Since 2022 the eyes of the international community have been on Ukraine’s efforts to simultaneously defend itself against Russia’s full-scale invasion, implement far-reaching reforms and rebuild its war-torn regions. In reality the country has already been fighting for nearly a decade: both against Russian aggression and against Ukraine’s own post-Soviet legacy – including in the only partially reformed security sector.

Since the Euromaidan protests and the start of the conflict in the Donbas in 2014 Ukraine has gone and is still going through a profound transformation, driven to a large extent by Ukrainian civil society. International partners therefore place great confidence in – and donate significant resources to – Ukraine’s civil society. Together with the Ukrainian public they see the role of civil society as being key not only to promote the democratic reforms that would be required for Ukraine to join the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), but also for the recovery and reconstruction processes.

Within the broad spectrum of comprehensive reforms that Ukraine should undertake, the security sector is one of the most difficult, especially in the midst of armed conflict. Ukraine is not only threatened by Russia’s external military aggression but also by its attempts to destabilize it from within. But the common interest of civil society and the authorities in defending the country against these existential threats has also altered the dynamics of civil society’s interaction with the security sector. This has created new opportunities for cooperation in a relationship that was traditionally marred by mutual distrust. This report therefore posits the following as its central question: which role has Ukrainian civil society played and could further play in the reform of Ukraine’s security sector – and how international partners can best support it in this process.

In order to answer this broad question, in Chapter 1 the report will first set out the conceptual and methodological framework by defining the key concepts and outlining the functions that civil society actors typically fulfil in reform processes. It will also trace the development of Ukraine’s civil society since independence, in particular in its interaction with the State. Chapter 2 will then analyse how civil society contributes to security sector governance and interacts with the Government and Parliament, in particular regarding monitoring, oversight and civilian control over the armed forces. Chapter 3 will then briefly outline seven case studies of how civil society has had various levels of success regarding specific reforms of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the armed forces of Ukraine (ZSU), the military-industrial complex, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MoIA) and the Security Services of Ukraine (SBU). It concludes with a set of recommendations for Ukraine’s international partners, including the European Union and the Government of the Netherlands.

The methodology of this research combines a literature review and an analysis of primary sources and secondary literature with policy interviews and field research during two visits to Ukraine in April and July 2023.[1]

The authors are grateful to New Europe Centre and the diplomatic services of the Netherlands and Ukraine for their support for the research project and the research visit to Kyiv, Ukraine.