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Internally displaced individuals from the Zaporizhzhia region have established a civil society organization and are providing assistance to the community in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast

Publication date: August 14, 2023

Halyna Kolesnyk, Communications Manager of the Legal Development Network

In late February 2022, lawyer Lyudmyla Sirkо was forced to leave Energodar, Zaporizhzhia Oblast, due to the threat of temporary occupation, and relocate to Delyatyn, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast. By early March, she and other residents from Energodar began actively collaborating with the local self-government body: initially as volunteers and later as an active civil society organization called “Simiynе Kolo / Hromadska Ekspertyza” (Family Circle / Public Expertise). This organization is the only one registered in the Delyatyn community and was officially established in June 2022.

Photo: Head of the NGO “Simiynе Kolo / Hromadska Ekspertyza” (Family Circle / Public Expertise), Lyudmyla Sіrko. Photo from the archive of the NGO “Simiynе Kolo / Hromadska Ekspertyza”.

“Our organization’s team consists of nine individuals. Two of them are currently residing in the temporarily occupied territories. Thanks to them, we are able to understand the current situation there,” explains the head of the organization, Lyudmyla Sіrko. “For instance, in Energodar, there used to be a population of 50,000 people until February 24, and now only 15,000 remain. There are no lawyers, attorneys, or notaries in the city, so people have no one to turn to for primary legal assistance. They are left face-to-face with the occupying authorities. The only option is our chatbots. Due to the circumstances, the most pressing issues are related to inheritance acceptance, establishing the facts of death and birth in the occupied territory, alimony or debts – these are the initial algorithms. We receive inquiries equally from those who managed to leave, including abroad, and those who remain in the clutches of the occupiers.”

Photo: Providing primary legal assistance to internally displaced persons. Photo from the archive of the NGO “Сімейне коло / громадська експертиза”.

“Simiynе Kolo / Hromadska Ekspertyza” (Family Circle / Public Expertise) doesn’t only help the residents of Enerhodar. In the spring of 2022, when Ukraine faced the threat of a humanitarian crisis, with the active participation of the Deliatyn community, the organization established an information hub for displaced community members, which numbered over 2,000 by the summer of 2022. The local council primarily focused on bringing humanitarian aid into the community, while the organization supervised and coordinated its distribution. Today, “Simiynе Kolo” provides informational support to 950 internally displaced persons who remain in the community. These individuals come from Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Mykolaiv, Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions. They stayed in the community because they have nowhere else to go.

“Simiynе Kolo / Hromadska Ekspertyza” (Family Circle / Public Expertise) has gathered information about the needs of each of them to ensure that nobody is left without assistance. Additionally, the organization communicates with major funds, implementing five grant initiatives. Thanks to these efforts, a temporary residence room for the displaced, a resilience center, and an information hub equipped with photocopying equipment for the internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been established. Programs for social adaptation and integration into the local community for IDPs have also been introduced.

photo: One of the integration events for displaced persons and community residents. Photo from the archive of NGO “Simiynе Kolo / Hromadska Ekspertyza” (Family Circle / Public Expertise)

From April to August 2022, we provided primary legal assistance, organized integration and adaptation events for internally displaced persons (IDPs) into the community, set up free workspaces for internet access, established a free copying service, and launched a hotline for IDPs in the community.

The implementation of the micro-grant initiative with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Ukraine helped us continue this work direction in 2023. Additionally, the organization received support within the project “Capacity Development of Local NGOs – legal aid providers in Ukraine,” implemented by the Legal Development Network with the support of UNDP and the Government of Canada.

The project ‘Capacity Development of Local NGOs – legal aid providers in Ukraine ‘ was very timely for us,” says Lyudmyla.It’s good that this opportunity arose not in the first months of the war, as those were slightly different issues and challenges, but in the summer when our areas of activity had already formed. This helped us realize that we are not alone with our idea. Through mentorship, we were able to clearly identify work directions and synchronize the team’s efforts. A quality legal service involves not only the work of lawyers or attorneys, but also the precise and professional work of communicators, accountants, and volunteers.

We provide legal assistance directly to citizens from temporarily occupied territories (the Energyodar community) through online messaging, phone calls for IDPs within Ukraine, and for IDPs in the community, we operate on a schedule from our headquarters. However, in cases where urgent assistance is needed outside of our operating hours, we don’t ignore it,” says Lyudmyla Sirkо. “Currently, we’ve noticed a trend where IDPs from temporarily occupied territories primarily need assistance with civil matters, whereas internally displaced individuals require more comprehensive assistance. In cases where secondary legal assistance, such as court representation, is needed, we redirect individuals to the Nadvirna Centre for Free Secondary Legal Aid in the Ivano-Frankivsk region. However, there are instances where the center cannot provide the quality of assistance that IDPs expect. In such cases, we help them find a private lawyer, who then provides assistance on a paid basis.”

For reference:

The project “ 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 support of the Government of Canada, provided within the framework of the UN Peace and Development Programme.

The UN Peace and Development Programme (UN RPP) is 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 (EU), the European Investment Bank (EIB), the Embassy of the United States in Ukraine, as well as the governments of Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland.

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