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Needs of relocated communities in Zaporizhzhia. Focus on legal assistance

Publication date: August 14, 2023

Author: Halyna Kolesnyk, Communications Manager of the Legal Development Network

The NGO “Strategies and Technologies for Effective Partnership” (NGO “STEP”) from Zaporizhzhia has been operating since 2009. Over the course of more than 12 years of work, they have collaborated with communities from their own and neighboring regions, local self-government bodies, youth, and vulnerable population groups.

At the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022, the “STEP” team provided training for elderly people from the Shahivska community in Donetsk region to use digital services. They set up spaces with necessary equipment based on libraries. However, the full-scale war hindered the completion of this initiative. Some of the training was transitioned to an online format, and the topics were adjusted to include first aid and psychological support.

“An interesting aspect of Zaporizhzhia is the presence of many relocated local self-government bodies (LSGBs) along with community members, who were previously working in the communities, as well as personnel from communal institutions such as schools and medical facilities. In June 2022, we gained the opportunity to provide them with primary legal assistance,” said Oleksii Ahientaiev from the NGO “STEP.”

“The peculiarity of Zaporizhzhia is that there are many relocated local self-government bodies (LSGBs) along with residents of communities where they worked, and personnel from communal institutions such as schools, medical facilities, and LSGB units. They all need assistance in various areas – psychological, humanitarian support, legal, and more. In June, we gained the opportunity to provide them with primary legal assistance with the support of the Danish Refugee Council, even though legal services were not developed directly until February 24, 2022. We engaged three lawyers who conducted group consultations. We developed informational materials and provided them at humanitarian aid distribution centers,” explained Oleksii Ahientaiev, a board member of the NGO “STEP.”

Overall, with the support of partners, the organization’s lawyers provided primary legal assistance to over 2000 internally displaced persons. Participation in the training program “Capacity Development of Local Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) as Providers of Legal Aid in Ukraine,” implemented by the Legal Development Network (LDN) with the support of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Ukraine and the Government of Canada, helped the team strengthen their professional skills.

“The lawyers who became part of our team had no experience working in the civil sector. Therefore, it was important for them to understand the approaches to providing primary legal aid and how a civil organization works in general. We combined knowledge acquisition with practical work, and even ideas for other initiatives began to emerge,” noted Oleksii.

Thanks to a microgrant from UNDP, the organization strengthened its legal work. The “STEP” NGO engaged two more lawyers who will provide primary legal assistance to relocated LSGBs in the Yahymivska and Vasylkivska communities, as well as to internally displaced persons from these communities, for three months. Many questions arise related to the full-scale war, such as how to formalize inheritance if the property and land plots of community residents are located in temporarily occupied territories, how to establish facts of death or birth, and more.

Oleksii Ahientaiev points out that due to the challenges of the full-scale war, their team focused on developing their communication and legal education skills to better inform residents of 25 communities in Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions. The circumstances prompted team members to dive deeper into community activities. For example, if before February 24, 2022, Oleksii devoted only 20% of his time to public work, today it’s 70%. Additionally, he sees the need to provide more comprehensive assistance to internally displaced persons, not only legal but also psychological. Currently, he is exploring ways to address this need in future initiatives.

For reference:

The project “Capacity Development of Local NGOs – legal aid providers in Ukraine” is implemented by the Legal Development Network (LDN) with the support of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Ukraine and the Government of Canada, provided within the framework of the UN Recovery and Peacebuilding Programme (UN RPP).

UN RPP 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 (EU), the European Investment Bank (EIB), the US Embassy in Ukraine, as well as the governments of Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland.

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