Skip to main content
European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations
News article4 May 2022Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations

How the Support Group for Ukraine reinvented itself within hours of Russia's invasion

Stand with Ukraine

Commission en direct (the European Commission’s internal magazine) recently interviewed Katarína Mathernová, DG NEAR’s Deputy Director-Generaland Head of the Support Group for Ukraine (SGUA).

​​If you scroll down the 'Ukraine' page on Europa's Neighbourhood Policy page, you will find two lines that define SGUA: 

“The Support Group for Ukraine (SGUA) was established by decision of the President of the European Commission in April 2014. The European Commission supports political and economic reforms necessary to consolidate a democratic, independent, united and prosperous Ukraine."

Katarína Mathernová  adds more concretely thatit was created in the wake of Russia's invasion of parts of Ukraine in 2014. The group is made up of DG NEAR staff and seconded experts from various DGs; they each bring their respective field of expertise. The idea is to accompany Ukrainian reforms on a broad range of topics such as the judiciary, decentralisation or border management.

'An amazing reaction'

Then came 24 February of this year. Suddenly, Russian troops attacked Ukraine from all directions. How did the Group react? She explains: “It affected us all, both personally and professionally. As President von der Leyen said: 'Russia is waging a cruel, ruthless war also against Ukraine’s civilian population'. Within hours, colleagues from the Support group and the EU delegation were in touch with our implementing partners and grantees across the country. Their reaction was amazing: the great majority of them wanted to stay on the ground and redirect their efforts to help protect Ukraine and its local communities, and this way redirect available existing funds towards emergency needs​​."​​

“The Russian invasion affected us all, both personally and professionally​.

However, reaffecting allocated EU funds can be complicated, can take a while. Not for the Support Group for Ukraine though, not when that country finds itself invaded by foreign troops.

 “Within a few days, we were able to identify a handful of projects where emergency needs were covered by the very design of the original projects. The best example is our successful decentralisation project, ULEAD, which, among others, supported building the resilience of the local communities. This allowed us to repurpose the funds right away. Then we turned our focus to adopting a quick financing decision, with the support of the Commission central services, to repurpose all the other programmes, based on our partners' expressed needs: establishing shelters for internally displaced Ukrainians, supporting local NGOs and media organisations, setting up make-shift hospitals, organising logistics or even mobile hygiene equipment."

In all, over 100 million Euros will have been repurposed, as President von der Leyen announced during her recent visit to Kyiv.

One important point she stressedis how the Ukrainian authorities are functioning well, despite Russia incessantly shelling and the millions of civilians on the roads “The Office of the President works, the Cabinet of ministers works, the Parliament works, local authorities work, civil society is very active. And you know why? Because the whole country has rallied around their fight for freedom and existence as a nation. And President Zelenskyy's own courage and motivation plays a big role in that."

A broad range of assistance

And the Support Group since then? It has been busy operating as a clearinghouse for all the requests emanating from the Ukrainian government. But it is not alone. Other departments of the Commission are equally busy: DG ECFIN provided fast macro-financial support, DG ECHO supports humanitarian actors and supplies lots of emergency material, DGs TRADE and MOVE played their part in making sure the assistance reaches Ukraine fast, DG HOME speedily provided legislative support to millions of Ukrainian refugees in the Member States. And many other parts of the Commission are directly involved.

A new package of assistance is being finalised right now bundling the 2021 and 2022 bilateral allocations in one big pot. The focus of it will be to support internally displaced Ukrainians, local reconstruction and other emergency needs, as well as cyber resilience and the fight against the massive disinformation that has been such a key part of this military aggression.

Having addressed the immediate future of the Support Group's activities, one could imagine the interview to stop here, but she won't end the talk before stressing a last issue: “The point about the disinformation and propaganda war is an important one. In Europe, worldwide and also within the EU institutions. Even before the war, Russia actively spread false narratives about Ukraine. They are at it again, convincing vast swathes of the population on all continents that they are staging a 'special operation to free Ukraine from fascists'. For the sake of millions of Ukrainians civilians, we must not fall for Putin’s disinformation machine!​​"​