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Legal support and humanity: a lawyer helps a single mother with two children to start a new life in exile

Author: Olena Orlova / Legal Development Network

Vira Shulgina, a lawyer of CSO Skadovshchyna is my native land not only sheltered a single mother with two children but also helped the family gain temporary protection status, and social benefits, place children in school and kindergarten, secure accommodation, and even plan her own business in Poland. With the help of volunteers, the lawyer literally “lead by her hand” a woman who did not know how and where to start living abroad through all the services.

  • «This story was one of the first since the beginning of the war. She touched me. Although my colleague, lawyer Serhii Keba (ed., the head of the CSO Skadovshchyna is my native land) and I, in general, consult a lot and continue to provide legal aid during the war, including online, this is a special case», Vira Shulgina says.  
Photo: Vira Shulgina, the lawyer of CSO “Skadovshchyna is my native land.

About a year ago, Vira and her family moved to Poland, where she lives in Legnica. Ever since the war broke out in Ukraine and millions1 of people have fled to Poland, the lawyer has provided extensive advice and assistance to IDPs in adapting to this Ukrainian-friendly European country.

Among those who fled the war was Maryna2, a resident of Dnipropetrovsk oblast. In early March, she turned to Vira as a countrywoman, a good acquaintance since her school years. She said she crossed the border with her two children, a 5-year-old daughter, and an 8-year-old son. In Ukraine, life with the children’s father did not work out – they divorced before the war. So the woman had to not only save the children but also build a new life from scratch.

She had high hopes for Poland.

However, after crossing the border, the family was sent to a small village near Krakow, where there was no kindergarten or school, and to the nearest store – a kilometer on foot. In addition, Maryna did not know the Polish language at all. There was no one to help a confused and stressed-out single mother.

That’s when the “fateful” call to Vira Shulgina took place. The lawyer assessed the situation and invited Maryna to come to her in Legnica.

  • “To make it easier to help on the spot, we accommodated Maryna with the children at our home. The youngest daughter was registered for kindergarten. The eldest was sent to school…” Vira explains.

The lawyer accompanied the family everywhere — she was a lawyer, a volunteer, and a translator. The most important document for Ukrainians in the current situation — “Pesel” (ed., Pesel – a tax identifier, which in Poland is the tax accounting of citizens and foreigners legally staying in the country) and social assistance.

  • «It was quite difficult to draw up a document in our city. There was a long queue, about 1.5 thousand people. Together with the volunteers, we monitored the social networks and invited Maryna to go to a neighboring village and register a “pesel”. And on its basis other types of social assistance for the family have already begun to be issued», Vira explains.

Thus, Maryna’s children received “500+ benefits” — funds paid to every child living in Poland under the age of 18. Then the local social security office issued a one-time payment for each family member, as well as payments from the UN for adults and children – their volunteers helped to arrange online.

The next step was to secure accommodation. Given the excitement with the apartments, the lawyer together with the volunteers personally went to special help points — they chose acceptable options.

  • «We learned that the city, on the basis of a former sports school, is preparing social housing for IDPs from Ukraine. They turned to the point, asked, and sent the woman there. And Maryna and her children were really given a separate room… There are now about 80 Ukrainians living there. The locals help them, prepare food, issue free lunch vouchers, bring things, food, and even organize Polish language classes»,  — Vira says.

By the way, the search for accommodation, she said, is one of the most difficult stages for those who were evacuated to Poland. And here the help of lawyers and volunteers is invaluable.

  • «It is a very difficult situation with accommodation in Poland. As soon as the option appears, you need to call within an hour, go watch, and sign certain documents at once. And our people are under stress, without knowledge of the language, they do not know where to look, do not understand what to sign… So we try to help what we can, in particular, to coordinate those who crossed the border and have no shelter, in those regions of Poland where there is social dwelling. We recently helped a teacher from Skadovsk find housing in Slupsk, in the north of the country», the lawyer gives an example.

Now Vira Shulhina’s plans are to help Maryna open her own business in Poland. In Ukraine, the woman worked in the beauty industry. And now she has every chance to become a private entrepreneur in Europe: the recent changes in the country’s legislation have allowed all Ukrainians living legally in Poland to start their own business. Previously, only foreigners who issued a “Polish card” had such a right.

Maryna’s story is unique and typical at the same time. Millions of destinies, millions of stories… Yes, probably everyone who escaped the war and survived the border crossing and forced evacuation abroad knows that humanity and even the slightest help really saves lives.

1According to the UN, as of May 3, 2022, 5,657,185 people have left Ukraine as a result of the war since February 24. Most of them, according to governments, went to Poland (over 3.09 million).

2The heroine’s name was changed for ethical reasons.


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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