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30.04.20

Available on Facebook, the Refugee Helper chatbot from CF Right to Protection is now operational. The online tool aims to simplify the provision of critical legal information for refugees and asylum seekers in Ukraine. Additionally, the chatbot will raise awareness around issues related to the rights and responsibilities of refugees and asylum seekers residing in Ukraine, and it aims to help these individuals to integrate into Ukrainian society.

The chatbot was previewed at a testing format in December 2019 during the Access to Justice Hackathon in Kyiv. 

Svetlana Butenko, Senior Attorney at Right to Protection (R2P), says that the idea of providing legal aid online through an automated chatbot originated in the organization some years ago. “It’s important to take into account the individual life circumstances in which our beneficiaries find themselves” Svetlana says. “These are people who may need legal assistance at any time: while they’re crossing the border, or at night during an illegal detention. Many of them don’t speak Ukrainian yet, and so it can be difficult to understand the authorities or the local community. That’s why it’s so important for us—using modern technology—to have an automated helper that can be available from anywhere in the world at any time. Moreover, this advice should offer clear advice in an appropriate language.” 

The Refugee Helper is on Facebook and available 24/7—users can receive legal advice and answers to common questions at any time of day. For example, you can learn how to apply for refugee status, what to do if your application is rejected, what to do when authorities ask to see your documents, where to find housing, how to get a job, and many other useful tips. 

Adapting the information and legal terminology to the average user has been one of the most challenging tasks in developing the program: “Of course, we knew that we had to provide information as simply and clearly as possible so that any person could immediately access and use the critical information” Ms. Butenko says. “This is why we’ve included the ability to download relevant documents, and we’ve added links to institutions, government agencies, and other organizations which can help if someone is in trouble.” 

The chatbot tool is not intended to replace the legal specialists at organizations like R2P; the available information will not be enough to solve all problems. In cases where additional help may be required, R2P has also provided their project hotlines which are available to potential clients:

Kyiv: +38 093 049 52 18; +38 094 905 67 62

Kharkiv: +38 094 811 17 64

Lviv: +38 093 023 08 55

And, in case of emergency, the Viber & WhatsApp Number: +38 093 038 95 62

23.04.20

In 2019 alone, more than 40 deaths were recorded at the entry-exit checkpoints (EECPs) in Donetsk. In order to address this, it is necessary to urgently review the healthcare system and modify the medical infrastructure to suit the particular necessities of the region. This was discussed during the presentation of the report “Investigating the Conditions of Access to Care at EECPs.” The report was prepared by experts of the Charitable Fund Right to Protection (R2P) based on the monitoring results of the five checkpoints operating on the line of contact. 

According to Anastasia Odintsova, Advocacy Coordinator at R2P, the reason for conducting this complex research was concern about the statistical results obtained from Lugansk and Donetsk regions. For example, in 2018, more than 50 people were killed either by shelling at the EECPs or by health problems exacerbated while crossing the line of contact, and another 38 people died in the first nine months of 2019.

Only one of the above mentioned EECPs is actively involved in the provision of medical assistance to the civilian population through the use of public services. In the other cases, access to medical assistance came entirely from non-governmental and international organizations, as well as volunteers. Thanks to the efforts of groups like these, many tragedies have been avoided. However, this does not solve the systemic problem-one which should come under the responsibility of the state. 

Iryna Pesko, Legal Analyst at R2P, said during the presentation that, of the approximately 130,000 people who cross through the EECPs every month, the majority are over 60 years of age. For many of them, the journey across the contact line is a severe aggravator of health conditions: “Every day, people seek the advice and assistance of monitors and medical tents at the EECPs because this is the only available alternative to public health care…In Ukraine, we have no precedent or previous experiences to draw a standard operating procedure from. This is a problem that needs to be addressed comprehensively-taking into account the particularities of each potential patient, the weaknesses of local government bodies along the line of contact, and the obvious consequences of the destroyed infrastructure of medical facilities in both the government-controlled and non-controlled territories of Ukraine.”

A separate point of discussion was the lack of on-site medical infrastructure and the lack of adequate staffing for emergency medical centers. According to Valery Panteyev, a medical doctor at Première Urgence Internationale (PUI), their specialists have been providing medical assistance to people at the EECPs since 2016. But the lack of essential medical infrastructure is more evident now despite efforts of physicians, and despite the numerous instances when PUI representatives saved lives. This is a problem that can only be addressed at the state level. 

Inna Golovanchuk, Adviser to the Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine, stressed the need for a unified approach and for the provision of medical care at all EECPs: “There are already principled decisions being made at the EECPs along the administrative border with [non-government-controlled areas], and we’re in the process of developing a way to provide medical care to the population at the EECPs and along the line of contact.” She emphasized that the state, as a guarantor of the right to access to medical care, should accept the responsibility from the non-governmental and international organizations that have been providing medical assistance at the EECPs in recent years. 

At the same time, in Ms. Golovanchuk’s opinion, given the experience gained by these organizations, it is advisable to consider the possibility of developing a mechanism for the state to contract these organizations to continue their work and define key performance indicators: “A number of formalities-in particular the uncertainty surround the chain of command and the optimal funding of the EECPs–will be eliminated by systematic regulatory work to unify the structure and define the complex of services at the EECPs. This will help meet the needs of the population as soon as possible at the EECPs,” she concluded.

As a result of the presentation and discussion, the participants plan to form a coordination group in the near future with the involvement of representatives of the relevant authorities and, in particular, the Ministry of Health and certain NGOs, to formulate further steps to overcome the identified problems.

The report is available in English and Ukrainian.

The study was carried out under the auspices of the ‘Provision of multi-sectoral humanitarian assistance to the conflict-affected population of Eastern Ukraine’ project, implemented by Right to Protection and with financial support from the European Commission through the EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid’s ACCESS Consortium.

15.04.20

Please find the report ‘Crossing the contact line’. It is based on data collected during visits of our colleagues to the five entry-exit checkpoints (EECPs) in March 2020. More statistical data can be found on the Eastern Ukraine Checkpoint Monitoring Online Dashboard.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • As part of measures aimed at stopping the spread of the COVID-19, the JFO Headquarters limited EECP operation in two steps. Since 17 March, people could cross only in the direction of their residence registration (“propiska”) – NGCA or GCA. In some cases, the SBGS allowed crossing if a person had an urgent issue (family separation, critical medical condition, etc.). Since 22 March, GCA EECPs fully suspended the passing of people while de-facto authorities did it a day earlier. Therefore, some people passed the GCA EECP but were not allowed to enter on the NGCA side and had to return.
  • Due to the restrictions, some people could not cross the contact line despite having sufficient reasons for crossing and relevant residence registration. As a result, on all EECPs by the end of March people have been stranded for days, in many cases without the financial means for temporary accommodation. The most urgent situation occurred at Stanytsia Luhanska EECP: over 40 people have been waiting on the GCA side, unable to cross the contact line. Meanwhile, people waiting at Maiorske EECP, were provided with accommodation and food by local authorities and NGOs.
  • From the end of February and throughout March due to the threat of the spread of COVID-19 SBGS servicemen had continued to carry out temperature screening of the crossing people at all EECPs before they were closed. All cases of temperature detection of 37.9 or higher and severe acute respiratory syndrome symptoms were recorded by SBGS servicemen, people received reminders about the need for self-isolation.
  • During the period 1-17 of March, 18,077 vulnerable elderly persons were provided with transportation support at Stanitsa Luhanska EECP by NGO Proliska electric vehicle. As of 17 March, transportation services were suspended due to imposing the quarantine measures. Most services suspended their work at EECPs since 17-20 March at all EECPs: the Coordination Group representatives, iNGO medical representatives, and transportation, including a social bus at Stanytsia Luhanska.

More information you may find in a document. It’s available in English and Ukrainian.

The report is based on the results of a survey conducted by R2P at the five EECPs to enter the NGCA and administered on a regular basis since June 2017. The survey is a part of the monitoring of violations of rights of conflict-affected populations within the framework of the project ‘Advocacy, Protection and Legal Assistance to IDPs’ implemented by R2P, with the support of UNHCR. The purpose of the survey is to explore reasons and concerns of those traveling from the NGCA to the GCA, as well as conditions and risks associated with crossing the line of contact through EECPs. The information collected in the survey helps identify protection needs, gaps, and trends, and provides an evidentiary basis for advocacy efforts.