The Importance of Transparency: Reconstruction in Ukraine

While winning the war is the primary goal for Kyiv, making conditions easier to rebuild should be close behind

6 July 2023

Tetyana Oleksiyuk

Future of Ukraine Fellow

Transparency in reporting and publicly accessible information is paramount for any modern society to encourage investment and shore up the rule of law. Ukraine finds itself at crossroads having to determine which information should be made available and which needs to be reserved for national security, and they may not be getting the balance right.

Nearly every day, Ukrainians must endure the bombardment of missiles and drones destroying their homes, public spaces and infrastructure. While billions of dollars have been given to Ukraine in their efforts to repel the Russian aggressors, more attention should be paid to rebuilding the country once the war ends.

The ongoing war, of course, is the main obstacle but problems with corruption are also thwarting this effort. The second Ukraine Recovery Conference (URC) was aimed at precisely these concerns.

The atmosphere of the URC was productive and focused mainly on measures and steps that Ukraine needs to rebuild the economy, restore business activity and compensate for the damages caused to the citizens of Ukraine. Both Ukrainian and foreign experts focus on the need for equal and transparent rules of the game, prevention of corruption and fair compensation for damages.

However, such reconstruction requires a systematic and comprehensive approach, as well as transparency of processes and accountability of the government institutions involved.

DREAMing big with open data

Although the word “transparency” echoed around the conference like it were a mantra, just the promise of transparency is obviously not enough. Like any process, ensuring transparency requires the efforts of democracy watchdogs: media professionals and civic activists, who demand instruments to make the government accountable, and Kyiv should demonstrate to the international community that it is making considerable improvement.

The most notable among these instruments is the state digital ecosystem, DREAM, an online resource created by the Ukrainian government with the support of donor organisations for managing projects aimed at rebuilding the Ukrainian economy.

The DREAM, as stated in its description, collects, systematises and publishes open data at all stages of reconstruction projects in real time, implementing the highest standards of transparency and accountability. This allows anyone interested to use the information from this platform to reduce risks, create accurate reporting and improve the quality of reconstruction projects.

The ideal meets reality

Every journalist and activist aspires to have convenient online access to all the essential information they need without submitting official requests and enduring lengthy waiting times for responses.

However, governments only release information they are legally obligated to disclose, and sometimes this information may not be sufficient for comprehensive oversight of the government’s activities.

Editor’s Pick: Ukraine Prepares for Potential Disaster at Zaporizhzhia

The same applies to the DREAM, where the government institution retains the authority to determine which information will be made available to the public and when.

Nevertheless, legislation on access to information should ensure two fundamental aspects of the right to information: the provision of information in response to specific requests and the proactive disclosure of information.

History of access

The evolution of the right to information can be traced back to its initial guarantee to journalists, as they played a crucial role as intermediaries between the source of official information and the general public, fulfilling a vital societal function within the mediasphere.

Later, at least at the European level, the universal right to information emerged and gained prominence, extending the right to everyone irrespective of their purpose or societal role.

In 2015, the Ukrainian law about access to public information was amended to ensure the obligation of the state authorities to collect official information in an open data format and to guarantee their publication and free access for everyone.

This step has been recognised as contributing to the development of the digital economy, a course President Zelenskyyi announced at the beginning of his term.

It also boosted the development of state digital services and data journalism in Ukraine, for example, the well-known state services tool DIIA and the digital journalism project TEXTY.

How DREAM stacks up

There are still pertinent questions that hold significance for journalists who serve as public watchdogs to the DREAM platform. These questions pertain to the decision-making process regarding the inclusion of data, the frequency of updates and the accountability for ensuring the comprehensiveness and quality of the data.

Undoubtedly, journalists and civil society activists will utilise the information accessible on DREAM, but equal importance lies in ensuring their ability to access additional, concealed information about the reconstruction efforts and the allocation of public funds.

It is crucial to establish a two-way communication channel that enables the flow of information from the government bodies responsible for the reconstruction work. But this certainly has not been the case.

The lack of public pressure was reiterated by Svitlana Ostapa – Chairwoman of the Supervisory Board of PJSC National Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine and Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Detector Media – at the URC.

“In both 2022 and 2023, there (was) not a single panel in the programme where we would talk about the importance of cooperation with civil society and independent media… I firmly believe that Ukrainian authorities should be reminded that instilling greater trust in the utilisation of Western partners’ funds will be facilitated by the active monitoring of independent media and civil society,” Ostapa outlined.

The panel participants stressed that Ukraine’s success in reconstruction hinges upon the effective utilisation of digital technologies. Specifically, they highlighted the significance of transitioning to e-governance, which enhances efficiency and serves as a powerful tool in combating corruption.

Digitisation is a field where Ukraine occupies a leading position in the world, and this achievement can be transferred to other spheres and countries.

Nevertheless, journalists express concerns that the government may evade direct communication and dodge uncomfortable questions by relying solely on the information published on the DREAM platform.

Regrettably, the past year’s disheartening experience has demonstrated to journalists that such one-sided communication cannot be relied upon.

Since the beginning of the full-scale armed aggression in Ukraine, the government’s decision to block access to the open data portal and public registers has fuelled intense debates. For over a year, there has been civil pressure and heated discussions about the fact that such a restriction did not correspond to either the letter of the law or common sense because these sets of open data have been legally released before and, accordingly, have already been distributed to an unlimited number of people.

In addition to various concerns, journalists and civil activists also faced the loss of access to “historical data sets.” These datasets and more recent ones enable the analysis of past periods, facilitating the monitoring of dynamic changes and trends.

Protecting the fourth estate

Finally, journalists understand that when they delve into investigations involving high-level corruption, there is a significant risk of facing defamation lawsuits.

To mitigate this risk, journalists gather solid evidence, with official information being the most reliable source. This is why access to public information through information requests has become indispensable in journalists’ daily work.

Under Ukrainian legislation, journalists are protected from legal liability for disseminating information that may harm the reputation or dignity of private individuals when such information is obtained in response to an information request. This is because evidence obtained through official channels is considered irrefutable, providing journalists with a legal safeguard in their reporting.

On the contrary, if a journalist relies on the information published on a website, they will need to demonstrate the official status and credibility of the information to support their conclusions. However, during a defamation lawsuit, the information on the official website can be altered, as the website remains under the complete control of the government. Even if earlier versions of the website can be found online, it is still difficult to use them in a court of law.

This challenges journalists as the integrity and reliability of the information may be compromised, potentially undermining their defence in such legal proceedings.

Hence, it is crucial to follow the perspective of experienced media professionals and acknowledge that government transparency and accountability, beyond mere statements, must be reinforced by tangible mechanisms.

Journalists and civil activists should be given priority in accessing, verifying and clarifying information from official sources, as they play a pivotal role in fostering an accountable and diverse media landscape. This is vital as society relies on responsible journalism to hold power to account and ensure the free flow of information.

Moreover, a rigorous fourth estate monitoring reconstruction efforts in real-time will encourage funding from international bodies as well as the private sector, and attracting investment should be one of Ukraine’s top priorities after the war.


Published as part of our Future of Ukraine Fellowship programme. Learn more about it here and consider contributing.

Tetyana Oleksiyuk

Future of Ukraine Fellow

Tetyana Oleksiyuk is a Future of Ukraine Fellow as well as a researcher, lecturer and advisor on national legislation and international standards related to access in the information sphere. Her work has significantly contributed to improving access to information legislation and administrative practices in Ukraine by collecting information from various sources. She is an active advisor to key stakeholders, including the Ombudsperson, Council of Europe, UNDP, representatives of official authorities, the Supreme Court of Ukraine, and civil society organisations.

Your Central European Intelligence

Democratic security comes at a price. What is yours?
Subscribe now for full access to expert analysis and policy debate on Central Europe.


Weekly updates with our latest articles and the editorial commentary.