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“How ‘Community Strength’ Helps Displaced Individuals from Kharkiv Region”

Publication date: August 14, 2023

A friendship united a painter-restorer, entrepreneurs, and a lawyer. Feeling the need to assist those affected by the full-scale war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, they collectively engaged in spontaneous volunteering in the city of Kolomyia, Ivano-Frankivsk region. As their efforts grew, the team expanded, and they began collaborating with other organizations. In March 2022, this volunteer alliance reestablished the “Community Strength” (“Syla Hromady”) NGO, which had been inactive since 2010.

Photo: Taras Hereliuk, Deputy Head of the “Community Strength” NGO. Photo from the “Community Strength” NGO archive.

“Effectively, our group became the foundation of the current ‘Community Strength’ team. Since its inception in 2008 and for some time, the organization operated with a focus on collaboration with local self-government bodies and anti-corruption activities. However, since February 24, 2022, our direction has shifted significantly. We began assisting internally displaced persons from Kharkiv region. We provided them with humanitarian aid and helped them adapt after relocation,” shares Taras Hereliuk, Deputy Director and Project Manager.

For those who have returned to their de-occupied communities, the organization continues to maintain contact and receive information about their needs.”

Photo: Transfer of medical supplies to the hospital. Photo from the archive of the “Community Strength” NGO.
Photo: Deputy Chairman of the “Community Strength” NGO, Maksym Havrylov, during targeted delivery of humanitarian aid. Photo from the archive of the “Community Strength” NGO.
Photo: Delivery of humanitarian aid for internally displaced persons in the village of Delyatin. Photo from the archive of the “Community Strength” NGO.
Photo: Volunteers of the “Community Strength” NGO loading a vehicle for a humanitarian shipment to the front-line areas. Photo from the archive of the “Community Strength” NGO.
Photo: Evacuation of a person for free medical treatment to Germany. Photo from the archive of the “Community Strength” NGO.

Starting from February 2022, “Community Strength” provided humanitarian assistance to over 10,000 individuals. More than 1,500 people received legal consultations on matters related to mobilization, inheritance, family issues, divorces, and travel abroad, among others. In collaboration with a German organization, they successfully arranged medical treatment abroad for one seriously injured serviceman, while two more are currently in the process of arranging their travel documentation.

The organization executed four projects, two of which were institutional in nature. Among their upcoming plans is the training of professionals to address Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in both military personnel and civilians, as this issue is becoming increasingly acute. Additionally, they are preparing for a strategic session to develop an operational plan.

Photo: Part of the team of the “Community Strength” NGO. Photo from the archive of the “Community Strength” NGO.

The organization’s team consists of eight individuals, each of whom had no prior experience in community work before February 24, 2022. They had to learn everything from scratch. Therefore, participation in the project “Capacity Development of Local NGOs – legal aid providers in Ukraine,” implemented by the Legal Development Network with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Government of Canada, was especially valuable.

“For a long time, and this is typical for any young organization, finding funding for our support was a challenge. After all, no person can work on a voluntary basis for an extended period. It was important for us to establish contacts with international partners and other organizations. Without prior experience, we had to learn how to do this from scratch. Thanks to our connection with the Legal Development Network, we started systematically implementing the direction of providing primary legal aid. Before this, since we had a lawyer in the organization, he provided consultations from time to time. Now we have added another lawyer to the team. Therefore, we can provide such support consistently,” says Taras Gerelyuk.

Photo from left to right: Deputy Chair of the “Syla Hromady” NGO Ostap Sobkiv, lawyer Yuriy Belyavsky, Chair of the organization Lesya Belyavska, and Deputy Chair Taras Gerelyuk. Photo from the archive of the “Syla Hromady” NGO.

After learning that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Ukraine was announcing a microgrants competition named “Enhancing the Capacity of Internally Displaced Civil Society Organizations as Providers of Free Legal Aid”,” the “Syla Hromady” NGO immediately decided to take advantage of this opportunity and create a project. The organization saw this initiative as a chance to improve the quality of legal assistance provided. The project began with a legal awareness campaign. For the residents of affected communities in Kharkiv region, they are preparing explanations about common issues, including property compensation, rights and obligations related to mobilization, labor legislation (job and position preservation for mobilized individuals, labor contracts), and inheritance matters. Subsequently, direct legal consultations by the organization’s lawyers commenced.

“We aim to develop clear procedures for accessing justice to simplify the process. Moreover, we will explore functional IT solutions, such as chatbots, to provide legal information and communicate with human rights advocates,” explained Taras Gerelyuk.

Telephone number for contacting the organization’s lawyers: +380 97 096 0801 (10:00 AM – 5:00 PM).

1 Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder, a type of neurosis, resulting from experiencing one or several events that damage one’s mental well-being. Such events may include military actions, acts of terrorism, accidents, natural disasters, catastrophes, severe physical injuries, domestic or sexual violence, threat of death, and witnessing or causing someone else’s death.

For reference:

The project “Capacity Development of Local NGOs – legal aid providers in Ukraine” is being implemented by the Legal Development Network with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Ukraine and the financial support of the Government of Canada under the UN Recovery and Peacebuilding Programme (UN RPP).

The UN RPP in Ukraine is being implemented by four UN agencies: the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The programme is supported by eleven international partners: the European Union, the European Investment Bank, the Embassy of the United States of America in Ukraine, as well as the governments of Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland.

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