of the Council of Europe Action Plan for Ukraine for 2011–2014. Norway is the donor of this project. Furthermore, the Government of Norway decided to allocate humanitarian aid in amount of one million euro to refugees from the Donbas, as recently communicated by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway Børge Brende. I’d like to mention that the Norwegian government has decided to extend the aid to Ukraine under the programs aimed at the budget, energy, and other sectors. I am grateful for understanding of our complicated situation and providing us with a necessary support.
Also I would like to thank to the governments of the United States, Germany, Austria, Spain, as well as international organizations which closely cooperate with the Ministry of Social Policy—UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Population Fund (UNFPA), and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Active support is also provided by the International Organization for Migration and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). I’d like to mention that the Ministry is engaged in strong cooperation with the World Bank and the IMF within the framework of the large-scale projects as well.
Nowadays, when Ukraine is in difficult circumstances and it has to overcome the impacts of external aggression, economic blockade by Russia, and the destruction of infrastructure in the East of Ukraine, we as never before feel the extensive support of our Government policy from the international community.
MF: Thank you for your substantial answers, Madam Minister, and I hope you and your country will overcome all the problems in this difficult time as soon as possible.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 10, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.