Analysis & Opinions - The Cipher Brief

Ukraine’s Big ‘Adventure Capital’ Opportunity

| Oct. 16, 2023

Early after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, as Russian troops threatened Kyiv and Russian cruise missiles destroyed targets across the country, Oleksandr Kamyshin, Head of Ukrainian State Railways, received direct customer feedback that the bathrooms at one of his stations were filthy. Kamyshin called the station manager to ask why. “With a war on, there were more important tasks than worrying about a complaining customer,” the manager impatiently replied. Kamyshin’s response: “war is not an excuse.” His message was that attention to high standards and meticulous detail would carry Ukraine through the crisis of war. 

For Western firms which hope to participate in the reconstruction of Ukraine when fighting ends, war is not an excuse to wait. Firms that lay the groundwork for investment now, while Ukraine needs it most, will be in a much better position to compete later, and they will help ensure that there is a Ukraine to rebuild. 

There are significant financial and moral incentives for Western business engagement in Ukraine, but there is no question that it is risky environment. Russian President Putin desperately seeks to salvage something he can call victory. Kyiv rejects any deal which would allow Russia to regroup, rearm, and resume fighting. The war could easily last for years.

Even amidst its fight for survival, Ukraine is positioning itself for a dramatic economic rebirth by eliminating barriers to entry, streamlining bureaucracy, vigorously tackling corruption, and attracting billions in support from governments and the private sector. Ukraine must reconstruct large portions of its physical infrastructure and at the same time transform a post-Soviet economy into one ready to join the EU.

How should CEOs think about when and how to invest in Ukraine? What are other companies doing? What sectors offer the most opportunity? And what about risks from corruption, and the ongoing danger of investing in a conflict zone? Samuel Cook, an American entrepreneur facilitating business entry into Ukraine, notes that Western companies that enter Ukraine now can hire the best talent, build critical relationships, and acquire vital ground truth. Per Cook, “investing in Ukraine at war is the perfect example of Warren Buffet’s adage to buy when others are afraid.”

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kolbe, Paul and Maria Robson-Morrow.“Ukraine’s Big ‘Adventure Capital’ Opportunity.” The Cipher Brief, October 16, 2023.