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How Legal Development Network helped Ukrainian civil society adapt to the war-time

With the beginning of russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, organizations of civil society (CSOs) found themselves in conditions of increased danger and constant turbulence. Basic human security, stability for relocated businesses and its adaptation to the dynamically changing crisis – are the current civil society priorities in new circumstances.

Taking these challenges during March-May, the Legal Development Network (LDN), with the support of the People in Need, developed a special training program. LDN conducted a series of webinars for organizations and activists to help them work more effectively in new conditions. So they could build strategies to respond to the totally unknown challenges.

At least 16 webinars with exclusive training program were attended by 50 participants representing 32 organizations not only from Luhansk and Donetsk, but also from Kyiv, Mykolaiv, Cherkasy, Sumy, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Chernivtsi, Vinnytsia, Zaporizhia, Kirovohrad, Kharkiv and even Zakarpatska oblast.

Yevgen Poltenko,  Executive Director, Legal Development Network, Project manager «Support to civil society organizations to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and promote long-term socio-economic sustainability of vulnerable groups», which organized webinars

«We realized that many CSOs had lost touch with a part of their team. Most existing projects are frozen. There was no understanding of the future and relevant response plans. The psychological condition of activists was an additional problem. They were the first who accepted the social burden of helping others. They had to think not only about themselves and their families but also about those displaced people who surrounded them. Instantly assessing these needs, we (LDN) have created a system program of assistance for civil society with a focus on four priorities: security, capacity to respond to humanitarian challenges, protection of human rights, and vision for the future to recover and develop after the war ends. Of course, the maximum effect could be achieved only with the consistent participation of all activists in the full cycle of webinars. However, the remote work format and constant shelling throughout Ukraine couldn’t give it. Therefore, we tried to make each webinar as practical and informative as possible, so the participants who may not have attended the previous webinar could deepen their knowledge in a specific field and apply it at the actual webinar», – said Yevgen Poltenko, Executive Director in Legal Development Network.

Sometime after the training, 14 participants agreed to provide feedback on the benefits and practicalities of knowledge they received. 78% of them indicated the highest level of compliance with their needs. Most are already using or planning to use the information they have received shortly, such as establishing cooperation with the authorities, joining a crime documentation team, determining the real needs for assistance, etc.

Crisis psychologist Ievgenia Poltenko
Crisis psychologist Iryna Norkina

Experienced experts joined the program development. For example, Ievgeniia Poltenko and Iryna Norkina, crisis psychologists with more than 10 years of experience, worked on the mental stabilization of the webinar participants and taught them simple and effective methods of helping others.   

Svitlana Romantsova, a representative of the «YurFem» Women’s Lawyers Association

«I joined only today, but in an hour, I received such a charge of peace, balance, which I had not had for a long time. Although I couldn’t even admit to myself that I didn’t have them before. I teach remotely. It is very difficult to see students’ anxiety. I have some exercises that help me to get a little calm. But in fact, first, I will use the exercises I just learned about today. Thank you very much, you are great fellows sharing this resource. It is very difficult nowadays. It is difficult, probably just to find a resource to live, to find a resource for making today», – said the representative of the Women’s Lawyers Association «YurFem» Svitlana Romantsova.

Team-building expert Timur Kanatayev
Specialist of IT technologies using Oleksiy Tertyshnyi

Timur Kanatayev and Oleksiy Tertyshnyi, specialists in IT technologies using and team-building experts taught how to work remotely and protect data.

Taras Shcherbatiuk, an expert on the Local Human Rights Index and head of the Cherkasy Human Rights Center

Human rights activists, experts from the Local Human Rights Index Taras Shcherbatiuk and Natalia Yesina conducted webinars on practical skills in the field of information security at the local level. They also gave the mechanisms for protecting human rights in wartime, documenting war crimes, establishing cooperation and monitoring local government.

«The full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation into Ukraine has united the entire population of our country. Ukrainians have joined groups and initiatives to come across the needs of both the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) and the civilians affected by the war. Taking into account the experience of the volunteer movement at the beginning of the war in 2014, we analyzed possible areas of public work to build their work more helpful and effective in the present situation. At our webinars, we taught through communication between local authorities and volunteers. We gave the mechanisms for analyzing the work of local authorities and building their work in accordance with applicable law.

Documenting war crimes in Ukraine and involving volunteers and the public in this process was a separate topic on the webinars. Participants had an opportunity to get acquainted with the concept of international humanitarian law and the procedure of documenting war crimes. I think this will provide an opportunity to involve as many people as possible in this process and gather the maximum amount of evidence to bring the Russian Federation to justice for crimes committed in Ukraine.

Conducting these webinars and workshops allowed us to analyze the activities of activists and volunteers from different parts of Ukraine and to construct the most optimal model for providing assistance to the civilians of Ukraine affected by the war», – notes Taras Shcherbatiuk.

Natalia Yesina, expert of the Local Human Rights Index, leader of the Northern Human Rights Group (Sumy)

«The Local Human Rights Index can be used even during the war. The areas of monitoring illustrate both the prospects and the challenges faced by local authorities. In wartime, this is the prospect of swift action through the human rights approach that local authorities must demonstrate. We analyze not how the reforms are implemented but how the local authorities operate in extreme conditions – when the war continues. Because it is necessary to secure a decent standard of living and access to social services for community members,» – says Natalia Yesina. 

LDN Organizational Development Director Iryna Chaika
LDN Program Director Vitaliy Okhrimenko

Experts in strategy development and implementation, Vitaliy Okhrimenko, LDN Program Director, and Iryna Chaika, LDN Organizational Development Director, shared how to assess the existing needs of the target audience, establish cooperation with local authorities, and also how create quality services. 

And Halyna Kolesnyk, LDN Communication Manager, shared how to distinguish between stereotypes and hate speech interact with the media and social networks in such a way as to attract supporters and create resonance.

Olena Nizhelska, a representative of the Seversky Donets Crisis Media Center

Olena Nizhelska, a representative of the Seversky Donets Crisis Media Center, spoke about the practical benefits she received from participating in one of the webinars:

«When registering for the webinar, I thought it would be more theoretical and did not expect to be able to immerse myself in one of the creative themes such as design thinking. Therefore, I am pleasantly surprised that the organizers considered the complex topic of needs identification through the prism of design thinking – a creative process of solving problems to create human-centered innovations.

Moreover, during the webinar, we simulated a real way to use the proposed technology. That is, we looked at a specific problem, analyzed a specific service, and literally «felt» ways to solve the problem.

Now I am sure that our team will use this approach in the current activities of our public organization in identifying the needs of people that are our target audience. I believe that the projects and programs, services and policies, and all the products of our organization will be better and more responsive to current needs, thanks to design thinking».

Even in wartime, the Legal Development Network continues to empower civil society organizations. Communicating with the participants of the training program helped to identify other new needs. In particular, many of them mentioned the requests to increase knowledge of legal details of documenting war crimes for both activists and local authorities. This is exactly what the LDN has started implementing in one of its new initiatives. But about this – later…

Webinars also helped the coaching team to rethink their experience and knowledge because, as Natalia Yesina noted:

«We are living in an unreal time when fundamental human rights itself and international mechanisms for the protection of human rights are being tested. The existence of those institutions that were created by mankind, their expediency are being tested. It’s a unique time to watch and analyze, in my opinion».

The series of webinars were supported by the organization People in Need and with the financial support of the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the Legal Development Network and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union or People in Need.


P. S. More relevant information on legal and humanitarian issues – is in the special section #StandWithUkraine. It accumulates materials that may be useful to those who suffer, whose rights are violated as a result of the war between russia and Ukraine.


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