The entry/exit control point “Maiorsk” is one of four vehicle and pedestrian crossing points in Donetsk region. It is located about 20 km from the non-government controlled Horlivka town. The grey zone between the Ukrainian checkpoint and self-proclaimed “DPR” is the widest among all of the EECPs. After the ECCP was opened in early 2015 there was no bus connection in this corridor, people had to walk nearly 2-3 kilometres to take another bus. The situation changed in 2016, when it was agreed to launch bus shuttles. Over the period of its existence, the EECP has had many temporary closures due to escalation of the hostilities. Every day at least 7,000 people, mostly elderly, cross this entry-exit point to get their pension and social payments, visit their friends and relatives, buy essential goods. While crossing the contact line, concerned civilians are often exposed to serious security and safety risks such as minefields along the roads, periodic shelling and queuing at the checkpoints in harsh weather conditions for long hours.


50-year old ski-instructor Oksana is one of many people waiting for hours to cross the entry-exit point. 

“I left Alchevsk town on the non-government controlled area (92 km away) at 07:00 in the morning. It is afternoon, and I have not passed yet. There were times we were waiting for several days to cross, because of military hostilities. I currently live in government controlled Kharkiv with my husband. Comparing with other internally displaced people it is easier for me to adapt to new city, because I have my own apartment and job there. I am not planning to come back to my hometown, because there is no job for me there. Many people left, mostly elderly remained in the town”, -  says Oksana.  

In this picture Oksana talking to NRC communication officer Anastasiia Karpilianska

Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

Protecting human rights in eastern Ukraine

"If it’s in my power to help people, I’ll do everything I can to do so." Maksym Solovei, 26, works as human rights lawyer at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in his home region of Luhansk, eastern Ukraine.

In eastern Ukraine, NRC works to protect displaced people’s rights, respond to the needs of those affected by the conflict and reconstruct damaged homes.

Read also: Five facts after five years of conflict in eastern Ukraine

Photo: Violetta Shemet/NRC
Read caption Maksym Solovei, 26, works as human rights lawyer at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in his home region of Luhansk, eastern Ukraine. Photo: Violetta Shemet/NRC

Living and working amid conflict

Maksym Solovei provides legal services to displaced and conflict-affected people.

"People have difficulties finding employment and gaining access to services. They need assistance with obtaining and restoring identity papers and other civil documentation to be able to access health care and other essential services. Others need adequate housing or help with various types of problems related to employment or property," he explains.

Most cases are difficult to solve given the current legal situation in Ukraine, and Maksym often has to search for new solutions.

"Thanks to the support of humanitarian organisations, people do not feel abandoned and forgotten. I wanted to become a part of the humanitarian community in order to provide real, tangible assistance to those who need it."

Veronika (4) 

Kateryna Matuliz is 29 years old, mother of 3 children, from Popasna town.

“I lived with my husband and two daughters in our own apartment in Popasna. But, four years ago the war came to our town and the constant shelling makes it too risky to stay at home anymore.  When the conflict started I was pregnant with my third daughter. One of the shells hit the house of our neighbor and I got so stressed that we immediately had to go to the maternity ward in a town nearby and our daughter Veronika came to this world a little bit earlier”, Kateryna says. 

Kateryna and her three daughters moved to her mother’s house in a safer part of the town. The house is very small without basic facilities and can hardly accommodate the big family. Kateryna’s husband left to Russia several years ago to help his sick mother and cannot afford to come to see them often. 

“It is impossible to come back home now since the shelling has become even more frequent lately. Every day I have to travel to that district with my children because of school and kindergarten. My daughters also attend dancing and gymnastics there, and we do not want to change our teachers. Every evening we come back to my mother’s home to do homework and to stay overnight. I cannot work, because my youngest daughter gets sick very often”, says Kateryna. 

Kateryna’s mother’s house is very old and is located in an open area near the lake where it usually is very windy. To support the family in the winter period, NRC provided them with insulation materials and helped to repair the damaged roof. Kateryna says it has become much warmer than before, and they spend less fuel to heat the house. 

Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC
Read caption Kateryna Matuliz, 29, and her daughter Veronika, 4, has received assistance from NRC to rebuild their house near the contact line, which was damaged by shelling. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

Helping those in need

Maksym often visits frontline communities – along the so-called "contact line" – to help people with multiple legal issues. Older people, people with disabilities and people in difficult circumstances need legal aid related to pension, social benefits and access to civil documentation, as well as on housing, land and property issues.

"In many places, there are no functioning government agencies and no other organisations providing similar assistance. Our field visits are the only way for people to receive necessary legal services."

Mykola is 65. He is a pensioner from Pervomaisk in Luhansk region, now in the non-government controlled area (NGCA). He travelled from Zolote town with his wife already at 3 o'clock in the morning in order to have time to arrive at the EECP by the opening and as soon as possible move on to NGCA and get home. Mykola and his wife had waited for their turn to check their documents for about two hours.

“It has become quieter. There is less shelling. It is possible to live. But sometimes it is very scary. Children and grandchildren are far away. They are trying to arrange their lives in a new place. And we survive as we can”, says Mykola. 

Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC
Read caption Almost 700,000 pensioners are not receiving their pensions because of the restrictive policies linking payment of pensions to conflict-affected people with the requirement to register as an internally displaced person. A large number of such pensioners regularly face the risk of arbitrary suspension of their pensions, which constitute their only source of income. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

Many live with constant fear for their lives and their loved ones because of the proximity of armed hostilities.

"The longer the conflict lasts, the more the situation in the areas along the contact line will deteriorate. People need humanitarian assistance. There are no other options right now," says Maksym.

Like everyone else across the eastern part of the country, NRC’s employees are also affected by the conflict, and each one of them carries their own story. Living amid the conflict himself, Maksym understands what the people he assists have been through.

"After all, these are people with real life stories, they’re not just numbers."

How we protect the rights of conflict-affected people in eastern Ukraine

 

  • We advocate for protection of the rights of people affected by the conflict
  • We provide legal assistance at three legal aid centres and during mobile field visits, as well as via a telephone hotline and social networks
  • We arrange legal training, seminars and other capacity-building activities for representatives of local civil society organisations, courts and state institutions
  • In 2018, NRC provided legal services to over 16,000 people and held courses and seminars for 736 lawyers

Dreams destroyed

Shortly after graduating from university in 2014, Maksym had to put all his future plans on hold. His hometown of Lysychansk became a hotspot of armed clashes. Air strikes and heavy shelling led to serious damage of the infrastructure and private housing.

"Our flat was in a multi-story building. It was hit – several times – and started burning. The fire continued for two days. After it was extinguished, part of the building just collapsed."

Maksym found out about this incident through social media and immediately returned home to his family.

"It wasn’t clear how damaged our flat was. I didn’t know what was happening with my family. I felt frustrated and angry, I didn’t know what to do next."

Almost three years later, Maksym and his family received government compensation for destroyed housing, and a decision was made to demolish the damaged building. They didn’t leave their war-torn region but remained and tried to rebuild their lives.

"I love my homeland. I belong right here. But I will not forget what happened."

The fields surrounding the contact line are filled with lethal mines and will remain a constant threat to the local populations for years to come.

Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC
Read caption Five years of active hostilities have left undetonated weaponry scattered throughout vast areas of the conflict zone. This poses lethal risks to civilians, including to half a million children living within the 20-kilometre area on both sides of the contact line. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

Focused on the future

Despite the uncertainty in his life after losing his family’s flat, Maksym is confident about his own future and happy to share his plans.

"I would like to continue my work as humanitarian. I hope that the armed conflict will end soon, and I will try to apply my experience in other countries in similar situations."