The business forum on the "Rapid Recovery of Ukraine", organised by the Ukraine-Luxembourg Business Club (ULBC) together with its partners, took place at Neumünster Abbey (neimënster) in Luxembourg-Grund on Tuesday 31 January 2023.
A full house attended the opening ceremony of this business forum in Salle Robert Krieps (which seats 283 people) at neimënster on Tuesday morning. Among the attendees were various government officials, diplomats, members of the Luxembourgish and Ukrainian business communities, representatives of the European institutions and non-profit organisations, and journalists; about 50 people had travelled over from Ukraine for the business forum.
ULBC CEO and co-founder Evgenia Paliy introduced the event, highlighting that Tuesday marked the 342nd day of Russia's war against Ukraine. She emphasised the role of Luxembourg as a strong supporter of Ukraine since the beginning of the war and thanked the government, parliament and people of Luxembourg, as well as investors, for their continued solidarity. She noted that this business forum served as a "real opportunity" for Ukrainians to meet and talk with investors in the Grand Duchy.
In his opening speech, Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel stressed that Ukraine is "not alone" - and this applies also to the reconstruction effort - and reiterated his government's condemnation of Russia's military aggression. He reflected on his visit to Ukraine in June 2022, where he was "impressed" by the Ukrainian people, who had "lost almost everything, but not their hope". He added that he was proud of the people of Luxembourg, many of whom have shown solidarity with Ukraine, for example by hosting Ukrainian refugees. Prime Minister Bettel added that he felt that the European Union (EU) has done everything possible to "maintain solidarity and unity", and emphasised the need to continue to work together to face this situation. He also reflected on Ukraine's journey towards EU membership, again stressing the support of Luxembourg, and noted that potential investors in Ukraine would be investing in a future EU country.
Yuriy Zarko, Mayor of Bilopillia, a city in northeastern Ukraine not far from the border with Russia, then presented Luxembourg's Prime Minister with a souvenir: a Russian missile fragment with the engraving "#StandwithUkraine". The Ukrainian mayor thanked Luxembourg and the EU for their support and recalled that Ukrainians are fighting for democracy for all of Europe.
In a live video message, Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal addressed the business forum attendees, first noting that Ukraine continues to build a "strong coalition against Russian aggression" as well as a coalition for recovery. He thanked his Luxembourgish counterpart personally for his government's "consistent and unchanging position regarding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine", adding that the war was about the future of Europe, not just that of the Ukrainian people. Prime Minister Shmyhal recalled the losses Ukraine has suffered since 24 February 2022, in terms of lives lost, but also destroyed infrastructure and economic damage. He stressed the need to immediately launch Ukraine's recovery, with the help of international partners. This rapid recovery financing should focus on five priorities, he said: energy, housing, territorial demining, critical infrastructure and support for Ukraine's private sector (businesses). He also called on the international community to confiscate frozen Russian assets. Ukraine's Prime Minister thanked the country's benefactors for their "significant support", urging continued solidarity. He noted that Ukraine is currently working to create a better investment environment. He concluded that by working together, the world would be one step closer to peace and "a better future".
Werner Hoyer, President of the European Investment Bank (EIB) (one of the event partners), was next to take the stage. He noted both the EIB's deep connection to Luxembourg (where the bank is headquartered) and its presence in Ukraine (since 2007). A defining moment was in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and the EIB decided to move its activities out of Russia. Whilst the Ukrainian economy continues to function almost one year since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion, its long-term success is dependent on its allies' commitment, the EIB President noted, adding that Ukraine "needs investment and economic support today", rather than "waiting until the ink on the peace treaty is dry". Mr Hoyer confirmed the EIB's willingness to step up its financial support for Ukraine, stressing that the private sector will also play an important role in the war-torn country's recovery. He reiterated Ukraine's attractiveness as an EU candidate country, indicating that accession will provide a "major economic boost" for the country. Whilst reforms are still needed, he was sure that Ukraine would leverage its advantages, not least its strategic position as a "possible bridge" between Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East. He noted that Ukraine excells in digitalisation and agriculture, and has a skilled workforce. Mr Hoyer concluded that investing in Ukraine today was "not only the right ethical decision" but could also be a "smart business choice".
Speaking on behalf of ArcelorMittal (another event partner), Board Member Michel Wurth noted that the Luxembourg-headquartered steelmaker was the largest foreign investor in the Ukrainian economy. The company employs 26,000 people in Ukraine (over 60 of whom have died fighting in the war) and "remains committed to [its] operations in the country, its brave people and employees" and to "playing [its] part in rebuilding the country". Like others before him, Mr Wurth stressed the importance of the private and public sector working together and the need to start Ukraine's recovery process as soon as possible, although it will be neither fast nor easy.
Luc Frieden, President of the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce (event partner), noted how the Luxembourg and European chambers of commerce had been unanimous in their decision to support sanctions against Russia, even though these negatively impacted several European companies. He stressed that the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce "stands with Ukraine". Mr Frieden also emphasised the key role of the private sector in the reconstruction of Ukraine and the importance of European businesses working together on this, rather than competing with one another. Similarly, he felt it was important to work in partnership with Ukrainian companies - much like how the United States worked together with Luxembourg and the rest of Western Europe to rebuild the latter's economies after the Second World War.
Natalia Anoshyna, Chargée d’Affaires at the Ukrainian Embassy in Belgium (also accredited to Luxembourg), concluded the opening ceremony by expressing her "deep gratitude" to Luxembourg for its "unwavering support". Addressing the energy crisis, she stressed that rising gas prices were not "because of the war in Ukraine", as is often suggested, but rather a result of "Russia's military invasion and terror", adding that the "price of liberty" was the lives of Ukrainian people. She stressed that Russia must be held accountable for its crimes in Ukraine, calling for more pressure and sanctions. She praised the bravery of Ukraine's soldiers but recalled that more weapons were needed to stop Russia, liberate the occupied territories and save lives. Ms Anoshyna agreed with her fellow speakers that the time to start rebuilding Ukraine is now. She called for Luxembourg's continued support, although she acknowledged that its people had already "opened and showed [their] kind hearts" to Ukrainians.
The business forum continued on Tuesday morning with a plenary panel, followed by several other panel discussions and round tables in the afternoon.