One-on-one with the war:

Af­ter three years of fight­ing, the state has yet to de­cide whether to help civil­ians af­fected by mil­i­tary ac­tion

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Yelysaveta Hon­charova, Bakhmut

Who is help­ing civil­ians af­fected by the fight­ing

The num­ber of peo­ple who have been af­fected to some ex­tent by the shelling of towns and vil­lages in the Don­bas in­creases with ev­ery day of the so-called ATO. The num­ber of par­tially or com­pletely de­stroyed build­ings has ex­ceeded 10 thou­sand, from 7 to 9 thou­sand civil­ians have been in­jured and more than 2,000 killed. How­ever, no spe­cial state aid for the re­con­struc­tion of hous­ing, com­pen­sa­tion for fam­i­lies of those killed or phys­i­cal re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion for wounded civil­ians is ex­pected: two bills were submitted for con­sid­er­a­tion by MPs, but at the time of writ­ing both had been re­jected dur­ing their first read­ing. Only lo­cal and re­gional au­thor­i­ties are deal­ing with emer­gency is­sues and, more of­ten than not, this only con­cerns public build­ings, schools, hos­pi­tals and nurs­eries. The lion's share of funds are re­ceived from donors and in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tions. Hu­man rights ac­tivists are also get­ting pos­i­tive de­ci­sions from the courts, but so far the state has not fol­lowed these judge­ments on com­pen­sa­tion.

Nina, a pen­sioner from Luhanske (a front­line vil­lage on the Svit­lo­darsk Bulge – Ed.), was se­ri­ously in­jured in March 2017 while work­ing in the gar­den. An am­bu­lance could not be sent due to the shelling, so neigh­bours took the blood­ied woman to hos­pi­tal in their own car. Mirac­u­lously, she sur­vived: a long op­er­a­tion and mas­sive blood loss is a sig­nif­i­cant detri­ment to the health of an el­derly woman who is al­most un­able to walk due to the in­jury. "The op­er­a­tion and care in the hos­pi­tal was free. But we didn't get any com­pen­sa­tion from the state, al­though we still have to buy med­i­ca­tion ev­ery day. We know that a crim­i­nal case was opened be­cause of the in­jury, but in the fol­low­ing three months the po­lice, un­for­tu­nately, didn’t even ques­tion my mother. We thought about maybe ap­ply­ing for dis­abil­ity, but don't know where to start. In any case, it would be dis­abil­ity due to gen­eral ill­ness: we are not at war, so there should not be any war dis­abil­i­ties. And it's very hard for her to go any­where now to record the ef­fects. A hu­man rights or­gan­i­sa­tion has promised to sue for com­pen­sa­tion, but we hon­estly aren't even hop­ing for it," says Ju­lia, the vic­tim's daugh­ter.

Now a lawyer is try­ing to make the in­ves­ti­ga­tion speed up the in­quiry in or­der to re­ceive con­fir­ma­tion of the in­jured civil­ian's sta­tus. Al­though all pos­si­ble dead­lines have passed, the lo­cal po­lice sta­tion could not even give us the name of the in­ves­ti­ga­tor. If public pros­e­cu­tors can­not help ei­ther, hu­man rights ac­tivists plan to go di­rectly to in­ter­na­tional courts in or­der to claim com­pen­sa­tion for the detri­ment to her health. In Nina's case, there is still hope: the med­i­cal cer­tifi­cate the vic­tim re­ceived stated that she had shrap­nel wounds. Which, for ex­am­ple, is not men­tioned in the cer­tifi­cates given to the wounded (not only civil­ians, but many mil­i­tary men too), who came un­der fire in 2014. Then, ac­cord­ing to vol­un­teers, most in­juries were listed as civil­ian ones – it will now be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to prove that the war caused the loss of health. There are all many prob­lems with hous­ing, but lo­cal peo­ple in al­most all towns know where to start.

On the ground, the destruc­tion of hous­ing is at least doc­u­mented. Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties (rep­re­sen­ta­tives of vil­lage or town coun­cils) are mak­ing records along­side the po­lice, trav­el­ling to the scene im­me­di­ately af­ter shelling stops. This hap­pens al­most daily in set­tle­ments on the line of con­tact like Maryinka, Avdiyivka and Zait­seve. It is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to even record the ex­tent of dam­age there, never mind repair the hous­ing. This is not only dan­ger­ous for repair work­ers, but also to­tally point­less be­cause of the con­stant shelling. How­ever, most of the pop­u­la­tion that re­sides in these vil­lages and towns can­not wait for a hy­po­thet­i­cal end to the con­flict, when all the losses will be counted up: they sim­ply have nowhere to live. This is why in­ter­na­tional pro­grammes are de­signed pri­mar­ily for emer­gency as­sis­tance in flash­point ar­eas: the state should take care of large-scale re­con­struc­tion. The re­cent ag­gra­va­tion of the con­flict has even af­fected the aid pol­icy planned by in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions, as re­ported in a joint in­for­ma­tion bul­letin on the Hu­man­i­tar­ian Re­sponse web­site: "82% of the hous­ing and con­sumer goods as­sis­tance that was pro­vided in the first quar­ter of 2017 was vi­tal aid linked to com­plet­ing prepa­ra­tions for the win­ter and the sup­ply of ad­di­tional emer­gency ma­te­ri­als due to the in­crease in dam­aged build­ings over this re­port­ing pe­riod. Repair work made up only 4% of to­tal ac­tiv­ity. If at­tacks con­tinue with the same fre­quency as now, it will be nec­es­sary to re­view the amount of emer­gency as­sis­tance and aid for small re­pairs."

Over the three years of the con­flict, 145,775 fam­i­lies have re­ceived tar­geted ac­com­mo­da­tion aid from var­i­ous hu­man­i­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tions. This in­cludes pay­ments for coal and fund­ing for in­su­la­tion, as well as ba­sic blan­kets and heaters. Only 20 fam­i­lies had their houses fully re­paired, more than 16,000 were helped to make light and medium re­pairs and the same amount were given tar­pau­lin to cover the rem­nants of build­ings in or­der to avoid fur­ther dam­age. The in­ter­na­tional char­i­ties also in­vested money in re­pair­ing col­lec­tive cen­tres and fund­ing tem­po­rary hous­ing for those who have ab­so­lutely nowhere to go, but this is not much in the grand scheme of things.

The aid al­go­rithm of the coun­cil ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee in front­line Toretsk, which is still pe­ri­od­i­cally shelled, is as fol­lows: "The only thing we can do is make doc­u­ments record­ing the dam­age by vis­it­ing the scene. Sev­eral times, we were able to pro­vide some small amounts from the lo­cal bud­get for fam­i­lies who had peo­ple killed by the shelling. But these are crumbs... We ren­o­vated the af­fected apart­ment build­ings that be­long to the town on our own. But pri­vate hous­ing is only helped by phi­lan­thropists and in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions. The Red Cross and Peo­ple in Need helped with ma­te­ri­als, but in gen­eral there is re­ally no le­gal mech­a­nism for this."

In large towns such as Slo­viansk or Kram­a­torsk, most of the dam­aged build­ings were re­paired by lo­cal core en­ter­prises and vol­un­teers from dif­fer­ent re­gions of Ukraine. Repair pro­grammes (ma­te­ri­als and a part of the labour for wel­fare ben­e­fi­cia­ries) are still op­er­at­ing in front­line set­tle­ments. In­stead of re­pair­ing dam­aged build­ings, some large fam­i­lies from vil­lages that were cut in half by the war had homes pur­chased for them in other set­tle­ments – also at the cost of re­li­gious and char­i­ta­ble or­gan­i­sa­tions. But these are more the ex­cep­tions than the rule. Res­i­dents of pri- vate hous­ing were vir­tu­ally left alone with his prob­lem. Most peo­ple are forced to repair dam­aged build­ings and struc­tures them­selves, hop­ing that one day they will re­ceive at least some com­pen­sa­tion. There are thou­sands of peo­ple who can­not even hope for it: those who did not start us­ing their prop­erty, did not regis­ter it (af­ter pur­chase or in­her­i­tance) or lost the own­er­ship doc­u­ments, as well as the own­ers of sum­mer homes who resided there per­ma­nently. And who knows if doc­u­ments drawn up in 2014, when there was no aid sys­tem in place, will help. The Dan­ish Refugee Coun­cil, for ex­am­ple, warns that it is im­por­tant to help peo­ple who suf­fered losses in 2014, be­cause their doc­u­ments record­ing the dam­age could be­come in­valid in July 2017 (three years from the start of the ATO). In ad­di­tion, in 2014 the con­tents of these doc­u­ments ranged from for­mal to in­for­mal, which could cre­ate bar­ri­ers for those who suf­fered losses dur­ing at­tempts to prove that the con­flict dam­aged their res­i­den­tial prop­erty.

"Most of­ten, hu­man rights ac­tivists are the ones to go to court. If ev­i­dence is prop­erly col­lected, win­ning the case is re­al­is­tic. But it's very, very hard to get the money... More than a year passes from sub­mit­ting the pa­per­work to get­ting the money," says hu­man rights ac­tivist Natalia Chuiko. "There are cases, lots of them, but I don't think any­one has got money yet. Why are they bring­ing ac­tion against Ukraine in­stead of su­ing Rus­sia? Be­cause it has not been proven in­ter­na­tion­ally that Rus­sia is in­volved in the con­flict, so we do not have any rel­e­vant leg­is­la­tion. What is the point in a de­ci­sion to claim com­pen­sa­tion from Rus­sia if it is com­pletely im­pos­si­ble to im­ple­ment?"

Nev­er­the­less, things are much worse for those whose hous­ing re­mains in the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory. Hu­man rights or­gan­i­sa­tions rec­om­mend col­lect­ing any in­for­ma­tion pos­si­ble on the forcible seizure or destruc­tion of prop­erty: pho­tos, eye­wit­ness ac­counts. How­ever, apart from law­suits in in­ter­na­tional and Ukrainian courts that are more strate­gic than prac­ti­cal, it is cur­rently im­pos­si­ble to re­ceive any sort of com­pen­sa­tion. Or of­fi­cially sell hous­ing in the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory to buy else­where. There­fore, those who still have the strength and ca­pa­bil­i­ties have al­ready started to work ac­cord­ing to the prin­ci­ple of "if you don't help your­self, no one will" with­out wait­ing for as­sis­tance from the state. Some are join­ing forces as co-op­er­a­tives to build af­ford­able hous­ing in ru­ral ar­eas or risk tak­ing out mort­gages. Some have got used to the fact that they will be forced to live out the rest of their lives in dor­mi­to­ries, mov­ing from apart­ment to apart­ment or with rel­a­tives, their own homes noth­ing more than a mem­ory. Some de­cide not to go any­where and have fit­ted out the cel­lars un­der­neath their de­stroyed hous­ing, risk­ing day af­ter day that they will stay there for­ever. But all of them prob­a­bly still won­der when the state will fi­nally at least no­tice the prob­lem that con­cerns mil­lions of its cit­i­zens, not to men­tion pro­vid­ing real help, which it seems no one be­lieves in any­more.

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