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June 01, 2009

Ukraine: Legal Advocacy Saves Family Homes

June 2009

In May 2005, Vasyl Stefanyshyn and his daughter, Iryna, were summoned to the Drohobych Rayon Court. The distraught family was joined by equally confused neighbors, who had received similar summons. They quickly learned that their landlord wanted to evict the families from their dormitory-style apartments.

Were it not for a fortunate coincidence, these low-income families would have lost their homes back in 2005. The court is next door to the Public Legal Consultation Office of the charitable organization, Your Right, which received its first advocacy sub-grant from the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) in May 2004. Noticing the word “charitable” on the door sign, Stefanyshyn decided to stop by and ask for help.

Andriy Vovk, the organization’s lawyer, agreed to help the family; but he had no idea how many people he would help indirectly. Eventually, he learned that the Stefanyshyns’ landlord owned at least five similar properties in Drohobych and several more in Truskavets. The landlord decided to evict the low-income tenants because he wanted to either rent or sell the first and second levels of the dormitories to commercial companies.

Vovk filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Stefanyshyn family and won the case at all levels of the court process, which involved three years of court trials and appeals. On November 13, 2008, the Lviv Appellate Court rejected the landlord’s motion and allowed the Stefanyshyn family to continue living in their apartment.

The Stefanyshyns’ success inspired other threatened families to create their own non-governmental organization, My Home, which applied the arguments used by Vovk in the Stefanyshyn case and eventually saved more than 20 families from eviction in Drohobych alone.

“During the three-year-long legal battle, these people acquired the invaluable experience of defending their violated rights.  And what is most important is that they saw that it ispossible to find justice at court,” said Vovk. “We are grateful to ABA ROLI for their substantive law seminars. The knowledge we lawyers received was instrumental in winning this case.”

Through sub-grants, ABA ROLI supports a network of legal aid clinics and advocacy non-governmental advocacy organizations that develop public awareness campaigns and provide pro bono legal services to disadvantaged populations throughout Ukraine. ABA ROLI provides training on substantive legal issues to enhance legal services. It also supports professional development and capacity-building services to ensure sustainability.

To learn more about our work in Ukraine, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at <[email protected]>.