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“Public Legal Aid Service”: adaptation and assistance to IDPs

Publication date: February 21, 2024

Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine has forced millions of people to flee their homes. The NGO “Public Legal Aid Service” from Novoaydar, Luhansk Oblast, which moved to Dnipropetrovs’k Oblast, is one of those organizations of the Legal Development Network (LDN) that adapted to the new conditions and continue to help people.

Currently, the organization provides legal aid, counseling on relocation, employment and psychological support. These areas have been supported by the LDN as part of the program to strengthen the capacity of local organizations to respond to the challenges of war since February 2023. We will tell you about the organization’s current activities and prospective actions below.

The team has adapted to working in new communities and helps other organizations

The organization started its activities in 1998 in Luhansk and moved to Novoaydar in 2014 after Russia occupied the city. Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, the organization has been relocated to the Dnipro Oblast. Currently, the office is based in Pavlohrad, with separate offices in Dnipro and Kamianske. Whenever possible, the team carries out working visits to Kryvyi Rih with legal consultations, where requests are received through the organization’s volunteers.

Oleksii Kormiletskyi, lawyer of the NGO “Public Legal Aid Service”. Photo from personal archive

“By 2022, we had 18 employees, 13 of whom relocated. Most of them settled with their families in the Dnipro Oblast. Now we have 28 volunteers working with us in different communities, most of them IDPs whom we have advised at different times,” says lawyer Oleksii Kormiletskyi. “Upon arrival, we were impressed by the fact that the IDPs themselves expressed a desire to help others, their willingness to spend time, and their understanding of other people’s problems. It was very supportive and gave us a lot of energy to work. Now we are constantly in touch with the IDPs we have helped before, and they know they can turn to us again.”

In addition, the NGO “Public Legal Aid Service” supports other NGOs that move from the occupied territories to the government-controlled territory. Within two months, they were provided with 10 consultations on re-registration and two organizations were assisted in developing a communication plan to disseminate information about their work and in updating their internal policies. This approach enhances their ability to operate effectively after relocation.

Systematic work on the integration of IDPs

Legal aid remains the main focus of the organization’s activities. Responding to the challenges of the war, the Public Legal Aid Service also started working on the integration of internally displaced persons into the life of new communities.

The team of the “Public Legal Aid Service” manages to maintain stable cooperation with the military administration of Luhansk region, which refers people with requests for legal aid.

Members of the team of the “Public Legal Aid Service” from Novoaydar, Luhansk Oblast, after relocation, consult residents of Dnipropetrovs’k Oblast. Photo from the organization’s archive

In 2023, the Public Legal Aid Service provided 240 legal consultations and 215 consultations on finding housing for IDPs.

Almost half of the applicants have problems with their documents, cannot obtain certain certificates or confirm their work experience. In addition, many people are in a state of shock and difficult living conditions, and do not understand the ways out of the situation. In such cases, members of the organization provide social support.

“We are proud that we are able to help people find housing,” says Oleksiy Kormiletskiy,We actively cooperate with three shelter centers in Dnipro, Kamianske, and Pavlohrad. We offer free accommodation or affordable rental options for a more comfortable stay to every person who applies to us. Although we do not have specialized consultants on resettlement and employment, we actively cooperate with shelter providers and regularly refer our clients to them. Currently, we do not have the capacity to allocate a separate specialist to deal with these issues.”

Psychological support is one of the components of the comprehensive support provided by the Public Legal Aid Service. The organization’s team cooperates with a psychologist who advises IDPs online. Single women with children need special attention, as it is difficult for them to start life in a new place. Older people are also going through a difficult period, as moving becomes a great stress for them.

“We help people find the meaning of life and adapt to a new place. Some of them become volunteers in our organization. It was our volunteers who suggested organizing several online meetings where people could share their thoughts and emotions,” says Oleksiy Kormiletskiy.

Another relevant area of work is helping older people to master digital literacy. Often they lack the knowledge to receive state social services online, and they come with this request. The organization aims not only to help them apply for social assistance, a certificate of change of IDP status and place of residence, but also to teach them how to use online services on their own.

The participants of the training “Effective Tools for Protecting Your Rights”, conducted by the team of the “Public Legal Aid Service” in the summer of 2023, learned how to protect the rights of IDPs through a successful advocacy campaign. Discussion of their experience helped to identify key barriers to successful advocacy. Photo from the organization’s archive

Future plans include facilitating the integration of IDPs into new communities in every way possible, and the organization continues to provide legal and psychosocial assistance. In particular, they want to expand their work with IDP families with children with disabilities (counseling for parents, psychological and social support, including finding specialized health facilities). 

“We understand that the integration of IDPs into new communities takes a long time, several years. At first, people have to satisfy basic problems – with housing, work, legal and psychological problems – in order to adapt to a new place. This is what we are working on now,” explains lawyer Serhiy Kormiletsky.

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 exclusive responsibility of the public union “Legal Development Network”.

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