USAID Empowers Citizens through Legal Aid

USAID Empowers Citizens through Legal Aid
The development of a national coalition of legal aid providers, facilitated by the USAID Access to Justice and Legal Empowerment Project, brought justice to a local journalist.

Valentyna Matveyeva, a journalist from Sumy, Ukraine, found herself accused of fraudulently receiving unemployment benefits. Ms. Matveyeva had lost her job in August 2010 and registered with the unemployment center at that time. However, an article that she had written was subsequently published in September, for which she was paid an honorarium of 200 UAH in October 2010.  The Sumy Employment Center sued her for misrepresenting her employment status, seeking 21,000 UAH in damages. Money the family had been saving for a medical procedure was spent hiring an attorney to defend her against the Employment Center’s claims. However, on December 6 the regional administrative court ruled in favor of the Employment Center. The lawsuit, combined with her difficult economic situation caused her significant stress, and she was hospitalized as a result.

USAID’s Access to Justice and Legal Empowerment Project facilitates the creation of a nationwide coalition of legal aid providers, to help people such as Ms. Matveyeva protect their rights. The project’s network of attorneys works in NGOs, student legal clinics and private practices providing assistance on a pro bono basis. Currently more than 120 legal aid organizations are affiliated with the Legal Aid Coalition, which specializes particularly in employment, healthcare and property issues.

Unable to afford a private attorney, Ms. Matveyeva’s plight was publicized in the local media. A member of the Legal Aid Coalition, the Public Bureau Defense of Rights contacted Ms. Matveyeva to let her know that free legal aid was available, offering help. Mr. Ihor Rekun, Director of Defense of Rights visited her in the hospital, discussed her situation and explained her right to appeal the administrative court’s decision.   

Accordingly, the Public Bureau Defense of Rights contacted a fellow Legal Aid Coalition member, the Center of Defense and Restorative Justice based in Kharkiv, for assistance in filing the appeal.  Mr. Oleh Timokhov of the Center of Defense and Restorative Justice filed the appeal on Ms. Matveyeva’s behalf.   Thanks to the legal aid provided by members of the Legal Aid Coalition in Sumy and Kharkiv, the appellate court overturned the ruling of the lower court, absolving Ms. Matveyeva of any wrongdoing.

Today Valentyna Matveyeva is again employed as a journalist in Sumy, crediting the Legal Aid Coalition with protecting her rights and enabling her to return to the workforce.  She is an ardent supporter of the Legal Aid Coalition, publishing articles and speaking publicly about the availability and value of legal aid in Ukraine: “I do not have anything to give except my thanks to the members of the Legal Aid Coalition.  I express my deepest respect to those kind-hearted people who felt my distress with their hearts. Now I know for sure: a lawyer offers help not just when he/she is paid, but also when you have gotten into real trouble and legal-related despair.”

Citizens in need of legal aid may find a provider in their area through USAID’s Access to Justice and Legal Empowerment Project website

Last updated: August 21, 2014

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