Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has thrust Open Society’s Kyiv-based International Renaissance Foundation (IRF) onto the frontlines of the country’s struggle for survival. As the largest independent funder of Ukraine’s vibrant array of civil society and citizen’s groups for more than three decades, IRF was immediately engaged in the vast emergency response to the Russian assault. Its evolving work has included: supporting the evacuation and relocation of civilians; funding efforts to deliver emergency medical supplies and to protect emergency personnel; backing efforts to protect independent journalists and media; and supporting investigations of war crimes committed during the conflict.
In addition to expanding its direct funding of IRF, Open Society has also launched the Ukraine Democracy Fund. With an initial $25 million from Open Society, the fund seeks to raise $100 million with other independent funders to support and protect human rights organizations, independent journalists, and other civil society groups.
Open Society has contributed over $230 million in grants to Ukraine, benefiting millions of people—including more project funding over the past decade than to any other country in Europe.
Nine Facts About the International Renaissance Foundation
The foundation was established in Kyiv in April 1990, shortly before Ukraine became independent from the Soviet Union in August 1991. Prior to the 2022 Russian invasion, IRF had satellite offices in Odessa, Kharkiv, Lviv, and Dnipro, and employed more than 60 people.
The foundation supported civil society advocacy for Ukraine’s 2014 Association Agreement with the European Union, and subsequently for the 2017 agreement providing visa-free travel for Ukrainians across the 26 countries of the European Schengen Area.
The foundation was one of the first major donors to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in Ukraine in 2020. Emergency funding targets ranged from providing protective equipment to doctors and clinics in remote rural areas, to the promotion of accurate public health information across public and digital media.
The foundation and its grantees were active supporters of the creation of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine in 2014, and helped lawmakers develop a new anticorruption law that required public officials to declare their assets.
In 2015, local groups supported by the foundation brought about wholesale reform of the Ministry of Health’s system for procuring HIV and tuberculosis medication and other essential medicines, after they exposed overwhelming evidence of corruption among Ukrainian distribution firms.
IRF backed a multiyear campaign to establish an independent public service broadcaster that led to the launch of the National Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine in 2015.
In the early 1990s, IRF supported the modernization of Ukraine’s Soviet-era educational system; today the foundation continues to support the Ministry of Education’s ongoing “New Ukrainian School” reforms that seek to advance an inclusive and participatory approach to learning and critical thinking.
The foundation has supported the development of independent media outlets in Ukraine and has supported a range of fact-checking initiatives and other efforts to counter disinformation and promote informed public debate.
IRF has actively supported the development of Ukraine’s legal aid system, which now includes a country-wide system of community-based paralegals and online tools dedicated to promoting ordinary people’s access to the protections of law.
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