The following section will assess Ukraine’s successes as well as the challenges that remain with regard to seven ongoing reforms in the security sector, and in particular the role that CSOs play in these processes. It particularly examines how Ukrainian CSOs interact with state providers of external security, such as the MoD, the armed forces and territorial defence units. It also compares this to the reforms of actors providing internal security, such as the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Security Service.

Shedding light on Ukraine’s previously murky military procurement system

Since 2020 Ukraine has made considerable strides in the reform of its military procurement system. The Law on Defence Procurement, adopted in 2020 and updated in 2023, has laid a solid base for transparent procurement procedures and control mechanisms in line with the European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement requirements on transparency.[61] CSOs were strongly involved in the drafting process of the law. It includes, for example, an obligation for the Ministry of Defence to share quarterly reports on state defence procurement on its website, so that these are accessible to the general public for review. These quarterly reports detail all of Ukraine’s defence procurement transactions – except for those details labelled as ‘closed procurements’. It also states that the wider public should be involved in the planning and implementation of Ukraine’s defence procurement. Its implementation, however, was delayed due to difficulties in the coordination between Ukraine’s various government bodies. Russia’s 2022 full-scale invasion prompted Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers to impose temporary restrictions on public access to defence procurement for security-related reasons, aiming to resume its implementation after the end of the war.[62]

Nonetheless, in order to maintain civilian oversight an amendment to the law in February 2023 provided Parliament with the right to request specific information regarding procurement from Ukraine’s government, including classified dossiers.[63] This is in line with the European practices of civilian oversight of the security sector primarily by parliamentary control, rather than oversight solely by civil society – and could potentially be a solution to the ongoing struggle in keeping the balance between transparency and security in Ukraine’s defence procurement landscape.

Reforming Ukraine’s sprawling military-industrial complex

The transformation of Ukraine’s defence-industrial complex is also underway. Its reform has been a long-standing contested subject within the Ukrainian security sector. UkrOboronProm, a conglomerate of Ukrainian state-owned defence companies, had been unprofitable for years, with a reputation of having inefficient management practices.[64]

In 2010, Ukraine’s state defence companies were compelled to join together, creating UkrOboronProm. The supposed goal was for the then president Viktor Yanukovich to be able to easily control state defence companies by joining them together under one umbrella organisation and appointing political allies to oversee the companies and their respective directions. His successor president Petro Poroshenko did not take action to reform UkrOboronProm, but instead placed his own allies within the corporation. Another issue with regard to UkrOboronProm was related to sustaining inefficient business practices. Profitable UkrOboronProm subsidiaries could transfer their gains as subsidies to other loss-making parts of the conglomerate. As a result inefficient and perhaps redundant companies were kept afloat in an unsustainable manner. The first substantial attempt to reform UkrOboronProm was made under the Zelensky administration, in 2021.[65]

The year 2021 marked the starting point for a broader transformation of Ukraine’s defence-industrial complex.[66] The reform envisioned a 4-step transformation of Ukraine’s defence-industrial complex from a state-owned enterprise into a joint-stock company. This should make individual subsidiaries more competitive and efficient, attract international investments, depoliticize the defence-industrial sector, [67] and create an efficient system capable of providing Ukraine’s military with the equipment it needs.[68]

At the time of writing this report, the first of these goals has been achieved: in June this year UkrOboronProm was dissolved and replaced with the Joint Stock Company (JSC) “Ukrainian Defence Industry” with the Herman Smetanin as the new chief executive officer, and a board of independent supervisors currently being formed. Earlier in May the company signed a strategic partnership agreement with the German company Rheinmetall, with operations planned to start in July 2023.[69]

Ukrainian civil society, in particular the Ukrainian CSOs State Watch[70] and the Independent Anti-Corruption Commission (NAKO), played a significant advocacy and oversight role in the drafting of the Law on Reforming Ukraine’s Defence-Industrial Complex and the implementation of the reform. Together with international experts, NAKO secured independent audit services for UkrOboronProm, participated in the selection of directors for UkrOboronProm’s subsidiary companies, and insisted on the implementation of standards as required according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development within UkrOboronProm’s organisation.[71] The creation of the JSC “Ukrainian Defence Industry” was praised by NAKO, which continues to closely monitor the reform of the sector.[72]

The role of NAKO in the reform of one of Ukraine’s most strategic sectors shows that non-state oversight and anti-corruption agencies can operate independently and effectively in Ukraine – if they are sufficiently resourced and backed by international actors. This offers promising perspectives for oversight in other sectors as well. Continued international attention does contribute to the ability of organisations like NAKO to operate independently. It needs to be added, however, that the involvement of high-profile international officials is often helpful to reach this level of influence, as the example of NAKO showed.

Integrating volunteer battalions into the armed forces

When Russian forces and their proxies attacked Ukraine in the Donbas in 2014, Ukraine’s political leadership at the time initially framed Ukraine’s defensive operations as an ‘anti-terrorist operation’. On paper this meant that Ukraine’s defensive operation was a ‘counterterrorism’ operation – a matter of internal state security, and the responsibility of the SBU, not the ZSU. The SBU, however, did not possess the means and know-how to counter Russia’s hybrid-style attack. Having said that, the ZSU also did not have experience in this kind of insurgency warfare. Additionally, communication between the SBU and the ZSU was troublesome. Among other things, these factors resulted in Ukraine’s leadership struggling to maintain security in the face of Russia’s assault and this contributed to the destabilization of Ukraine’s state security.

As Ukraine’s internal security situation further deteriorated as a result of the government’s failure to regain control over the management of the war in its eastern territories, Ukrainian ‘volunteer battalions’ took up arms and joined the fight on the frontlines. Meanwhile Ukrainian CSOs started collecting and distributing much-needed support and equipment for combat operations to the volunteer battalions on the frontlines.[73] In so doing, Ukrainian non-state security providers and CSOs significantly enhanced Ukraine’s ability to defend itself in the early days of the war, but it posed a challenge for the State to maintain control over defence operations and preserve its monopoly on the use of force.

In response, the Government established a National Guard and the Special Police under the mandate of the MoIA, and the Territorial Defence Battalions under the mandate of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Volunteer battalions were urged to disband and formally join official structures. The Government’s strategy worked and one year after the initial invasion nearly all of Ukraine’s non-state security providers were incorporated into Ukraine’s police and military organisations.[74] In order to remain in control of volunteers and to manage their forces, the Ukrainian government established the Territorial Defence Forces in 2022. The Territorial Defence Forces act as a gateway between the military volunteer realm and the military professional forces, providing volunteers with training opportunities and absorption into the ZSU’s reserve forces.[75] It appears that for now Ukraine has managed to maintain the high levels of volunteerism and civil society participation that enhance its capacity to resist Russian aggression, while nonetheless ensuring that the State can again fulfil its responsibility to maintain its monopoly on the use of force.

A quiet tragedy: demobilization of military personnel & veterans

Ukraine’s government has been struggling to address the socio-economic challenge posed by the great numbers of veterans who have entered into Ukraine’s demographics since 2014. It is estimated that after the war about 10% of the Ukrainian population will consist of veterans, their families, and families that lost members who served in the military during the war.[76] The two greatest challenges for the veterans in reintegration into society is the lack of non-military-related employment and a shortage of post-service (mental and physical) rehabilitation facilities.[77]

While the Ukrainian state struggles to respond to challenges connected to the reintegration of Ukraine’s veterans, CSOs fill the gaps left by the government to support the veterans. [78] One such example is the Veteran Hub in Kyiv. Here veterans can connect with a variety of NGOs which can help them with psychological help, legal aid, support in finding employment and to engage with their community.[79]

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s government is gradually modernizing its comprehensive veteran care programme ‘Policy of Heroes’, which is among the top-ten reform priorities for Ukraine’s government. [80] This is an important step, but it will take time and resources that the country lacks. The veterans need support now, especially at the local level after they return. The most urgent need, apart from mental support, is to have access to work and avoid social isolation. Initiatives like the Ukrainian Veteran’s Foundation that provides grants for veterans to start their own business and contribute to local economic recovery are good examples of how civil society can contribute.[81]

Who guards the guardians? Ukraine’s military justice apparatus

After the abolishment of the military courts in 2010 there were multiple attempts to reinstate them in Ukraine, especially in the light of the ongoing war. [82] The main difference in approaches to military justice that were proposed is whether the military justice system should be subordinated to the Ministry of Defence or be placed within the system of the general judiciary.

The debate is revolving around three major concerns: guaranteeing the impartiality of judges, the funding of the military justice apparatus, and the education of the military judges. Before 2010 military courts were subordinated to and funded by the Ministry of Defence, which argues that the military courts should be reinstated under its supervision. There is a significant reluctance to return to this system, not least because it would be difficult to ensure that it is fully independent from the military chain of command: military judges usually have military ranks. The alternative would be to integrate these military courts into the courts of general jurisdiction. This is also far from ideal, as the latter are not equipped to deal with military-related offences. Appointing and training military judges within the general legal training programme is a costly endeavour which, at this point in time, the country’s political leadership simply cannot afford. Currently military law issues are included in the general education programme for judges.[83]

In the meantime, Ukraine has begun taking steps towards creating military police force in order to ensure discipline and good order in the armed forces. While this draft law is in the making, in January 2023 President Zelensky signed a law that was aimed at standardizing and increasing the severity of punishment for Ukrainian military personnel transgressing the laws and customs of war and combat.[84] According to the NAKO this law was drafted without public consultation, without the involvement of an expert committee and under great time pressure.[85] The Ukrainian NGO Reanimation Package of Reforms argued that the Law does not take into account that a large portion of Ukraine’s current military are not professional soldiers, but often serve on a draft or volunteer basis. Increasing the severity of punishment could inadvertently damage their trust in their leadership.[86] This hastily adopted law generated widespread frustration and critics among Ukraine’s public and civil society. It showcases the dilemma in which the Ukrainian government often finds itself, when the optimal solution – comprehensive military justice reform – is not available in the short term, and the political leadership has to settle for a far less ideal and unpopular alternative. In this context CSOs are of crucial importance, both for providing expertise and for acting as intermediaries in order to explain these dilemmas to society.

Reforms of the Ministry of Internal Affairs: regaining the trust of the public

The comprehensive reform of the MoIA began in 2014 in response to widely held grievances over corruption and in particular the large-scale abuse of power by the police during the Revolution of Dignity. It started with the abolishment of the “Berkut” riot police that were despised for their police brutality against Euromaidan protesters but also led to a wider restructuring and reform of the police force that is largely perceived to have been successful.[87] It significantly increased the trust of the population in the police structures: from 10% of trust in the national police before the reform in 2012, to 71% in 2023.[88]

While this report does not purport to give an exhaustive overview of the numerous reforms conducted since 2014, a few stand out in particular.[89] First, specialised police units were created to better separate the controlling, investigative and supporting functions of the police (including the Public Security Police, the criminal police, the judicial police and specialised rapid response police units). Second, other public security providers such as the State Border Guard Service, the State Migration Service and the State Emergency Service were demilitarized and reformed. In light of the interplay between internal and external threats the National Guard was also created as a military formation within MoIA with certain law enforcement functions.[90] It played an active role during the anti-terrorist operation in the Donbas and in the de-occupation of Ukrainian territory and resisting the Russian aggression in the populated areas on the frontline.[91]

With support from the European Union Advisory Mission for Civilian Security Sector Reform (EUAM) and other international actors, the MoIA underwent further significant reforms. These include, for example, the reduction of units and bodies to eliminate the duplication of functions, the introduction of a European model of training and qualification of personnel and unified standards of law enforcement training, and the establishment of mechanisms for monitoring and overseeing the activities of internal affairs agencies and separate officials. Ukrainian civil society has been closely involved in these reforms. In 2015, for example, the Reanimation Package of Reforms and the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, both Ukrainian CSOs, assisted in drafting the Law of Ukraine: On the National Police. This law contributed to the institutionalisation of public involvement in the hiring process of police personnel by including selected members of the public in so-called ‘Police Commissions’.[92]

Another productive reform was the creation of the Patrol Police, which replaced Ukraine’s Traffic Police and Militia Patrol and addressed corrupt practices in recruitment through the establishment of hiring centres independently from the MoIA that included civil society representatives and activists. Their presence and involvement in the process helped to prevent politicians and/or government officials in power from using their authority to favour certain individuals in exchange for their loyalty.[93] Attempts to replicate this model for the Criminal Police were less successful, partially due to less involvement from international partners and partially due to the circumvention of the procedures for civil society involvement during recruitment.[94] This example shows that the same legislation, if not scrutinised in practice, can yield different results.

Reforming the Security Service of Ukraine: the toughest nut to crack

The issue of depoliticization is even more relevant for the SBU, which has traditionally been used by successive Ukrainian politicians as an instrument to consolidate their power and keep tabs on their opponents. The SBU is part of the system (‘sistema’)[95] inherited from the Soviet Union in times when the political, economic and social aspects of citizens’ lives were largely controlled by the state. Therefore, the SBU possessed a number of roles and functions that in a democratic state would be commonly separated between multiple state agencies to ensure efficiency and independence – including the competence to combat economic crimes in the fight against corruption. Its inherent high level of secrecy made the SBU itself an easy target for corruption schemes; the lack of transparency in how it operates contributed to the SBU becoming one of the state agencies with the lowest trust of society. SBU reform since 2014 has focused on depoliticization, restricting its mandate, increasing transparency and introducing more public control mechanisms.

SBU reform was a central point in the reforms promised and promoted by Volodymyr Zelensky in his 2019 electoral campaign and a long-standing request by both NATO and the EU. A comprehensive draft law outlining the reform of the SBU was developed in 2021, in extensive consultation with civil society and international partners such as the EUAM, EU and NATO Delegations, various embassies and the Parliamentary Committee on National Security, Defence and Intelligence.[96] The draft law however failed to address concerns raised by NAKO and civil society regarding extensive secrecy and restrictions on public control.[97] They argued, among other things, that the law should redefine which information should be considered as classified.[98] What needs to be addressed in the short term is civil society’s need for access to government information as opposed to state restrictions on data in the interest of national security. While the latter is a legitimate restriction that is recognized by law, clear agreements with civil society on the classification of and access to information can ensure a balance between public oversight and the confidentiality of information.[99]

In addition, in order to minimize opportunities for misuse for economic gain the SBU’s competencies to investigate economic crimes could be transferred to other agencies and the information on the property and income declaration of the employees of the SBU should become accessible, at least for specialized public oversight actors as mentioned above.[100] It is likely that the process will have to be restarted almost from scratch since downsizing or reforming the SBU is currently difficult to imagine in light of the current security risks facing Ukraine. [101] SBU reform remains the ‘capstone’ of security sector reforms and should remain high on the agenda.

Musiiaka, “Against all Odds.”
Verkhovna Rada Ukrainy, “Zakon Ukrainy : Pro Vnesennia Zmin do Zakonu Ukrainy “ Pro Oboronni Zakupivli ” Shchodo Zaprovadzhennia Prozorosti v Oboronnykh Zakupivliakh (Krim Vidomostei pro Zakupivli Tovariv , Robit i Posluh Oboronnoho Pryznachennia , Shcho Stanovliat Derzhavnu Taiemnytsiu ) iz Zabezpechenniam Zakhyshchenosti Derzhavnykh Zamovnykiv vid Voiennykh Zahroz na Period Dii Pravovoho Rezhymu Voiennoho Stanu v Ukraini” [On the Introduction of Amendments to the Law of Ukraine “On Defence Procurement” Regarding the Introduction of Transparency in Defence Procurement (Except for Information on the Procurement of Defence Goods, Works and Services, Which Constitute a State Secret) to Ensure the Protection of State Customers from Military Threats During the Period of the Legal Regime of Martial Law in Ukraine], Verkhovna Rada Ukrainy: Zakonodavstvo Ukrainy, Accessed August 3, 2023.
Musiiaka, “Against all Odds.”
Roman Romaniuk, ““ Monsters, Inc. ” : How Zelenskyy is Transforming the Defence Industry and how This will Affect the Course of the War,” Ukrainska Pravda, Published May 15, 2023.; Verkhovna Rada Ukrainy, “Zakon Ukrainy : Pro Osoblyvosti Reformuvannia Pidpryiemstv Oboronno-Promyslovoho Kompleksu Derzhavnoi Formy Vlasnosti” [The Law of Ukraine: On the Peculiarities of Reforming Enterprises of the Defense-Industrial Complex of State Ownership], Verkhovna Rada Ukrainy: Zakonodavstvo Ukrainy, Accessed August 4, 2023.
UkrOboronProm, “Pro reformu” [On Reform], UkrOboronProm, Accessed August 3, 2023.
A board of six supervisors, of which three persons are independent, has been established to decrease political influence over Ukrainian state-defence companies, see Romaniuk, ““ Monsters, Inc..
Communications Department of the Secretariat of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, “Ukroboronprom will be Transformed into the Ukrainian Defence Industry Joint Stock Company, says Denys Shmyhal,” Government Portal: Official Website, Published March 21, 2023.; UkrOboronProm, “Pro reformu” [On Reform].
UkrOboronProm, “Ukroboronprom and Rheinmetall Create a Joint Venture,” UkrOboronProm, Published May 17, 2023.
See the risk assessment of the implementation of the Law on Reforming Ukraine’s Defence-Industrial Complex, presented by State Watch, “Shcho Vidbuvaietsia z Reformoiu Oboronno-promyslovoho Kompleksu – Doslidzhennia StateWatch” [What is Happening with the Reform of the Defence-industrial Complex - StateWatch Research], State Watch, Published November 18, 2021.
Independent Anti-Corruption Commission, “Cabinet of Ministers has Launched the Transformation of Ukroboronprom,” NAKO, Published March 22, 2023.
Independent Anti-Corruption Commission, “A histori c Step: SC Ukroboronprom Officially Ceased to Exist. What to Expect Now?,” NAKO, Published June 29, 2023.
Beliakova and Detzner, Security Sector Governance In Ukraine, 6.
Puglisi, A People’s Army, 11-12.
Beliakova and Detzner, Security Sector Governance In Ukraine, 7.
Stanislav Pohorilov, “Pislia Viiny Veterany ta Yikhni Rodychi Skladut 10% Naselennia Ukrainy – Minveteraniv” [After the War, Veterans and Their Relatives will Make up 10% of the Population of Ukraine - the Ministry of Veterans], Ukrainska Pravda, Published December 22, 2022.
Ukrainskyi Veteranskyi Fond and Ministerstva u Spravakh Veteraniv Ukrainy, Druhe Anonimne Onlain-Opytuvannia Sered Veteraniv ta Diiuchykh ViiskovosluzhbovtsivPortret Veterana. Blok “Potreby Veteraniv [The Second Anonymous Online Survey Among Veterans and Active Military Personnel “Portrait of a Veteran. Block “Needs of Veterans” (Kyiv: Ukrainskyi Veteranskyi Fond and Ministerstva u Spravakh Veteraniv Ukrainy, Published February 12, 2023, 32.; Clara Bauer-Babef, “WHO Warns of Lack of Rehabilitative Care in Ukraine” Translated by Daniel Eck, Euractiv, Published March 8, 2023.
For an analysis of the government’s reintegration of veterans, see Julia Friedrich and Theresa Lütkefend, The Long Shadow of Donbas: Reintegrating Veterans and Fostering Social Cohesion in Ukraine (Berlin: Global Public Policy Institute, May 2021), 3.
Lauren Van Metre and John Boerstler, “The Trip from Donbas: Ukraine’s Pressing Need to Defend its Veterans,” Atlantic Council, Published September 21, 2020.
Communications Department of the Secretariat of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, “Prime Minister: New Veterans’ Policy is Among the Government’s Top 10 Reform Priorities for this Year,” Government Portal: Official Website, Published June 30, 2023.
Hranty vid Ukrainskoho Veteranskoho Fondu” [Grants from the Ukrainian Veterans Fund], Agency Regional Development Zhytomyr, Accessed August 7, 2023.
Mindia Vashakmadze, Military Justice in Ukraine: A Guidance Note (Geneva: DCAF, 2018), 1.
Clingendael Policy Interview, April, July 2023.
Koalitsiia Reanimatsiinyi Paket Reform, “Zaklykaiemo Narodnykh Deputativ ne Pidtrymuvaty Zakonoproiekt № 8271, Yakyi Dodatkovo Posyliuie Kryminalnu Vidpovidalnist dlia Viiskovosluzhbovtsiv” [We call on People’s Deputies not to Support Draft Law No. 8271, Which Additionally Strengthens Criminal Liability for Military Personnel], Koalitsiia Reanimatsiinyi Paket Reform, Published December 12, 2022.
Beliakova and Detzner, Security Sector Governance In Ukraine, 6.; Viacheslav Shramovych, “Dva Roky Politsii: Reforma chy Zmina Formy?” [Two Years of the Police: Reform or Change of Form?], BBC Ukraina, Published August 4, 2017.
Sotsiolohichna Hrupa “Reitynh”, “Pravookhoronni Orhany Ukrainy: Dovira ta Otsinky Naselennia, Problemy Vnutrishnoi Bezpeky ta Hotovnist do Spivpratsi” [Law Enforcement Agencies of Ukraine: Public Trust and Assessments, Problems of Internal Security and Readiness for Cooperation], Sotsiolohichna Hrupa “Reitynh”, Published January 18, 2012. Also see recent research by Razumkov Tsentr: Razumkov Tsentr, “Otsinka Hromadianamy Sytuatsii v Kraini ta Dii Vlady, Dovira do Sotsialnykh Instytutiv (Liutyi–Berezen 2023r.)” [Citizens’ Assessment of the Situation in the Country and the Actions of the Authorities, Trust in Social Institutions (February–March 2023)].
For a recent overview, see European Union Advisory Mission Ukraine, “Progress in Reform,” EUAM Ukraine European Union External Action, Accessed August 4, 2023.
Serhii Kishchenko, Reforma Systemy Orhaniv Vnutrishnikh Sprav: Analiz Derzhavnykh Rishen [Reform of the System of Internal Affairs Bodies: Analysis of State Decisions] (Kyiv: Mizhnarodnyi Tsentr Perspektyvnykh Doslidzhen, 2015).
Ivan Mahuriak, “Den Natsionalnoi Hvardii : Vakoiu ye Rol Viiskovoho Formuvannia u Viini z Rosiieiu” [National Guard Day: What is the Role of the Military Formation in the War with Russia], 24 Kanal, Accessed August 3, 2023.
Nicholas Pehlman, “Patrimonialism through Reform,” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 37, no. 3/4 (2020): 332-340.; Verkhovna Rada Ukrainy, “Zakon Ukrainy : Pro Natsionalnu Politsiiu” [The Law of Ukraine: On the National Police], Verkhovna Rada Ukrainy: Zakonodavstvo Ukrainy, Accessed August 14, 2023.
Robert Peacock and Gary Cordner, ““Shock Therapy” in Ukraine: A Radical Approach to Post-Soviet Police Reform,” Public Administration and Development 36, no. 2 (2016): 84.
Pehlman, “Patrimonialism through Reform,” 343-344.
For more on the concept of Sistema, see: Alena V. Ledeneva, Can Russia Modernise? Sistema, Power Networks and Informal Governance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
Sluzhba Bezpeky Ukrainy, “Reforma SBU” [Reform of the SBU], Sluzhba Bezpeky Ukrainy, Accessed August 3, 2023.
Musiiaka, “Against all Odds.”
Viktor Zaitsev, “Civil Society of Ukraine as a Subject of Influence on Political-Military Decisions of the State,” Political Science and Security Studies Journal 2, no. 1 (2021): 86.
Clingendael Policy Interview, Kyiv, April 2023.