Empowering Ukrainian State Officials to Address CRSV

Amidst Russia’s large-scale aggression against Ukraine, the need for Ukrainian civil servants and local government officials to learn and respond to new challenges has become paramount. Specifically, the focus has shifted towards addressing conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) and providing effective support to survivors. Now this is part of the continuing education programme offered by the Higher School of Public Administration, overseen by the National Agency of Ukraine on Civil Service (NAUCS). Joining us to shed light on this initiative are Nataliia ALIUSHYNA, Head of NAUCS, and Yulia LYKHACH, Director of NAUCS Postgraduate Education.

– NAUCS oversees the training and education of civil servants and professionals in public administration. How does your work address the issue of responding to CRSV and offering support to survivors?

Nataliia ALIUSHYNA: – As large-scale armed aggression unfolded, addressing this issue became increasingly critical. Given that the Russian aggressor employs sexual violence as a weapon of war, it is paramount for Ukrainian civil servants and local government officials to be well equipped to address this crime. They must understand how to interact with survivors, provide support, and collaborate with specialists as needed.

Consequently, at the Higher School of Public Administration, addressing conflict-related sexual violence has become a key focus of our training agenda. We offer a continuing education programme on CRSV, identifying the target number of individuals in need of this knowledge and skills.

In partnership with regional Centres for Advanced Studies, we have developed an online training course to meet the demand. The response to this course has been remarkable; as of 30 January 2024, 3,335 individuals enrolled into the course, with 2,455 having completed it and many obtaining certification by the end of March.

I would like to emphasize that this initiative is about self-education. People actively seek opportunities to educate themselves on responding to CRSV and supporting survivors, acknowledging the significance of this issue.

– Who do you collaborate with in this endeavor?

Nataliia ALIUSHYNA: – We play a vital role within the government team responsible for crafting and implementing policies to combat CRSV and address its aftermath. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, led by Olha Stefanyshyna, and the Secretariat of the Government Commissioner for Gender Policy, headed by Kateryna Levchenko, provide significant support in coordinating these initiatives. Furthermore, we engage in partnerships with diverse civil society and international organisations active in Ukraine, such as UN Women in Ukraine, UNFPA, the Dr Denis Mukwege Foundation, and the Ukrainian Women Lawyers Association “JurFem.”

– How do you structure your training initiatives?

Nataliia ALIUSHYNA: – The National Agency operates a General Department for Professional Development of Civil Servants and Local Government Officials. This department is responsible for shaping policies related to the professional growth of public servants. As part of its efforts, it created and launched the online Knowledge Management Portal platform. This platform serves as a centralised hub where all educational service providers place their offerings. Our users, comprising over 120,000 civil servants and local government officials, can select educational courses or pathways tailored to their specific requirements.

The Higher School places its offerings as well. It is important to emphasize that this educational institution offers a diverse range of unique programmes that are not available elsewhere.

Yulia LYKHACH: – Our educational programmes are conducted in various formats, both offline and online. When addressing CRSV in 2022, we chose online delivery to ensure safety measures were met. This year, we have received a government order for offline training, and we have secured support from the Dr Denis Mukwege Foundation and UNFPA to facilitate this endeavor. I am optimistic that our training will be highly effective.

Our training programme primarily targets representatives from the regions. For instance, in 2024, we plan to train specialists from regional military administrations.

Given that the government order is for 203 individuals, the involvement of our international partners is essential to extend our reach to a larger audience.

Currently, we are planning a large educational project focused on training civil servants and officials from de-occupied territories. This project encompasses 15 programmes, addressing various issues, including CRSV.

– Which questions do you focus on the most during the training?

Nataliia ALIUSHYNA: – In our programmes, we primarily focus on fundamental concepts, such as identifying signs of CRSV. We also highlight international standards for preventing, detecting, and responding to SCRSV, along with their application in Ukrainian laws. Additionally, we discuss the importance of coordinating efforts in this field, various types and forms of assistance available to survivors.

Today, we are facing a significant need to revamp our approach. Previous educational programmes were tailored to peacetime needs. However, with the current Russian-Ukrainian war, crisis management takes on a new perspective. We now evaluate all potential risks through the lens of the war, including how to address challenges like CRSV, navigate leadership in conflict settings, and meet the evolving requirements for civil servants and local government officials.

– The topic of CRSV is highly sensitive and often considered taboo in society. How does your audience perceive it?

Yulia LYKHACH: – At the Higher School of Public Administration, we have established a Center for Human Rights, Gender Equality, and Non-Discrimination. This decision reflects the growing interest in these issues in Ukraine over recent years. We are adopting European approaches and shaping the work styles of both central and local government representatives accordingly.

Human rights now take center stage in almost all of our training programmes. Just 5-7 years ago, we mainly discussed these subjects theoretically. Nowadays, our emphasis is on practical implementation.

We typically present the topic of CRSV to a specialized audience, consisting of individuals who either already work with survivors or will do so in the future. Many of them have only basic knowledge of legislation, human rights, gender equality, etc. Our discussions often evoke strong emotional responses; when we share CRSV stories, people often cry.

– What challenges and obstacles do you anticipate in training personnel to assist CRSV survivors?

Yulia LYKHACH: – Initially, we faced a shortage of experienced trainers in this field. However, last August, we collaborated with our partners from UN Women Ukraine, the Ukrainian Women Lawyers Association “JurFem”, and the Dr Denis Mukwege Foundation to train and equip 25 trainers with the necessary skills to address CRSV issues. These trainers are now fully prepared to engage in our activities.

The effectiveness of our training largely relies on the trainers’ ability to effectively communicate information and captivate their audience. This is why we recognise the importance of discussing sensitive topics like CRSV in face-to-face settings. Direct interaction between the audience and the trainer allows for a deeper connection, enabling the trainer to see the audience’s emotions and provide additional explanations when needed.

Our first training sessions were conducted by experts from JurFem, who demonstrated a high level of professionalism in this area. They developed online courses for us.

– Do we require coordinated approaches for conducting SGBV response training?

Yulia LYKHACH: – In May 2022, the Inter-Agency Working Group on Combating Sexual Violence Related to Russia’s Armed Aggression Against Ukraine and Assistance to the Survivors was formed, with Government Commissioner for Gender Policy Kateryna Levchenko at the helm. This group comprises various working subgroups, one of which focuses on professional training. We oversee these efforts to ensure consistency in state-level approaches. We have developed a standard training programme for the professional development of civil servants and officials of local government officials. However, we recognise that diverse audiences, such as judges and prosecutors, may have unique needs. While there are overarching legislative provisions, international standards, and interagency collaboration, tailored information and approaches are necessary for different target groups.

 – What requirements do you have for trainers?

Nataliia ALIUSHYNA: – Not everyone we train will go on to become exceptional trainers. Most will be competent, and that is still a positive outcome. However, around 20% of our trainers will reach a high level of proficiency.

While our programmes are of high quality, they serve as an introductory course. To deepen understanding, we enlist the expertise of specialised psychologists and even healthcare professionals who have experience with CRSV cases and can offer valuable insights. We also prefer in-person training sessions, as they enable participants to engage with one another, share experiences, and collectively find effective solutions.

Today, we stress the significance of international humanitarian law and its standards, particularly in the realm of CRSV prevention and intervention. In times of conflict, this knowledge becomes essential, reminding people of their rights and fostering efforts to combat discrimination.

The end of a war does not mark the end of its impact. Its repercussions will endure for years, affecting our entire society. Many have experienced crimes perpetrated by Russian occupiers firsthand. I will never forget the incident involving a crib rigged with explosives. Russian aggressors placed a plastic explosive device under a pillow in a baby’s crib in our town of Bucha. Fortunately, the State Emergency Service responders, who were tasked with demining, discovered this booby trap. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Serhiy Kruk and his team, who handled the demining operations in the town at that time.

I mention this to underscore the enduring impact of such events. Traumatic experiences leave lasting scars on individuals’ lives, especially those subjected to violence, including sexual, by Russian aggressors. While civil servants and officials may not be healthcare professionals, it is imperative for them to know how to support traumatised individuals and offer essential assistance.

This is our approach to training civil servants. However, it is crucial for trainers to possess heightened empathy and a profound understanding of psychological aspects. Let me emphasize once again — we need practitioners.

Volodymyr DOBROTA,
National Press Club “Ukrainian Perspective”

The material presented herein was prepared as part of the Project “RESILIENT TOGETHER: Improving the system of response to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV)”. The Project is funded by the European Union and implemented by the Ukrainian Women Fund in partnership with the Civil Society Organisation “La Strada-Ukraine” and the Ukrainian Women Lawyers Association “JurFem”, as well as the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine and the Government Commissioner on Gender Equality Policy.