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How a community organization restores access to legal assistance in the community in the Donets’k region

Publication date: August 14, 2023

Author: Halyna Kolesnyk, communications manager of the Legal Development Network

The idea to establish the NGO “Eastern Human Rights Center” was conceived by activists from Sloviansk and Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region back in 2014. They collaborated within various initiatives. After the full-scale invasion of Russia into Ukrainian territory, they encountered new challenges and realized their desire to work more specifically for the communities in the Donetsk region.

When they learned about the project “Capacity Development of Local CSOs as Providers of Legal Aid in Ukraine,” they decided that it was an opportunity to receive expert support for their newly established organization. Thus, they registered in March 2022 and applied to participate.

Today, the organization’s team consists of three lawyers and an accountant, with volunteers also being involved. They are based in Kramatorsk and additionally assist internally displaced individuals residing in Lviv.

Photo: Marina Kuprikova, lawyer of the “Eastern Human Rights Center”. Photo from Halyna Kolesnyk

“Our third lawyer joined the team at the end of 2022. He had no previous experience in the civil sector, so he is gaining it together with us. Additionally, we shared the standards of providing legal aid. In our work, we adhere to the standards developed by the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, some members of our team have been working with them since 2014,” says Marina Kuprikova, a lawyer of the organization.

As part of the initiative “Capacity development of local NGOs – legal aid providers in Ukraine,” the organization, in collaboration with their mentor Natalia Yesina, initiated the development of a strategic growth plan. They conducted a self-assessment and identified a list of policies and procedures that needed to be developed.

“Participating in the grant mini-competition, organized with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Ukraine, was also a first-time experience for us. Initially, we even had doubts about our ability to execute our project to enhance access to justice in Donetsk Oblast, as we had previously only executed certain initiatives. We had no experience with tender procurement, financial reporting, and overall organization reporting. It was completely unfamiliar to us. However, our mentor boosted our confidence, assuring us that we could do it. And indeed, we now see that everything is falling into place for us, and it’s incredibly rewarding,” notes Marina Kuprikova.

Regarding the project’s objectives, it aims to enhance and expand access to legal aid for internally displaced persons in the Donetsk region. This involves developing a roadmap titled “Access to Free Legal Aid in the Kramatorsk Community” and providing legal consultations to community residents. The organization faced challenges in gathering accurate information due to the evacuation of various legal service providers in the Kramatorsk community. The team had to send inquiries to the Kramatorsk military city administration and the Donetsk military-civilian administration to obtain reliable information.

To gather reliable information, the “Eastern Human Rights Center” submitted inquiries to the Kramatorsk Military City Administration and the Donetsk Military-Civil Administration.

“Today, we have already received responses to practically 80% of the inquiries from various departments and units, leaving us with the analytical component. We will compile this into the appropriate format and submit it for development and design. It will be a booklet that we will distribute among the community residents, particularly vulnerable segments of the population, including those who have found refuge in our community. The contents of this booklet will provide information on where to address inquiries, including addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses, to seek assistance on specific matters to protect their rights,” says Marina Kuprikova.

Photo: Providing legal consultations to internally displaced individuals from the Luhansk region who are residing in Kramatorsk. Photo from the Facebook page of the “Eastern Human Rights Center.”

The majority of legal consultations are provided remotely due to the security situation in the Kramatorsk community. The organization also assists internally displaced individuals in Lviv. Their project involves creating a booklet that will be distributed among vulnerable populations, providing contact information for obtaining assistance regarding various legal issues.

The most frequent inquiries involve issues related to payments, compensation for damaged and destroyed housing, inheritance matters, and questions pertaining to the social protection of military personnel.

The organization’s involvement in the project is strategically significant for them.

“We have decided to implement this project, fully engage in it, in order to gain comprehensive experience. Only after its completion, we will then expand the scope of our organization’s work and focus on other initiatives,” Marina explains.

For more information or consultations, you can contact the organization through the provided phone number: +38 095 292 1456 or the email address: alexustas11@gmail.com.

The initiative “Capacity development of local NGOs – legal aid providers in Ukraine” is implemented by the Legal Development Network with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Ukraine and the financial assistance of the Government of Canada within the framework of the Peace and Stabilization Program.

The program is supported by eleven international partners, including the European Union (EU), the European Investment Bank (EIB), the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, and the governments of Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland.

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