Gratuitous Legal Aid: New Realities and Challenges of Time

In Ukraine military men in the area of ATO, their families and migrants are in need of legal aid. The representatives of volunteer movements in border areas, including Regions of Kherson, Odesa and Chernihiv, told about the issues on which the above mentioned population categories apply to lawyers of counselling offices of public organizations most often.


The military men in the area of ATO are most concerned with the issue of earning the status of a combatant, Nataliia Kozarenko, the Head of the Counselling Office of Kherson Regional Fund of Mercy and Health, notes. “They are to collect documents on their own. During a short-term leave military men are physically incapable of solving this problem. Often they are unaware of what is to be filed. Thus it is very good that lawyers like the ones of the “legal sotnia” group on Facebook, which draw up prospects, guidance manuals defining the set of necessary documents, have joined into this work on a voluntary basis throughout Ukraine. Such materials are spread through our counselling offices”, she notes.

The fact of full-scale combat operations conducted in Regions of Donetsk and Lugansk also complicates the situation. However with regard to their status they are qualified as ATO. “The problems with the ones who fell prisoners of gunmen arise as the military conflict of such status does not fall under military conventions. Thus they cannot be qualified as prisoners of war, which complicates the procedure of delivering them from captivity”, Nataliia Kozarenko adds.

Nataliia Piddubna, the Head of the Counselling Office of Chernihiv Community Human Rights Protection Committee, believes that following statutory acts regulating the conduct of ATO, military men are not to participate in the Anti-Terrorist Operation for over 45 days. “Only traffic cops abide by such norms. All the rest of military and police units located in the area of daily round-the-clock fierce battles, stay in the so called ATO area for 5-6 months”, she continues. “Nevertheless they come up against great troubles with earning the status of a combatant, as each battalion issues certificates of one’s own. Only recently the Cabinet of Ministers has approved the form of such documents and the procedure of their issuance. And only commanders of battalions or military units are able to submit documents for the registration of the status of a combatant regarding those who are fighting at war”.

On the one hand it is clear that if each soldier applies to government authorities with documents, it will make their operation significantly difficult, taking into consideration that over 7 thousand persons have been recruited solely from the Region of Kherson. About four thousand persons remain in the ATO area. Could one call perfect the procedure in force, following which it is up to a higher-ranking officer to decide in regard of which of subordinates he is to file documents for earning the status of a combatant? The subjective factor gains great significance which is not always beneficial for fellow soldiers who risk their lives defending our country every day and every minute at this undeclared war.

Bank Extortion

Along with these problems our military men come across troubles with banks, as in the time of peace many of them took on loans including foreign currency loans. People could not even imagine at the time that there would be a war in Ukraine.

“Nowadays they have been recruited to keep our country against the enemy, however, despite of admonishments of the government, banks show inadequate attitude to settling the situation with disbursement of loans. Thus we assist our military men with addressing such issues, as having left a well-paid job and joined the military with a salary of two and a half thousand hryvnias, they are simply unable to fulfil their loan commitments. And it is not their fault. Bankers are to understand this”, Ihor Brinosh, the Deputy Head of Odesa Region Organization of All-Ukrainian Public Organization “Committee of Voters of Ukraine”, notes.

Generally all the military men and their families can obtain legal aid they need at “Pravovyi prostir” portal that collects information through entire Ukraine and provides legal aid. “At this portal we develop gratuitous services for people who require legal aid but lack funds to pay for it”, Nataliia Bimbiraite, the Head of Information Resource Centre “Pravovyi Prostir”, the coordinator of Kherson Volunteer Centre of Assistance to Military Men, explains.

Migrant Problems

Such persons include both migrants from Crimea and the ATO area, whose number reached 450,352 persons (19,157 from Crimea and 431,195 from eastern regions of Ukraine) following the data of the UNO as of November 6, 2014. They mostly apply for gratuitous legal aid with regard to the restoration of documents lost in Donbas or seized by gunmen at a hostile checkpoint when relocating to a safe territory. The Law “On Enforcement of Rights and Freedoms of Internally Displaced Persons” regulating these procedures was adopted only 7 months after the Russian invasion in Ukraine. Ever since thousands of migrants wanting to file for grant in aids, retirement benefits and other social payments at the new place of residence have applied to volunteer lawyers.

“Which causes a lot of problems, as while the Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers No. 505 dated October 1, 2014 “On Provision of Monthly Targeted Aid to Persons Displaced from Temporarily Occupied Territory of Ukraine and Regions of Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operation for Coverage of Lodging Expenses, Including Payment of Housing and Utilities Services” presupposes the payment of financial assistance to migrants within 10 days, while applied the procedure of its obtaining is elongated for months. It is unknown how people are supposed to reside in another territory during all this time as well as at what expense. That is why here, in the Region of Kherson, we attempt to assist them with collecting all the necessary certificates and provide them with comprehensive legal advice on a volunteer basis”, Nataliia Kozarenko notes.

The migrants from the ATO area in the Region of Odessa were also concerned with obtaining a right to vote during the Parliamentary elections. “While the Crimeans have already figured this issue out during the Presidential elections, residents of Donetsk and Lugansk had to prove their status of involuntarily displaced persons by residential lease contracts or other documents. However, even having done so they were only able to vote under party lists. It was impossible for them to cast their votes for a candidate of majority constituency at a place of stay as following their residential registration migrants were registered with other majority constituencies where the elections did not take place due to combat operations”, Ihor Brinosh tells.

Suggestions of Volunteers

To make their activities more efficient volunteers call for all empathic men of law, providing legal aid to military men and migrants on a gratuitous basis, to unite. Namely public counselling offices of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union located in all the regions of Ukraine provide such aid to migrants and military men from the ATO area. Along with this volunteer lawyers also call for state authorities and officials of power ministries only making their first steps in that direction in border regions to join them.

Volunteers have also outlined a number of suggestions with regard to overcoming the critical situation Ukraine has found itself in. They namely advise on adopting statutory acts that would guarantee equal social protection for all the participants of the ATO regardless of subordination of units where they serve and on adopting all the bylaws necessary for the implementation of the provisions of the Law “On Enforcement of Rights and Freedoms of Internally Displaced Persons”.

From their perspective it is only upon these conditions the settlement of challenging issues arising today due to the occupation of Crimea and the military operation in Donbas is possible.

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