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Потрібна юридична консультація? Наш юрист надасть її безкоштовно

A Ukrainian lawyer escaped from the occupation to Norway. Now she helps her compatriots to escape

Author: Olena Orlova / Legal Development Network

Risking her life, crossing four countries, the Ukrainian lawyer was able to take her family from the temporarily occupied territory through Russia to Norway. Now she advises her compatriots – both those who remained in danger and those who have already moved to this Scandinavian country. The lawyer shared her story of evacuation and adaptation with the Legal Development Network. She hopes that her experience will help and, perhaps, save her compatriots. 

The city in which Anna Sapko* lived has not seen hostilities since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation. It was in the “gray zone.” Employees of the organization where the lawyer works continued to provide legal assistance to people under martial law. But in mid-March, representatives of the so-called “LPR” were “brought” to the city, although the Ukrainian authorities continued to work on the community’s territory.

  • «The occupiers took over the office of our organization. After two weeks, it became clear that it could be for a long time, and the situation was getting worse. The city began a la the 90s: trade from car hoods, Russian goods, and the risk that documents would be seized. My family and I decided to go…» says the lawyer.

Their decision to evacuate the Sapko family was also motivated by the child’s future. Since the academic year was interrupted, there were no prospects for studying in the city. At the same time, it was possible to leave then only through the border with Russia.

  • «Now, there is only one way from our town to the territory under the control of the Ukrainian government. Men are not allowed through it, and women with children and old people try to get out, even though they are shooting there. And at that time, there were no options to leave anywhere at all, only through the Russian Federation. Of course, we were scared. There was little information. Every day, people left as much as they could. We decided to do it at our own risk… Before leaving, we collected information from those who left. Everyone advised us to cross the border on foot, not by car. On the evening of April 6, we crossed the destroyed, or rather, blown-up bridge across our river and went to spend the night with relatives in a village where there were no roadblocks… Around six in the morning, we were at the border…», the woman explains.

«They found the number of an employee of the Security Service of Ukraine on my phone»

According to Anna, there was no such official border crossing point on the Ukrainian side at that time, there were some empty wagons and administrative buildings… On the Russian side, there was only a rain tent and a 5-7 km long queue of cars. People waited in the open air for 3-5 days. Some spent the night with locals for money and bought food because they ran out of food. Sapko’s family stood for about 6 hours until they were invited to the crossing point. The documents were taken away. The family passed through internal Ukrainian passports. All men were called for an interview.

  • «As I assume, these were FSB employees, although they did not introduce themselves. It was clear about the questions. They asked who we are, what we do… There was also one disturbing situation. They found the number of an employee of the Security Service of Ukraine on my phone (I once consulted him on land issues). Although I previously deleted this number, they still somehow figured out that we were talking, I don’t know how. There were a lot of questions about it. And they found one more contact on my phone, of a court employee. And although I had it signed differently, they somehow found out by the number. The interrogation lasted for 30-35 minutes… Eventually, they released us…» Anna recalls.

I know that people who crossed without phones at all or with completely “clean” phones were not allowed through at all. Everyone’s pages on social networks were checked, subscriptions were checked. I recommend deleting all of this, and clearing the browser history… There were no certain “selection” criteria, but one could skip anyone without explaining the reasons, depending on the mood. However, there was no violence against us personally.

Belgorod and Moscow were further on the route of the Sapko family. They went to the border with Lithuania by taxi, then by bus. And again, on the Russian side – turnstiles, document checks, questions from FSB officers about the person, the purpose of movement, scanning of things. Several refugees were not allowed that day, again without explanation.

Lithuania-Poland-Norway

The Lithuanian border was crossed quickly. Here, unlike the Russian border guards, the family was even “forgiven” for the child’s expired foreign passport.

  • «When we drove through the territory of Russia, the memories are not too pleasant. Nothing bad happened, and we thank God for that. I was most impressed by the difference between Russia and Lithuania. People first of all. Their openness, positivity, and humanity. The comparison is in favor of the Lithuanians, of course», the woman says.

Through Lithuania, the family reached Warsaw, where they rested with friends for a couple of weeks. The reception in Poland is also remembered as very warm. As soon as the Ukrainians left the bus station, they were immediately met by volunteers who helped them navigate the train, hot lunches and tea were handed out around the clock, and they could rest in the tents before the onward journey. Public and rail transport was free for children and women.

During their stay in Poland, the Sapko family thought about their future path, gathered information, and chose Norway as their country of refuge.

  • «We traveled by bus, as the child had an expired foreign passport, and we also took a cat with us… We arrived in Norway on May 2. Here we were immediately sent to a refugee camp, where we were registered. The procedure is simple: fill out the form using a tablet – where you came from, which borders you crossed, etc. They took fingerprints, took a photo, and issued a temporary identity card of a person requesting asylum», explains the lawyer.

The family spent eight days in the camp, then the Sapko family was helped to find temporary housing. The family received the decision to receive asylum on May 11. It is quite fast, Anna clarifies. Often people have to wait for documents for about two months.

  • «Norway really surprised us with its attitude. Pleasantly surprised. Here we were immediately taken under their care, provided with food and housing, and under sufficiently comfortable conditions. And then they follow the social program – they help to integrate, they are interested in this, they introduce them to their lives for faster adaptation.» our interlocutor shares her impressions.

“LPRs” now live in our office

Today, Anna has no contact with colleagues from her organization. Sometimes those who remained in the occupied territory of their hometown manage to get satellite communication, but so far, they have not been able to contact their colleagues.

  • «In our office now live “LPRs.” It is difficult to conduct any legal activity there now. Government bodies cannot function due to the lack of internet. Connections with the territory under the control of the government of Ukraine are currently hardly possible», states the lawyer with regret.

Legal assistance to Ukrainians abroad is extremely necessary

However, Anna continues to provide legal assistance, but now in Norway. She actively communicates in the Telegram chat with Ukrainians who have also evacuated or are planning to do so, studies their needs, and talks about her evacuation experience.

  • «People from Ukraine ask how we got out, how to buy tickets (it’s also quite difficult), about the route from the border, the cost of travel, current expenses… Recently, three people reported that they crossed the border. They were happy that they were saved and thanked me for the help, “ the lawyer rejoices.

In Norway, the lawyer monitors specialized groups and chats, advises on registration, and staying in this country. People come in with a lot of questions all the time. Is it possible to go by car? And with animals? What are the conditions in Norway for Ukrainians? Where to turn after arrival? What is the amount of social security payments? There are many issues, both humanitarian and social. In particular, residents of refugee camps are appealing.

  • «In the last two weeks alone, I have received more than ten requests to leave the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine to EU countries. I provide information on logistics and cost. Questions about crossing the border with Crimea are frequent. There were also requests regarding guardianship registration, obtaining copies of court decisions, and others», Anna shares with us.

And she adds that many of our compatriots, and those who remain in the occupation and have already overcome this difficult path, are mostly confused and disoriented, and many questions arise on the spot. Therefore, both legal assistance and human support for Ukrainians abroad are extremely necessary**.

* Personal data has been changed for security reasons.

** You can find information about the conditions of stay of Ukrainians in Norway in legal consultations on our website:

1. Ukrainians in Norway: what is collective protection and how to get it (in Ukrainian)

2. Ukrainians in Norway: medical assistance to asylum seekers and refugees (in Ukrainian)


P. S. More relevant information on legal and humanitarian issues – is in the special section #StandWithUkraine. It accumulates materials that may be useful to those who suffer, whose rights are violated as a result of the war between russia and Ukraine.


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