Ukraine co-ops vow to keep operating in face of Russian invasion

Social Economy Europe has condemned the attack, and the World Council of Credit Unions is monitoring the situation for the safety of its staff

Ukrainian co-operatives aim to continue to operate despite a full-scale invasion by Russian troops on 24 February.

The conflict, which has claimed several civilian lives, and so far brought a total death toll of 137, is putting co-operative businesses and their members at risk. However, the country’s consumer co-operatives say they will do their best to keep serving their members.

“Despite the fact that there is a war and people are dying, co-operation works and tries to fulfil its social functions,” said Iryna Lopushanska, head of international affairs at the All-Ukrainian Central Union of Consumer Societies (Ukrkoopspilka), which trades as COOP Ukraine – speaking on 24 February.

The union includes 15,000 enterprises, 3,000 restaurants, seven hotels, 300 manufacturing businesses and shops, and 300 markets throughout Ukraine.

Prior to the full-scale Russian attack on 24 February, the union had issued a statement in which it appealed to every employee of consumer co-ops to stay calm and continue their work, so customers could still rely on goods and services.

On 16 March the union announced that it had opened an international currency bank account to be able to receive international donations.

The funding received will be used to restore the infrastructure of the buildings destroyed during the war and provide humanitarian aid to cooperative communities across the country. Further information on how to make donations is available on Coop Ukraine’s website.

Since 2016, the World Council of Credit Unions (Woccu) has been running a support project, Credit for Agriculture Producers (CAP), with the financial support of USAID. The programme aims to strengthen the Ukrainian credit union market, and in doing so, expand access to agricultural credit.

Woccu says it is “extremely concerned” about the potential impacts the military conflict in Ukraine will have on both its member credit union associations in the country, and the project.

“We are in regular communication with the Ukrainian National Association of Savings and Credit Unions (UNASCU) and the All-Ukrainian Association of Credit Unions to provide support where we can during this crisis,” said Woccu president and CEO, Elissa McCarter LaBorde.

Woccu says it will coordinate with USAID and prepare contingency plans for CAP, as well as continued project administration. But it does not rule out adjustments “dictated by the changing realities on the ground” to ensure the safety of its staff, many of whom are Ukrainian nationals.

Following the January decision by the US Department of State to evacuate US staff and family members, Woccu temporarily moved its CAP chief of party and her family out of the country.

“Our chief of party, who is not a citizen of Ukraine, will continue to work remotely to ensure the continuation of all project activities for as long as possible,” said Ms McCarter LaBorde.

“The World Council of Credit Unions will continue to assess the situation in Ukraine on a continuous basis moving forward and will adjust our plans as necessary.”

The US Credit Union National Association (CUNA) has also released a statement. Signed by president / CEO Jim Nussle, it said: “America’s credit unions stand united with the Ukrainian American Credit Union Association (UACUA) in expressing our deep desires for peace within Ukraine. The threat of escalating violence would further destabilise the country and displace millions more. We are praying for a swift end to hostilities in the region.

“UACUA represents 12 credit unions in the United States that serve over 100,000 members with close ties to family and friends in Ukraine. When the time comes, we anticipate Ukraine’s credit unions and UACUA will play a critical role in shoring up financial security for the people of Ukraine, and we will be ready to lend our support.”

Social Economy Europe, which represents the voice of 2.8 million social economy enterprises and organisations in Europe, has issued a statement in which it condemned the invasion and called for a ceasefire.

“The social economy is a project of peace, democracy, solidarity and cooperation,” it said. “A movement arising from a free civil society, from free individuals that co-operate to provide collective solutions to societal challenges. 

“In this turbulent and sad period in which war is happening again in the heart of Europe, SEE reminds that illegal violence and war are an instrument of the past, connected with our past tragedies and darkest hours. 

“SEE condemns the violence, calls for peace and to cease the aggression, and stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, and with all those around the world (coming from different nations and beliefs) that stand with peace and co-operation, as the best instrument to achieve welfare, freedom and shared prosperity.”

The International Organisation of Industrial and Service Cooperatives (Cicopa) and the European Confederation of Industrial and Service Co-ops (CECOP) also pledged solidarity to the people of Ukraine via Twitter posts. They said: “We stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, including co-operators. Key co-operative values include democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity, as well as social responsibility and caring for others. These values are fundamentally violated by war.”

And UK apex Co-operatives UK said: “The UK co-operative movement stands in solidarity with co-operatives in Ukraine and everyone affected by the invasion and attack on their right to exist as a sovereign country.

It said it had reached out to We’re reached out to COOP Ukraine and would keep its members informed of any support the UK movement can provide.

Cooperar, the federation representing co-operatives in Argentina also issued a statement in which it called for peace.

Retailer Coop Estonia and its subsidiary Coop Pank, a co-operative bank, have donated €1m to Red Cross Estonia to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.

“Coop Estonia stands with Ukrainian people and it wants to do its part to ensure that the necessary assistance quickly gets to those in need,” it said in a statement. The retailer has also suspended its collaboration with Russian and Belarusian producers and stopped working with Russian TV channels. It says it will soon be introducing Ukrainian products to its stores and e-shop. Likewise, Coop Pank is now allowing its clients to make free payments to Ukrainian banks while Ukrainian residents can open bank accounts free of charge.

“We call on the people and governments to fully respect the Charter of the United Nations, in particular its purposes and principles, and all the commitments signed within the framework of the international co-operation system. These are agreements that humanity was able to build after two world wars showed that civilisation could self-destruct,” it said.

On 23 March the Japan Co-operative Alliance (JCA) also issued a statement condemning the invasion of Ukraine and expressing solidarity and support for Ukrainian co-operatives. JCA pledged to work together with co-operatives in Japan and around the world to provide as much support as possible.

“Co-operatives are based on people-to-people ties and mutual assistance and have been aiming to contribute to the realisation of peace through our business and activities. From this standpoint, we strongly condemn the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian government and call for an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal. We also strongly urge the international community, including Russia, to step forward toward dialogue and peaceful resolution as soon as possible.

“Colleagues of the Ukrainian co-operatives continue to work to protect the lives of their people in the face of threats to their lives and the foundations of their businesses. We express our solidarity with the dedicated work of our Ukrainian colleagues and express our commitment to support them in any way we can, together with the co-operatives in Japan and around the world that are trying to save our Ukrainian colleagues,” read the statement.

Historian Rita Rhodes, author of The International Cooperative Alliance during War and Peace 1910-1950, warns that global tensions can put huge pressure on international organisations.

“The ICA survived World War I when other international non-governmental organisations with which it had close relations – and which, like it, espoused the international brotherhood of mankind and world peace – split. They found too great pressures of total war and ideological tensions. 

“In its aftermath the ICA had to quickly decide which delegations it would accept from territories created by the Versailles Treaty and the Russian Revolution. Ukrainian membership was subsumed into that of USSR’s Centrosoyus. The ICA also had to agree its attitude and position to Communism and the USSR. Will Ukrainian co-operatives survive the present conflict?”

ICA Statement on the War in Ukraine

The International Cooperative Alliance condemned the use of military force against civilians and called on the international community to bring peace and advocate for diplomatic solutions to the war in Ukraine.

In a statement published on 14 March, the ICA said it was working to connect co-operatives around the world that can offer aid and support to those in need. “We would like to encourage others to join with us in this vital effort to mitigate the hardships being inflicted on the Ukrainian people,” read the statement signed by ICA President Ariel Guarco.

“Advocating for the immediate cessation of violence in Ukraine, we continue to call on governments, international organisations, and civil society organisations in general to build a positive global agenda for peace based on co-operation. Imposition by force will never be the way.

“In the spirit of the ICA Declaration on Positive Peace through Cooperatives, we reaffirm that conflicts arise from unmet human needs and aspirations. The ultimate goal for cooperatives is the satisfaction of basic human needs and aspirations. Cooperatives act for a better, more inclusive, more sustainable, more participative, and more prosperous future for all,” it added.

This story was updated on 24 March

Do you have any updates from co-ops in Ukraine? Get in touch with us by email – [email protected]