The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) accepted the application lodged by 67-year-old Nina Panfilova from Shakhtarsk town, Donetsk region, who became homeless overnight. Her apartment and all her property were completely destroyed with a mortar shell on 3 August 2014.

In 2020, for the first time over seven years of the armed conflict, 74 citizens received compensation for destroyed housing. However, only a partial compensation for the losses, not a full compensation , the size of which cannot exceed UAH 300,000, was provided.

This year, more than 300 Ukrainian families are to receive compensation. In the future, Ukraine intends to lodge a unified lawsuit against the Russian Federation to recover actual damages suffered by Donbas residents who lost their housing. However, there is currently no mechanism for receiving compensation for destroyed housing in the uncontrolled territory.

Losing everything

Nina Panfilova from Shakhtarsk is one of many IDPs who have lost their housing in the occupied territories but cannot await compensation. Her hometown, located 60 km of Donetsk, is currently controlled by occupation authorities. In the summer of 2014, fierce fighting took place here between the Ukrainian army and the “Donetsk People’s Republic” supporters, during which dozens of houses were destroyed or damaged. In a night, Nina Panfilova lost everything she had gained over the years.

“We thought to the last: well, who needs our ‘dying’ Shakhtarsk? But starting from late July, the artillery was shelling every night. We went down to the basement of a cinema college,” the pensioner recalls.

On that terrible night, Nina Panfilova and her neighbours hid in the college’s basement. When the shelling subsided and the people went upstairs, they saw that their house was on fire. A direct shell hit caused a large fire.

“All our things, clothes, furniture were burning till the morning. We were just watching. Firefighters did not even arrive. I got only clothes on me, in which I left the apartment. I lost everything I worked for in one night,” Nina shares her memories.

Eight residents of the destroyed apartment block arranged temporary housing in the basement: they made self-made beds out of chairs and waited for the loss of housing to be compensated. However, the compensation was not paid. After the shelling stopped, the homeless fire victims were only offered to move to Donetsk. Nina Panfilova refused, realising that she would not be able to document the property damage and receive compensation if she moved now.

Court case

In the basement, Panfilova had suffered a heart attack and then lived in one of the abandoned houses for some time. When she finally realised that it was useless to wait for assistance, the pensioner moved to a town for IDPs in Pavlohrad, the Dnipropetrovsk region, in the spring of 2015. At the same time, she appealed to human rights activists and court to receive compensation for the lost housing. The first and second instances dismissed the lawsuit, but the Supreme Court sided with the victim.

“The Supreme Court ordered Ukraine to pay the displaced woman UAH 50,000 for the lack of a mechanism for compensating for destroyed property. The courts of previous instances were opinionated and delivered judgments not in favour of the victim. However, given that the size of compensation is disproportionate to the value of the destroyed property, and there is no compensation mechanism, we appealed to the European Court of Human Rights,” commented Maryna Kiptila, the lawyer of the public reception office of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union that works on the basis of the Human Rights Protection Group “SICH.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling states that the Ukrainian legislation lacks not only a mechanism for paying compensation but also clear conditions regarding the property claim for the state to provide such compensation. In other words, no payments are made as there is no mechanism. Officials argue that the lack of access to the occupied territories does not allow assessing the extent of damage, and therefore all hopes are laid on Ukraine’s unified application against Russia.

“As long as there is no state compensation mechanism, the only way to protect the rights of victims such as Nina Panfilova is to apply to the European Court of Human Rights. This is a very difficult path, but so far the only one,” Maryna Kiptila added.

Now Panfilova lives in the village of Novohrodivka, Donetsk region, where she rents a room. Almost a year has passed since the Supreme Court delivered its judgment, but the pensioner did not receive the promised UAH 50,000. Her appeal to the State Treasury Service of Ukraine remained unanswered. The human rights activists informed the ECHR that the court’s ruling was not being enforced. The woman dreams of buying her own small house with the money she will receive.

According to the data of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, more than 12,000 houses have been damaged in the government-controlled territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. In total, more than 50,000 houses have been damaged on both sides of the contact line.

Kateryna Leonova

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