UHHRU: it appears that the government is backing out from providing compensation for property destroyed in Donbas

Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union held a press conference “How to get compensation for property destroyed in eastern Ukraine?” in Kyiv

Ukrainian government refuses to provide compensation for the damage done to the property of citizens by terrorists and Russian occupants. This make subsequent (recourse) claims toward the Russian government impossible. And the new law on occupied territories essentially leaves affected citizens one on one with the Ukrainian justice system.

The Verkhovna Rada recently passed the Law “On the peculiarities of state policy on the restoration of the state sovereignty of Ukraine over temporarily occupied territories in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts”. Article 2 of the Law states, among other things: “Liability for immaterial and material damage done to Ukraine and its citizens shall be borne by the Russian Federation.” But we also have another law – “On fight against terrorism”, and its Article 19a in section 6 states that “compensation for damage caused to citizens by a terrorist act shall be provided at the expense of the State Budget of Ukraine in accordance with the law and with subsequent collection of the sum of such compensation from persons responsible for the damage and according to the procedure prescribed by law”. Does this mean that now Ukrainians will have to demand compensation for their destroyed homes and other property from Russia directly? Ukrainian human rights activists are afraid that is indeed the case.

Mykhailo Tarakhkalo, director of Strategic Litigation Center of UHHRU
Mykhailo Tarakhkalo, director of Strategic Litigation Center of UHHRU

“Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union has been long dealing with problems that victims of the conflict face, and one of such problems includes getting compensation for destroyed property,” shared director of UHHRU Strategic Litigation Center Mykhailo Tarakhkalo. “Unfortunately, we must conclude that today no system exists for providing such compensation.” According to the lawyer, the Law “On the peculiarities of state policy…” will make collection of compensation even more difficult, by introducing new barriers. To avoid this, UHHRU together with the Ombudsman’s office and other organizations is developing a human rights protection policy under conditions of post-conflict recovery. One of the document’s sections will be devoted to compensations for the conflict’s victims. UHHRU will call on members of the Parliament to study this policy and prepare an appropriate draft law.

UHHRU advocate Yuliya Naumenko reported that since 2014 the organization has been handling a number of court cases regarding compensations for the property damaged in the anti-terrorist operation zone. Ms. Naumenko sees the main issue of the Law “On the fight against terrorism” in the fact that while it provides for compensation paid by the state, there is no practical mechanism (and no sources) for such payments.

In addition, according to Yuliya Naumenko, there is also the issue of access to one’s own property located in occupied territories, which has been completely ignored by our state authorities. Still unresolved is the extremely awkward issue of mobilized property, when Ukrainian soldiers requisition apartments or other property for military purposes.  For instance, houses are sometimes turned into fortified positions with all that entails. Unfortunately, as Yuliya Naumenko notes, representatives of the Ministry of Defense fail to prepare property mobilization reports and provide appropriate documents to the owners, which makes subsequent lawsuits all the more difficult.

UHHRU advocate Yuliya Naumenko
UHHRU advocate Yuliya Naumenko

The advocate also listed the documents necessary for filing a lawsuit on compensation. It is first and foremost any documents that confirm ownership rights. It is also necessary to provide proof of the damage done: it can be photos or video footages as well as inspection reports on destroyed property. It should also be noted that Ukrainian courts accept inspection reports even from the bodies of occupation authorities from the so-called “LPR” and “DPR”. Other admissible evidence includes witness statements.

The law requires plaintiffs to pay a court fee. Since it is 1% of the amount of claim, the sum can reach tens of thousands hryvnias. That is why UHHRU lawyers maintain that plaintiffs, as the injured party, should be exempt from court fees.

Currently UHHRU has developed a standard application form for filing compensation lawsuits on destroyed property with Ukrainian courts.

UHHRU Strategic Litigation Center lawyer Vitaliya Lebid pointed out that before the adoption of the law on Donbas reintegration, Ukrainians could turn to Russia with lawsuits on compensation for destroyed property. “Some court verdicts state that the Russian Federation is to provide compensation, but it is doubtful that this country will comply with these verdicts,” says Vitaliya Lebid. “Since Russian laws do not obligate the Russian Federation to comply with the decisions of Ukrainian courts.”

Vitaliya Lebid, UHHRU Strategic Litigation Center lawyer
Vitaliya Lebid, UHHRU Strategic Litigation Center lawyer

As early as 2014 a law was adopted that obligated Ukraine to provide compensation for said property, but to this day nothing has been done in this regard. “Government agencies are constantly appealing against court decisions favoring citizens, and the cases get returned to first instance courts for re-examination,” notes Vitaliya Lebid. “Meanwhile the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in similar cases show that Ukraine should develop a proper compensation mechanism.” This is demonstrated by ECtHR decision in the 2015 case “Sargsyan v. Azerbaijan”. If the property is located in disputed territory, all liability is borne by the state said territory officially belongs to. Thus, since the property in question is located in Ukraine, it should be Ukraine to provide compensation for it. “It seems, Ukraine has decided to back out from addressing this issue, transferring all liability to the Russian Federation,” says Vitaliya Lebid. “So it is possible that in the future Ukraine will have to provide such compensations based on ECtHR decisions.”

Igor Kurilchuk, Lawyer of UHHRU public reception office in Mariupol
Igor Kurilchuk, Lawyer of UHHRU public reception office in Mariupol

Lawyer of UHHRU public reception office in Mariupol Igor Kurilchuk pointed out that UHHRU PROs operate in all major cities of Donetsk Oblast, coordinating their activities with other human rights organizations.

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