Attys responds to the need for legal assistance of Ukrainian refugees

Lawyers in the United States and Europe have mobilized to provide information and assistance to Ukrainian refugees and asylum seekers and to undertake projects such as fundraising, advocacy and proper documentation of crimes of war.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, many lawyers have stepped up as individuals and legal organizations have taken up the challenge, the effort with perhaps the widest reach being a new task force through the New York State Bar Association, which coordinated the work. by lawyers on both sides of the Atlantic, including in Ukraine.

“[People] got together and rolled up their sleeves,” said Edward Lenci of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, NYSBA International Section Manager.

Some of the most pressing legal needs today are those of refugees. Since the invasion, around 3 million Ukrainians have fled the country of 44 million people, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

An estimated 1.8 million went to Poland, with large numbers also going to Romania, Moldova and other neighboring countries. The UN also said many refugees likely moved to other European Union countries after entering the EU’s Schengen area, which allows international travel with minimal border controls. The Schengen countries bordering Ukraine are Poland, Slovakia and Hungary.

Some countries have already taken legal measures to deal with the crisis; for example, the United States has granted temporary protected status to Ukrainian nationals currently in the United States. Poland on Tuesday passed a law giving Ukrainian refugees a special legal status, allowing them to stay and work in the country and access healthcare and education benefits, which Polish lawyer Anna Dąbrowska said. that Law360 Pulse would help reduce the volume of legal needs.

However, the needs of refugees in Poland and elsewhere are unlikely to evaporate any time soon, so some lawyers have stepped in as individuals to help.

Aleksey Shtivelman, a partner at Shutts & Bowen LLP in Miami, born in the Ukrainian city of Odessa and a native Russian speaker, said he started getting calls after the invasion because of his contacts in the area and because he spoke a relevant language. Although he does not practice immigration law, as an immigrant himself, he does everything he can to direct people to the right resources as applications come in.

“People say, ‘My grandmother is in Ukraine, is there an application I can submit to bring her here?'” he said. “Personally, I think if we can’t send troops, the least we can do is open our doors to people.”

The Ukrainian American Bar Association, which has 200 to 300 members according to the association’s treasurer, Peter Piddoubny, has seen a wave of lawyers asking how to help. The association added a resource page to its website and Piddoubny, a partner of Piddoubny & Pelekh PC in New York, worked to match pro bono volunteers with requests for assistance.

The requests have been as diverse as individual refugees with immigration questions, Ukrainian Americans seeking to bring relatives to the United States and a US charity running an orphanage in eastern Ukraine, he said. -he declares.

Matching volunteers to those who need them has been a challenge, Piddubny said, but the New York Bar’s Ukraine Task Force is helping develop intake forms to streamline the process.

The task force, which was formed in February, has also worked with groups in Ukraine and neighboring countries to disseminate information to refugees.

Dąbrowska, a transactional attorney and partner at Wardyński & Partners in Warsaw and co-chair of the NYSBA’s Polish chapter, said her firm keeps abreast of the latest policies regarding refugees entering Poland. Sharing this information with members of the Ukrainian Bar Association, which also works with the NYSBA task force, has helped her reach fugitives.

Ivan Horodyskyy, a lawyer at Dexis Partners in Lviv, Ukraine, which is part of the Ukrainian Bar Association’s management committee, said the information from NYSBA members was helpful. “I’m not leaving and [people] ask me… where they need to go, and I have answers,” he said. “It gives us the opportunity to meet the needs of millions of people.

The task force was initially intended to help Ukraine’s judicial and legal community as the country plans to further integrate into Europe and eventually join NATO, according to Lenci. The association had just formed a chapter in Ukraine in December with the same goal in mind.

But the invasion began just hours before its first meeting, and the task force immediately turned to dealing with the new situation. In addition to its work on immigration-related needs, the task force also focused on fundraising and documenting events.

Ukrainian Bar Association CEO Inna Liniova said the UBA is simultaneously working to provide legal advice to individuals and collect evidence. It has set up a hot line with 200 volunteer lawyers.

“We plan to go parallel,” she said. “While providing legal assistance to the people of Ukraine, we also plan to use these people and the information they provide to gather information and evidence. The people who call and consult with us are either victims or witnesses of various crimes.”

However, there remain major challenges, Liniova said, including the fact that many team members are in war zones, the lack of a central digital repository for evidence, and the need to ensure that evidence will be admissible in any future courts.

“We’re streamlining data collection,” she said. “You need good processing and above all verification of the information, because it is very technical evidence: photos, videos, audio recordings. These proofs can be modified; there is Photoshop; there are sophisticated tools to edit videos. very solid process.”

The association is also working on ways in which Ukrainians can document property damage, especially as residential areas continue to be bombed.

The task force also took advantage of NYSBA’s many international connections and international chapters to advocate for more legal associations around the world to oppose the invasion.

Lenci said he hopes lawyers will continue to act and speak out against the war.

“In unity there is strength,” he said.

–Edited by Brian Baresch.

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