Register for Victims of Russian Aggression Will Be Created in Ukraine

The Register for Victims of Russian Aggression is envisaged by Draft Law No. 10256 On Registering Individuals Affected by the Armed Aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine. This legislation, initiated by the Ministry of Social Policy, is set for consideration in the Verkhovna Rada. We have with us today Deputy Minister of Social Policy of Ukraine, Uliana TOKAREVA, to discuss the importance and intricacies of the proposed law.

– We recognise that the armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine has resulted in severe violations of Ukrainians’ rights to life and health, Ms Uliana stated at the outset. Many individuals indeed require assistance and support. In order to protect the rights of our fellow citizens, the Government of Ukraine has proposed drafting legislation to create a register documenting instances of harm to life and well-being of the citizens of Ukraine.

If passed, this law will fulfill three primary objectives. Firstly, it will identify those affected by Russian aggression. Secondly, it will provide up-to-date data on actual instances of harm to well-being and lives of Ukrainian citizens through the exchange of information among relevant registries. Lastly, it will shed light on Ukraine’s expenditures in mitigating the aftermath of Russian aggression, covering both state-funded initiatives and local programmes.

Of particular concern is the occurrence of wartime sexual violence, which must be documented as these acts constitute serious crimes. Currently, the Prosecutor General’s Office has recorded nearly 260 cases of CRSV, with the likelihood of this number increasing once our territories are liberated from occupation. Assistance will be required for all these women, men, and children, who have survived CRSV.

 Which provisions of the draft law pertain to CRSV?

– The proposed legislation provides a clear definition of CRSV, aligning closely with definitions in laws of other nations.

The draft law specifies that sexual violence perpetrated during the armed aggression of Russian Federation against Ukraine encompasses various forms such as rape, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, forced abortion, forced prostitution, sexual exploitation, coerced sexual acts with third parties, forced observation of sexual acts, sexual slavery, forced circumcision, castration, genital mutilation, forced nudity, or any other severe forms of sexual violence.

I think it is no secret to anyone, especially within the professional community, that we drew heavily from Croatia’s experience in drafting this legislation. This not only applies to the current draft law but also extends to Draft Law No. 10132, which provides more comprehensive assistance to survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. This draft law, initiated by MP Maryna BARDINA, is titled On the Status of Survivors of Sexual Violence Related to the Armed Aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine and Urgent Interim Reparations.

Another important factor is taking into account the timeframe for assessing crimes that have harmed the health and well-being of Ukrainians, commencing from February 19, 2014. This provision allows us to ensure thorough justice and cover all the cases where women, men, and children, have endured CRSV.

This proposed legislation lays the groundwork for our efforts. Further procedures will be outlined in regulations approved by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. This will allow us to thoroughly examine the process of establishing status, determining assistance, and addressing other crucial aspects, all of which are very important.

Survivors of CRSV often seek to safeguard the confidentiality of their experiences. Once the draft law is adopted and the Register created, will the state be able to ensure confidentiality?

– Rest assured, this information will be kept highly confidential, and inaccessible to the general public.

Does Ukraine have prior experience handling such sensitive matters? Absolutely. For instance, we have been working with victims of human trafficking, a category also covered by the Register. Their information has been collected, and decisions regarding compensation has been made, all while ensuring the utmost protection of this sensitive data.

However, we acknowledge that specific professional groups will manage the information in the Register. Which specific groups? They will be determined, and their involvement will be outlined in the forthcoming resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers. As an illustration, consider Draft Law No. 10132.

How will individuals, women, men and children, communicate what support they need, as outlined in this draft law? During our discussions, we even explored the option of enabling survivors of conflict-related sexual violence to anonymously submit their requests digitally.This way, experts could reach out to them and offer assistance.

The draft law for the Register requires presenting evidence indicating that an individual has been affected by the armed aggression of the Russian Federation, covering various issues beyond CRSV. This involves the survivor interacting with professionals, such as doctors, to verify an incident of violence, or other professionals.

I want to emphasize that all procedures will be meticulously designed with the utmost consideration for the interests of those affected by the armed aggression of the Russian Federation to minimize the risk of re-traumatization and ensure that these cases are not publicly disclosed, among other precautions.

– Who else do you think should have access to this Register?

– There is no easy answer. When documenting a crime, the involvement of law enforcement officers is inevitable. They must be included. Additionally, there are individuals responsible for deciding whether to include received data in the Register and those handling the compensation management. However, can we aim to depersonalize these procedures, or at least some of them?

There are precedents for such depersonalization. After inputting information into the system, like after the contact line, the data is coded to ensure that individuals providing technical support afterward do not have access to specific identities. As a result, these professionals will work with factual details rather than personal data. While they can calculate the amount of assistance, they will not know the identities of specific recipients.

Will survivors of CRSV who have left the country be included in the Register?

– First and foremost, we firmly believe in Ukraine’s ultimate victory in this war and are optimistic about all our citizens returning to their homes, where together, we will rebuild our nation. With this in mind, I am confident that the majority of people currently residing abroad due to Russian aggression will be able to directly input their information into the Register once it becomes operational.

Secondly, our focus lies in the extensive digitization of the social sector. Our goal is to reduce reliance on paper-based processes, thus minimizing the need for individuals to physically visit social service authorities or other offices with paperwork. As we develop the Register, we will adopt a similar approach, striving to digitize all processes as comprehensively as possible. This will enable individuals to submit documents for assistance, support, etc., digitally or to register a case within the system.

We have already made significant progress in this regard. We have revamped a portion of our assistance programs to operate entirely through digital channels, enabling all applications to be submitted digitally and eliminating the need for individuals to duplicate paperwork

How well does the proposed draft law align with draft law 10132 initiated by Maryna Bardina?

– Both draft laws are in complete harmony. The Ministry of Social Policy collaborates closely with Ms Maryna Bardina to ensure her proposed assistance model is fully integrated into our draft law about the Register. Our legislation outlines the procedures for establishing the Register, data exchange protocols, and other technical aspects. Maryna’s draft law, which we have contributed to and will continue refining, details a specific mechanism for providing assistance, including rehabilitation, psychological support, medical aid, etc.

We are building upon the already existing assistance model, which is working and developing in Ukraine. Out of the 260 officially registered CRSV survivors identified by the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine, 208 reached out to our national network for responding to cases of gender-based and domestic violence for assistance.

In 2022-2023, we made efforts to enhance this system. We broadened the scope of our specialized services tailored to assist victims of domestic and gender-based violence, focusing specifically on survivors of CRSV. We provided extensive training and established a framework for effective collaboration.

Who was involved in drafting your law?

– We collaborated closely with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, led by Olha STEFANISHYNA, and the Secretariat of the Government Commissioner for Gender Policy, run by Kateryna LEVCHENKO, to develop our draft law on the Register. This collaboration began with proactive efforts following the onset of full-scale Russian aggression, aimed at establishing the groundwork for addressing CRSV. These efforts included amending the National Action Plan for the Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 Women, Peace, and Security, implementing state target programmes, etc.

An Interagency Working Group on Combating Sexual Violence Associated with Russia’s Armed Aggression Against Ukraine and Providing Assistance to Survivors is working under the leadership of Kateryna LEVCHENKO. In addition to the Ministry of Social Policy, the IWG comprises representatives from various government agencies, including the Office of the Prosecutor General, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the National Police, the State Emergency Service, the Ministry of Defense, the Security Service of Ukraine, the Ministry of Health, as well as civil society and international organisations. Their commitment to addressing CRSV is commendable, reflecting a strong dedication to combating this crime. And this is extremely important because we must understand that CRSV is a crime. It is essential to consistently emphasize on all international platforms that CRSV constitutes both a criminal offense and a violation of humanitarian law.

Regarding our international partnerships, we have built a strong collaboration with the Dr Denis Mukwege Foundation, which has a highly competent team based in Kyiv. Furthermore, we have established close ties with the Global Survivors Fund, the International Organization for Migration, and various civil society organisations in Ukraine. I highlight these collaborations to underscore the consistent and enduring commitment we have towards preventing and addressing CRSV.

 How will the enactment of the law and the establishment of the Register contribute to the work of the International Compensation Mechanism?

– You may have heard about the important meetings we have held, including the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe in Reykjavik, Iceland, on 16-17 May, 2023. The Council of Europe Summit announced the creation of an international Register of Damage caused by the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, marking the first step towards an international compensation mechanism, aimed at ensuring that victims receive appropriate compensation.

It’s worth noting that 43 countries, along with the European Union, have either joined or expressed their intention to join the Register established during the Summit. Furthermore, it was decided that the Register would be based in The Hague, renowned as the legal capital of the world, with a supporting office in Ukraine.

With this development, we now have a crucial tool allowing citizens and residents of Ukraine to seek reparations from the aggressor country. However, it is important to note that individuals seeking access to this International Compensation Mechanism will need to provide evidence proving the harm inflicted on their lives or well-being and the damages incurred. This applies to the entire list specified in the draft law.

Therefore, the main responsibility of the state at this stage is to assist survivors in recording all instances of harm and damages caused by the aggression of the Russian Federation. This will streamline the process of applying to the International Compensation Mechanism in the future.

Can the information from the Register serve as evidence in Ukrainian and international courts to obtain compensation for survivors, particularly those affected by CRSV, through reparations or other recovery from Russia as the aggressor state?

– Certainly. Currently, during discussions with representatives of the International Criminal Court, we consistently provide evidence of various damages inflicted on social infrastructure or casualties among social workers resulting from shelling by the Russian Federation. For example, we have documented cases where elderly care facilities were destroyed, leaving these people without adequate living conditions.

This evidence allows us to build cases against the Russian Federation, documenting its crimes and the harm inflicted on Ukrainians and Ukraine as a nation. Therefore, any documentation of these crimes, along with supporting evidence and detailed descriptions, as well as records of expenses incurred to compensate for damages caused by the Russian Federation, will be crucial arguments in our communications with the International Criminal Court.

When will the Verkhovna Rada consider the draft law? Which parliamentary committees are you cooperating with on this matter? How do MPs feel about the draft law?

–  The Committee on Social Policy and Protection of Veterans’ Rights was tasked with considering Draft Law No. 10256. After holding a committee session to deliberate and review the draft law, it was decided to include it in the agenda for the tenth session of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. It is anticipated that the draft law will be approved in its first reading following further discussions.

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 Organization La Strada-Ukraine” and the Ukrainian Lawyers Association “JurFem”, as well as the Office of the Vice Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine and the Government Commissioner on Gender Equality Policy.