Ukrainian residents searching for battle reparations face uphill wrestle By Reuters



© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Vitalii Zhyvotovskyi, 50, stands inside his home that he informed Reuters was destroyed by Russian troops as they had been retreating from Bucha, in Bucha, Kyiv area, Ukraine April 19, 2022. Image taken April 19, 2022. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File


By Joanna Plucinska, Stephanie van den Berg and Stefaniia Bern

BUCHA, Ukraine (Reuters) – Vitalii Zhyvotovskyi, a 51-year outdated from the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, is attempting to rebuild his home after it was closely broken throughout Russia’s occupation of the realm earlier this 12 months. The roof was destroyed, the within gutted by fireplace and lots of the home windows blown out.

Zhyvotovskyi says the repairs are greater than he can afford, even on his engineer’s wage, so he’s searching for assist in the type of battle reparations. With the assistance of a lawyer, he has despatched what they are saying is proof of battle crimes – which Zhyvotovskyi says he was both a sufferer of or witnessed to each Ukrainian authorities and the Worldwide Prison Court docket (ICC) in The Hague, with the hopes of prosecution and compensation.

He’s one in every of a rising variety of Ukrainians exploring the potential of reparations for injury or violence that has occurred in the course of the battle as they try to rebuild their lives, in response to the ICC.

The battle, which six months in is locked in a stalemate, has prompted hundreds of deaths, made tens of millions of individuals refugees and destroyed complete cities. Kyiv has stated greater than 140,000 residential buildings have been broken or destroyed and economists have estimated the price of injury to housing and infrastructure is greater than $100 billion.

However for a lot of Ukrainians like Zhyvotovskyi, at the moment the probabilities of acquiring compensation from Russia or worldwide tribunals or home applications are small, three reparations specialists informed Reuters. And, even when the victims do obtain reparations, they could solely get a modest sum a few years from now, they added.

Worldwide prison tribunals is usually a route for reparations however the ICC offers with particular person perpetrators who could be held accountable for damages, somewhat than states. And, the ICC determines reparations solely on the finish of what are usually prolonged courtroom instances they usually can have a extra symbolic worth that’s unlikely to cowl precise prices, a number of the specialists stated.

Reparations will also be organized on the nationwide stage and Ukraine has pledged to arrange a reparations construction with worldwide companions however it’s unclear who could be eligible or how it will be funded. Kyiv has stated it hopes Russian belongings in different international locations could possibly be confiscated and used as compensation, an concept Moscow has rejected as unlawful.

The Kremlin didn’t reply to a request for remark. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov has stated any try to make use of frozen Russian state belongings to rebuild Ukraine would represent “outright theft.” Moscow has rejected allegations by Ukraine and Western nations of battle crimes and has denied focusing on civilians in what the Kremlin calls a “particular army operation” to demilitarise its neighbour.

Zhyvotovskyi’s lawyer, Yuriy Bilous, stated he’s hopeful his shopper will get some monetary assist to rebuild his home and {that a} profitable battle crimes prosecution would offer some psychological reduction when it comes to seeing justice executed.

Bilous, whose pre-war apply included company legislation, stated he’s representing greater than 40 different Ukrainians who allege they’ve been victims of battle crimes, lots of whom are additionally hoping for reparations. That features Zhyvotovskyi’s neighbour, Liudmyla Kizilova, who says her husband was shot within the head by a Russian soldier and her house was burnt down. Reuters was unable to independently verify Kizilova’s account.

Whereas initially optimistic about his probabilities of reparations, Zhyvotovskyi says he’s now uncertain. “I don’t know what is going to occur sooner or later, or whether or not I can rely on any assist from overseas to revive this house of mine,” Zhyvotovskyi informed Reuters throughout a go to in June, whereas clutching the steel banister of what was as soon as his staircase.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has demanded that Russia cowl the prices of injury attributable to its invasion. Neither his workplace nor the Ukraine authorities responded to requests for remark. Worldwide legislation establishes the precept {that a} state accountable for a global wrongful act should make reparations for the hurt attributable to these acts, however there isn’t any set mechanism or courtroom to implement that concept.


When requested about Zhyvotovskyi’s prospects, Pieter de Baan, who headed the ICC physique accountable for reparations till this month and now serves as an advisor, stated the courtroom’s involvement in Ukraine was on the “very, very early phases.” He added a prosecution should happen “earlier than you possibly can even take into consideration reparations.”

The ICC stated it was receiving functions for participation in courtroom proceedings, which is a primary step to getting reparations, “on an ongoing foundation” however was unable to supply numbers for what number of Ukrainians had contacted the courtroom.

Ukraine has stated it’s creating a global construction to obtain reparations that it hopes could possibly be funded by proceeds from Russian belongings seized by different international locations. Patrick Pearsall, a U.S.-based lawyer who’s advising Ukraine’s authorities on reparations because the director of Columbia College Regulation Faculty’s Worldwide Claims and Reparations Undertaking, stated Zelenskiy and the federal government “are pushing as laborious and with as a lot urgency as attainable” to take action however {that a} mechanism hasn’t been selected.

Pearsall stated that victims like Zhyvotovskyi whose properties had been destroyed have traditionally obtained no less than some compensation finally. Among the specialists interviewed by Reuters say reparations have a broader scope than contributing to monetary prices, additionally encompassing issues like rehabilitation and recognition of hurt.

States have previously funded reparations, together with after World Battle II when the axis states paid reparations. When states do comply with pay, it’s typically to different states and never on to victims, two of the reparations specialists stated.


Zhyvotovskyi’s two-storey brick house sits on a leafy aspect street off of a Bucha thoroughfare known as Yablunska Road. He stated he spent a couple of decade constructing it – one thing he stated he did together with his dad and mom, who’ve since handed away. He stated he envisaged a “completely happy life” in the home.

That modified on March 3 when dozens of troopers in armoured autos rammed down his fence and commandeered his house. For the following week, Zhyvotovskyi stated he and his daughter had been compelled to share their home with almost 30 Russian troopers, who turned it into their quarters, and that he witnessed captives being delivered to the home and heard troopers beating one in every of them.

By March 10, they managed to slide away from the home however after they returned to Bucha after the Russian retreat in late March, a lot of his house had been burned out.

Zhyvotovskyi stated he was left with nothing. “I had my 51st birthday in another person’s garments, in another person’s every little thing. I’m so ashamed of this,” Zhyvotovskyi informed Reuters whereas carrying sneakers that he stated had belonged to his neighbour’s useless husband.

With out adequate funds to rebuild it, he depends on the nice will of group members. In early July, throughout one other Reuters go to, round half a dozen males perched on high of the stays of his home labored to take away collapsed elements of the second ground.

Zhyvotovskyi stated he determined to ahead proof about his ordeal to each the ICC and Ukrainian authorities to be able to enhance the probabilities of prosecution and reparations. The knowledge they submitted, which lays blame on Russia however doesn’t establish particular troopers, alleges battle crimes embrace the deliberate destruction of civilian property and unlawful detention in addition to the torture he heard.

The three reparations specialists stated that Zhyvotovskyi was extraordinarily unlikely to realize reparations through the ICC, partially as a result of the courtroom’s mission is to give attention to the worst battle crimes by the highest-ranking perpetrators. And, solely after a perpetrator is convicted – a course of that may take years – can victims of that individual crime declare eligibility for reparations.

One of many specialists, Luke Moffett who’s a senior lecturer at Belfast College’s faculty of legislation, stated Zhyvotovskyi’s probabilities of reparations from the ICC are “infinitesimally small,” and that there’s a higher probability of “a snowball in hell.”


Ukrainians like Zhyvotovskyi might have extra luck searching for compensation through a nationwide reparations program, which might possible have a decrease threshold for individuals to show they’re victims than through the courts, in response to the three specialists. Such a program may in principle distribute each home and abroad funding, together with voluntary contributions from different international locations or organizations. Ukraine has stated it plans to determine a nationwide programme for recognising and paying respect to victims.

Funding may additionally embrace proceeds from Russian belongings seized by different international locations, together with from sanctioned people and entities, stated Igor Cvetkovski, a reparations specialist who’s consulting with Ukrainian victims and Ukraine’s authorities on behalf of the United Nation’s migration company.

Some particular person governments, together with america and Canada, are exploring or implementing laws that might enable them to grab and promote some Russian belongings owned by sanctioned people and entities and direct the proceeds to Ukraine. The European Union – which has stated it has frozen 13.8 billion euros price of belongings held by sanctioned Russian people and entities for the battle towards Ukraine – has additionally stated it’s trying into methods of utilizing frozen belongings to fund the rebuilding of Ukraine.

It’s nonetheless unclear how many individuals may search reparations as a result of the battle is ongoing. “Every day we’re dropping individuals. Every day we’re dropping infrastructure,” stated Olena Sotnyk, a Ukrainian lawyer and former member of parliament who helps coordinate discussions between the federal government, civil society teams and victims on reparations points.


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