Потрібна юридична консультація? Наш юрист надасть її безкоштовно

What are access to justice, security, and local budgets like in Ukrainian communities during the full-scale war

Author: Halyna Kolesnyk, communications manager of the Legal Development Network 

On February 7, 2023, the Legal Development Network together with the Association of Ukrainian Cities and with the support of the International Renaissance Foundation (IRF) and the European Union presented the results of a study of the work of local self-government bodies in the areas of access to justice, security and local budgets in Ukrainian communities during a full-scale war.

More than 300 representatives of the state government and local self-government, civil protection structures, human rights defenders, and experts from Vinnytsia, Volyn, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kirovohrad, Kyiv, Luhansk, Mykolaiv, Odesa, Ternopil, Kherson, and Cherkasy oblasts.

The study was conducted from August to December 2022 in 13 medium and small front-line, temporarily occupied rear, and de-occupied communities of Dnipropetrovsk, Luhansk, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Chernihiv oblasts.

The implementation of this initiative was planned at the end of 2021 as part of the project “Research of legal services at the community level: The role of local authorities in enhancing access to justice”. The experts were to analyze the Ukrainian and international, in particular, European experience of expanding access to justice in communities and create a road map based on the received data. However, the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine created a new context not only in terms of access to justice but also in other areas.

The same trend was observed in other initiatives supported by the International Renaissance Foundation

Photo: Olga Halchenko, IRF Civil Sustainability Program manager

“We had to change the priorities and tasks of various projects very quickly. Here I can say that both the foundation and, first of all, our partners, public organizations, very quickly and flexibly reoriented themselves to the urgent requests and needs of the communities that have already completely different problems,” says Olga Halchenko, IRF Civil Sustainability Program manager

Photo: Oleksandr Slobozhan, executive director of the Association of Ukrainian Cities

Given the new circumstances and challenges faced by local governments, the researchers focused on three areas that are most relevant to responding to the challenges of a full-scale invasion.

Why the division into types of communities – de-occupied, temporarily occupied, front-line, and rear communities is important in this study, says Oleksandr Slobozhan, executive director of the Association of Ukrainian Cities:

“It is very good that in this study we managed to highlight the peculiarities of local budgets and precisely in the conditions of martial law how municipalities function. If earlier we compared, for example, rural, settlement, and city budgets, then in the conditions of martial law, the  Association of Ukrainian Cities was the first to propose a new typology of regional development. It was taken into account in the new legislation. De facto, we now have four types of territories introduced at the legislative level – directly front, support, de-occupied and rear. In our research, which we did together with the Legal Development Network with the support of the IRF, we compared not just the types of administrative-territorial units, but the types of administrative-territorial units that belong to different types of regions. This is important, because each of them has completely different relations, both with the central government and directly between the municipal authorities of different levels, or with civil society. This research will help us directly not only in communication with the central government, but also among ourselves through examples of stories of interactions, understanding the trend, and if they are negative, overcoming them.”

Methodology of the study

The study took place in several stages: desk study, in-depth interviews, discussion of the results, and the formation of the recommendations.

Photo: Vitalii Okhrimenko, program director of the Legal Development Network

Vitalii Okhrimenko, program director of the Legal Development Network, talks about the general approach to the study:

“We chose small and medium-sized communities because there is the greatest synergy of civil society and local self-government bodies, quick response to challenges and needs. In terms of areas, we are talking about local budgets, security, and access to justice, because they are interconnected. The issue of the local budget is at the top of the agenda for discussion of local self-government, namely, how to use it most effectively, besides, it is an integral part of any other sphere. It was security and access to justice that were also the priorities of the discussion because they are extremely important for obtaining the ability to quickly respond to the challenges of war. These areas are also promising from the point of view of creating the right conditions and certain ecosystems that allow for laying the foundation for recovery in the future. We did not try to reach more communities, as it was important to conduct all stages thoroughly and qualitatively at the most in-depth level.”

Security in communities

Security in communities was studied comprehensively from the point of view of the activities of local government to ensure public, and civil security and defense.

Photo: Taras Shcherbatiuk, expert in the security field of the study, human rights defender

“With the beginning of the military conflict in 2014, the issue of security is important and a priority for state authorities and local self-government in Ukraine. Our organization has always kept this issue in focus. Starting from 2020, we are constantly monitoring the level of involvement of executive bodies to create a safe standard of living in communities. And we always found various shortcomings and a lack of refinement. The year 2022 became an indicator of the effectiveness of local self-government bodies and showed the current state of public safety and order in communities. Our study showed the lack of a systematic approach to the organization of work in this field at the local level. The executive bodies of the councils did not adopt or did not introduce changes to the existing programs/decisions that would allow strengthening work in the direction of public safety and order. For most of the territorial communities, this issue did not become a priority even after the full-scale invasion. The basic reason for the lack of effective work, according to the representatives of local self-government bodies, is the lack of finances, established powers, and actual responsibility for the lack of work in this area (conclusion of the expert team). Under the conditions of improving legislation with clearly defined responsibilities and powers, local self-government bodies could adopt local target programs and allocate funds for their implementation,” says Taras Shcherbatiuk, an expert in the security field of the study.

Civil security. Although the legislation has defined the authority of local government in the field of civil security, local self-government has not been able to move very quickly from a formal approach to a proactive one. The barrier on this path was the lack of funding.

“Actually, if we compare public safety and civil safety, then in the first we have an imperfection of the legislation, namely the uncertainty of specific spheres of authority, and in the second, although the civil protection code clearly defines the list of what should be done on the ground, not all the powers are being implemented, unfortunately, due to a lack of funds,” Taras Shcherbatiuk notes.

Defense. Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine, local self-government bodies have faced the question of how to implement the powers and directions of work of local self-government bodies established by the legislation on the defense of Ukraine. It was the communities that pointed out the problems they encountered during the implementation of this law.

“I would like this research to become an example for other communities because all these comments and recommendations are the same for all communities throughout Ukraine. Each of us felt it ourselves, without exception: lack of shelters, evacuation plans, insufficient awareness, and insufficient community dialogue with residents. This is what we tried to highlight and what can now be taken into account and corrected in any community. I would like the local authorities and civil society, public activists to find bridges of cooperation and correct the situation that has arisen with security in their communities together,” noted Nataliia Yesina, an expert in the security field of the study, human rights defender.


After February 24, 2022, the number of legal problems increased due to the emergence of new facts related to the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation into the territory of Ukraine, in particular, regarding destroyed housing, injuries, issues of social assistance to internally displaced persons, travel abroad, inheritance, divorce, loss documents, etc. These problems were layered on top of the large layer that existed before. In addition, in 2023, the funding of the state system of free legal aid decreased by 19% compared to 2022. 

“We can’t skimp on the primary basic needs. Access to justice, legal support, respectively, as well as security, are fundamental needs, without which one cannot talk about a proper response to the challenges of the war and the creation of prerequisites for the recovery of Ukraine,” says Vitalii Okhrimenko, an expert and program director of the Legal Development Network.

Among the main barriers to access to justice in communities are:

  • lack of systematic financing practices;
  • loss of personnel potential by local self-government bodies;
  • lack of referral mechanisms from local self-government bodies. An automated mechanism for such redirection has been implemented in the state system of free legal aid. It could be used by all subjects. This greatly simplifies citizens’ access to such assistance. But, unfortunately, the studied communities did not know about such a mechanism and, accordingly, did not use it. Therefore, it is important not only to have such mechanisms but also the leadership role of local self-government bodies in relation to them.

Among the solutions that experts worked out together with representatives of local self-government bodies, and which can be implemented in 2023, were:

  • the possibility of introducing the acceptance of applications for legal assistance and the inclusion of community headmen in this system;
  • organization of remote access points to free legal aid using technical means of communication;
  • the possibility of creating communal institutions to provide free primary legal assistance and legal education.

Regarding the implementation of the recommendation in terms of legal education and other mechanisms, Vitalii Okhrimenko comments: “I would like to note that this is provided for by law, it is inexpensive for the community, and it is also necessary for the context of not just providing legal support, but rather professional and systematic work on legal education. In addition, the provision of basic legal services of legal support in the territorial community is an important initiative that could become a kind of catalyst for all other processes. With the combination of such resources as methodical support and training of local authorities and targeted funding from the state, it becomes possible to create a target fund, for example, to support measures in the field of access to justice at the level of territorial communities. Such a trust fund can also perform the functions of coordination of efforts at the national level, as well as point support to communities that need it most. For de-occupied communities, the implementation of these proposals can contribute to the faster return of priority services to meet basic needs. In addition, the creation of security hubs, for example, in the Luhansk region after de-occupation, where a policeman, lawyer, psychologist, and medic would function as a single team, is also a universal solution for simplifying the availability of basic services. Such hubs could also work in the format of mobile brigades, covering, among other things, a rural area, or an area where logistics are disrupted, and, accordingly, would provide a quick response to the needs of residents.”

Local budgets

After February 24 and during the first half of 2022, in particular, in comparison with 2021, the situation regarding the filling of local budgets became significantly more complicated. Some of them ended up in the front-line zone or in the combat zone and were forced to respond to security threats, and some of them accepted a large number of IDPs from nearby regions. In addition, during this period, the communities tried to satisfy the requests of military units for equipment and other material resources, as well as, if necessary, provided premises and financed their maintenance.

As for the revenues of local budgets, in general, a significant decrease is observed in the section of communities in the studied regions. And the small growth in Dnipropetrovsk and Ivano-Frankivsk oblasts does not compensate for the consumer price index for the period January-June 2022. According to the data of the State Statistics Service of Ukraine, it was 17.4%.

Photo: Mykola Sylenko, expert, executive director of the Chernihiv regional branch of the Association of Ukrainian Cities

“This once again proves that communities are in extremely difficult financial circumstances. This is evidenced by the analysis of expenditures. We observe a drop in all analyzed regions from 6% to 29.4%, except for Ivano-Frankivsk oblast, which has a slight increase of 2%. The situation with local budgets was largely determined by changes to the legislation. In March, changes were made to the tax code and the tax burden on individual entrepreneurs was partially simplified and reduced. There were no fees for the land, and the excise tax rates were 0 for a long time. Therefore, these and a number of other factors had an impact on the financial and budgetary relations,” comments Mykola Sylenko, and expert and executive director of the Chernihiv regional branch of the Association of Ukrainian Cities

According to experts, the road map for solving the problems of local budgets could be:

  • increasing the level of knowledge about local budgets, both among local and people’s deputies. This, in turn, will help analyze the impact of their decisions in the future;
  • expanding the powers of municipalities regarding international financial cooperation. The experience of the first months of the war proved that horizontal communications work more effectively. When international institutions directly cooperate with communities, bypassing district, and regional state administrations, they can implement initiatives faster, in particular, due to the absence of unnecessary barriers. In addition, such cooperation is more transparent.
  • refusal to transfer powers without transferring funding. Otherwise, budget decentralization will be curtailed. Unfortunately, every year the resource base of local budgets does not allow to fully perform either own or delegated functions. And when full-fledged armed aggression was imposed on it, the situation became even more difficult.
  • strengthening horizontal connections in communities, using the experience of those communities that effectively implemented responses to challenges: helped other communities with humanitarian aid, provided medical drugs, established joint logistics routes. This experience will be useful to those communities that may potentially find themselves in a similar situation. 

“Despite a drop in business activity, a total decrease in budget revenues in many communities, local budgets generally coped with their main task in the first months of the war. However, today, especially those that are de-occupied, near the front, in which a part of the infrastructure has been destroyed, today are financially exhausted. Because the volume of issues and tasks that are solved by local self-government bodies are not comparable to the available local budgets and what the state has planned to transfer to the localities. This problem is glaring. It should be talked about and highlighted in a reasoned way, in particular, with the use of this study. This analytical study is a good tool for conducting a broad discussion, in particular, with the Ministry of Finance regarding the revision of certain articles in the direction of increasing the resource base of local budgets,” Mykola Sylenko emphasizes.

Photo: Olga Nastina, executive director of the Legal Development Network

Виконавча директорка Мережі правового розвитку Ольга Настіна теж переконана, що результати дослідження теж потрібно використовувати для реалізації рішень у 2023:

The executive director of the Legal Development Network, Olga Nastina, is also convinced that the results of the study should be used to implement decisions in 2023:

“The results of the work of the research team, experts, communities, the Association of Ukrainian Cities, and the Legal Development Network demonstrated today are extremely impressive. I am sure that this year we are leaving with new ideas and new projects. I am convinced that we will also engage a wider range of stakeholders to improve existing and develop new influential state and local policies.”

The material was prepared with the support of the European Union and the International Renaissance Foundation within the framework of the “EU4USociety” joint initiative. The material reflects the position of the authors and does not necessarily reflect the position of the International Renaissance Foundation and the European Union.

If you have notices an error on the web-site, please, highlight the text and press ctrl-enter.

Have you found your solution? Help others!

Share on social media

Print a poster

Print and place the Network's poster on a notice board in your entrance hall

Become a volunteer

Become a volunteer and assist others in finding problem solutions

Do you need a consultation ?


Поставте питання, i один з експертiв Мережi надасть вiдповiдь.
Графік роботи чату: з 10:00 до 16:00
(обідня перерва з 13:00 до 14:00).

In an office

Find the nearest consulting room in your city and apply for a consultation.





Inform on error