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«Northern Human Rights Group”: protecting the rights of displaced persons in the Sumy region in the conditions of war

Publication date: March 27, 2024

Sumy oblast, as a border region, experienced partial occupation by Russian troops and liberation in 2022, and now continues to be under constant threat from shelling. In this difficult situation, the Northern Human Rights Protection Group continues to actively assist internally displaced persons (IDPs) and community residents in the legal sphere.

The organization provides legal advice and accompanies IDPs’ cases in court, as well as provides expert support to IDP councils in Sumy oblast. Such initiatives of the organization have been supported by the Legal Development Network (LDN) since February 2023 as part of the program to strengthen the capacity of local organizations to respond to the challenges of war. We will tell you more about the results of the work and further plans below.

Legal aid as a comprehensive support

In 2014, the life of lawyer Lyudmyla Rudenko’s family changed dramatically – they were forced to leave their native Donetsk region due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Finding refuge in Sumy oblast, Liudmyla joined the Northern Human Rights Group, where she continued her professional career as a lawyer. Photo from her personal archive

Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, internally displaced persons in Sumy oblast have faced difficult challenges, including housing and employment. The unfavorable economic situation in the region makes it difficult to find a job. Registration of statuses and receipt of state benefits is also a challenge due to constant changes in legislation. Internally displaced persons in Sumy oblast most often turn to the NGO Northern Human Rights Protection Group with these issues. In 2023, the organization provided about 1000 legal consultations to clients.

“Two of our lawyers regularly provide legal aid to community residents during on-site visits and remotely. The shelling sometimes subsides and then starts again, which leads to damage to property. “That is why the most pressing issues are related to repair and compensation for lost property,” explains Liudmyla Rudenko. “As for the approaches to legal aid, we plan to continue to practice case support – pre-trial preparation of the client’s case, drafting procedural documents, and representation in court. We focus not on primary legal aid, as this service is provided by many other organizations, but on comprehensive support. People need help step by step, explanations on the algorithm of actions, filing an application, submitting clarifying documents, etc.”

Thus, while supporting the case of guardianship establishment, the lawyer of the Northern Human Rights Group helped a resident of the border territorial community in Sumy oblast to renew the term for applying to the court and request an extension of the term for recognizing a person as incapacitated. The analysis of the court practice emphasized the ambiguous position on this issue, but the lawyer successfully argued the need to extend the term due to the occupation and the inability to access the court. As a result, the court granted the woman’s petition.

Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, tens of thousands of children have suffered. They can receive special status.

“Almost all communities have IDPs with children who are entitled to the status of war victims, and this is a big question for us, how to help children living in the war zone. At the first stage, it is important to obtain the appropriate status. We are working on this, so in March, the Sumy Administrative Services Center has been able to issue the appropriate status to a child,” says Lyudmyla Rudenko.

Assistance in the formation of councils for internally displaced persons

The organization’s initiatives include holding meetings, lectures and webinars to support and protect the rights of internally displaced persons and to encourage their participation in various spheres of life. Webinars for students of Sumy State University discussed the topic of involving young people in the IDP Council. Webinars were also held for IDPs and war-affected people to discuss the protection of IDPs’ rights in the field of consumer lending and other issues.

During a coordination meeting on opportunities for IDPs early last year. Photo from the archive of the Northern Human Rights Group
In April 2023, the organization held a discussion on humanitarian hubs, humanitarian aid issues, and ways to solve problems. Photo from the archive of the Northern Human Rights Group

The organization played a key role in the formation of an initiative group to establish IDP councils in Sumy oblast. It interacted with active IDPs and communities in the region to discuss ways to improve the quality of life. This process included analyzing opportunities, attracting grant assistance to implement ideas, and stimulating civic engagement. Subsequently, a draft Regulation on the IDP Council at the Lebedyn City Council was developed.

“In 2023, the Northern Human Rights Protection Group organized coordination meetings with representatives of the Sumy Regional State Administration on the establishment of IDP councils. The topics of discussion included communication and cooperation with local government representatives and regional social protection units. Photo from the organization’s archive

With the organization’s assistance, four councils for internally displaced persons were established: at the regional level and in the cities of Sumy, Lebedyn and Shostka. The organization’s lawyer Lyudmyla Rudenko, who deeply understands the difficulties of internally displaced persons from her own experience, became the secretary of the Council for Internally Displaced Persons at the Sumy oblast state administration.

This fall, the newly created IDP councils held a strategy meeting. During this event in Lebedyn, Sumy district, organized by the Northern Human Rights Group, they discussed the development strategy and next steps in their work. Photo from the organization’s archive

Impact on the employment situation

The organization noticed that many of those who address legal issues also need psychological assistance because they feel confused, have difficulty assessing the situation, have difficulty making decisions, and lack motivation. Lyudmyla Rudenko noted the potential for development of psychological support for IDPs.

A training session was held for displaced women from Kharkiv region, which included art therapy for psychological relaxation and special exercises to understand their own personality and improve life planning. Photo from the archive of the NGO “Northern Human Rights Protection Group”

Currently, the problem of employment is especially relevant for displaced persons, as the legislation on financial assistance is constantly changing and payments are being reduced. Therefore, the organization plans to provide information on special programs for starting a business and on training courses for obtaining a new job.

“We are working with employment centers and discussing the creation of special booklets that we could distribute in communities about training opportunities at employment centers,” says Lyudmila Rudenko. “We are also disseminating information about microgrants available for small businesses from various organizations. We plan to hold lectures on registering as a sole proprietor so that people become more aware and not afraid of this process. In this way, we try to motivate people and raise their awareness of retraining opportunities.”

The Northern Human Rights Group aims to make a significant impact on the employment situation. In particular, the organization plans to monitor regional social support programs for IDPs to ensure that they properly take into account this category of people.

The material was created with the support of the international charitable platform GlobalGiving, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. The content of the publication is the sole responsibility of the public union “Legal Development Network”.

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