“It’s scary to see people from a neighbouring village walking barefoot to your place because their house burnt down. It’s easier with little children – you can hide them under clothes and take them away like chicks, but adults remember everything… Artillery mounts were deployed in our yard and we could even tell the difference in sounds… The most horrible thing was when the eldest son was finishing his studies in the territory of ‘Luhansk People’s Republic,’ we didn’t know how to transfer him quickly to another institution, and the militants one day captured him along the way and kept him in a basement for a day until the circumstances were clarified until relatives took him away,” said Tetiana Malevanets, a mother of seven children who took them out of Luhansk region in 2014, and now they live in Pavlohrad, Dnipropetrovsk region.
In the seventh year of Russia’s armed aggression in eastern Ukraine, there is still a category of Ukrainians who need the protection of the state most: children who saw atrocities such as destroyed houses and the death of relatives; children who were injured or wounded in hostilities.
“For my children, war is a terrible page they will remember forever. Over recent years, our family has ‘struggled’ for recognition of our status as conflict victims, and since we have so many children, everyone has their own history of obtaining the status. If it weren’t for human rights activists, we wouldn’t even know where we should apply to, how to write statements, complaints or demands. Little children go to school, older ones finish their studies and work. However, for example, the eldest son has a diploma issued by the university located in the so-called ‘republic’ which Ukraine does not recognise. That’s why he should either get a new diploma at a state university or file a lawsuit to get recognition of the existing one,” Tetiana explained.
In 2017, every child from the war zone obtained an opportunity to receive the status of a victim of hostilities. It turned out to be difficult for the Malevanets family.
“In 2019, Tetiana Malevanets, who has IDP status, applied to us. All her children, including the eldest son, already received the status of children affected by conflict. But the procedure itself was not easy. We wrote a lot of statements, complaints, and appeals. However, I am convinced that such a problem should be brought to the national level and settled through new provisions of laws. To date, a human rights activist has to organise almost a revolution to struggle for every child affected by war, although the procedure could be systemic,” Vitaliya Serebrianska, the SICH Human Rights Group lawyer, said.
It is the IDP status that gives the family an opportunity to enjoy benefits. However, it is not the case of children who continue to live close to the contact line, in the so-called “grey zone,” and do not have such a status. According to UNICEF data, more than 400,000 children continue to face serious risks related to their physical health and psychological well-being due to the war in eastern Ukraine. However, the status of a child affected by war does not provide any benefits or additional protection from the state. Such children, according to UNICEF, have psychological trauma and need constant support to overcome the emotional trauma caused by the fact that they grow up amid constant conflict. However, there is still no real mechanism to protect such children under international humanitarian law.
“Such a status does not make sense without specific guarantees. Article 301 of the Law of Ukraine ‘On the Protection of Childhood’ is an attempt to partially formulate such guarantees. However, we see only the duty of the state to encourage the renewal of children’s ties with their families. At the same time, social and legal protection is not stipulated and children are deprived of important support, which is contrary to the norms of international humanitarian law. To solve this problem, we need an expert discussion of comprehensive amendments to the Law of Ukraine ‘On the Protection of Childhood’ and creation of a separate section that will deal with guarantees for children affected by hostilities and armed conflict,” Viktor Filatov, the SICH Human Rights Group analyst, commented.
As the expert underscored, such a section should stipulate legal and medical assistance, as well as psychological rehabilitation of victims, which would bring Ukrainian legislation closer to the international humanitarian law standards. The introduction of such amendments would give the “children affected by war” real state guarantees and would grant relief from fighting for the rights of every child in court.