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Ukraine Background

Since 1992, ABA ROLI has worked in Ukraine addressing corruption, human trafficking, bar development, criminal law reform, law enforcement reform, judicial reform, legislative development, election law reform, cybercrime, and xenophobia. In collaboration with Ukrainian stakeholders, we have drafted and analyzed legislation, created a unified bar association, and supported the establishment of a legal aid system. We have established a network of 40 legal advocacy non-governmental organizations to provide access to justice for vulnerable populations through pro-bono legal clinics and public rights-awareness campaigns. ABA ROLI’s Ukraine programs have always had a focus on the development of civil society and free legal assistance, capacity strengthening of human rights defenders, and active engagement with youth. Over time we have established effective cooperation with several leading civil society organizations (CSOs), think tanks, and various levels of the government.

Throughout our programs, ABA ROLI aims to enhance access to justice and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms for all—including women, children, and marginalized populations. In doing so, ABA ROLI is guided by human rights principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, European Convention on Human Rights, and other international human rights instruments.

Since 2014, Ukraine has been in a period of considerable change, with mass demonstrations, political instability, the foreign occupation of Crimea and parts of the Donbas region in Ukraine, initial military conflict in Eastern Ukraine, and the ongoing interference by Russia in the country’s affairs—culminating most dramatically in Russia’s February 2022 invasion and the ensuing military conflicts. In response to these challenges, government actors in Ukraine—including the National Security and Defense Council and the Office of the President—altered several regulations, legislations, and policies to fight Russian hybrid aggression, disinformation, and propaganda. However, the practical implications of these changes have led to the curtailment of citizens’ rights to free digital expression and political action.

Civil society organizations and internet freedom (IF) advocates have worked tirelessly to advocate for IF laws and policies that protect freedom of expression, despite balancing and acknowledging the real national security threat faced by Ukraine. Russia’s invasion in February 2022 created new challenges for Ukrainian society and forced local CSOs to change their focus toward alleviating human suffering, providing humanitarian help, documenting war crimes, and protecting human rights amidst wartime conditions.  According to United Nations estimates, at least 12 million people have fled their homes since the invasion, including five million to neighboring countries and seven million displaced within Ukraine.

The climate of Russian aggression, propaganda, and attempts to influence and destabilize the country, coupled with the domestic rise of populism and frustration, strain the Ukraine’s sense of national unity. While the war has united parts of the country, it also stimulated the growth of cross-regional stereotypes and perceptions of cultural differences between far-removed regions of Ukraine—particularly in response to the massive surge in internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the East and South towards the center and West of the country. Supported by active youth groups and strengthened by the free media, growing civil society continues to demand governmental reforms and social development to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all. This unified movement has put stereotypes and intolerance towards people from different regions and societal groups into question in Ukraine—resulting in increased national identity, support for human rights, and a stronger sense of civic responsibility. 

Based upon the current social and political environment of Ukraine, ABA ROLI’s programs in the country address the advancement of internet freedom and social cohesion. In 2019, we launched a five-year program to strengthen the knowledge and capacity of cross-sector IF champions to advocate for laws and policies that promote IF and online freedom of expression. In 2020, ABA ROLI launched a four and a half-year program designed to increase national unity, promote civic identity, and foster informed and constructive dialogue on issues central to the country’s European future.