“Most of the judges were recruited”: the effect of the war on the law in Ukraine

Retired judge of the Supreme Court of Ukraine, Olena Yevtushenko, arrived in Israel this week together with 5 serving Ukrainian judges as part of an international conference of judges hosted in Israel. In a conversation with Globes, she tells what happened in the judicial system in Ukraine during the war that has been going on for 7 months: many courts have been bombed, the recruitment of male judges, the severing of contact with the judges in the occupied areas and conducting hearings alongside multiple alarms.

The Ukrainian delegation arrived in Israel on a flight from Moldova. They crossed the border after traveling by bus from Kiev, since the civilian airports in Ukraine have been closed since the Russian invasion began on February 24.

Judge Olena Yevtushenko / Photo: Spokesperson of the Judiciary

“In the first month of the fighting, many courts throughout Ukraine were bombed by the Russians. Some were destroyed, and some were damaged,” says Yevtoshanka, who lives in Kyiv. “Life is very difficult. You know what bombings are and what it’s like to sit in shelters. On Ukraine’s Independence Day, which was August 24, there were 7 alarms. There are cities that suffer from shelling every day, especially the areas close to Russia.”

Work under frequent alarms

“In the first month of the start of the war, most of the judges went to safer areas in the east and worked remotely. A month after the start of the fighting, they returned to work in Kiev.” She says that in Kiev they are trying to maintain a routine today. The residents work, the studies take place, some remotely, and some do not send their children.

The courts are working in Kiev, in the shadow of the many alarms. “There are many alarms. Sometimes there is a day or two. When there is an alarm, everyone runs to the shelters and sits for half an hour, an hour. It’s not like you who sit for a while.”

“There is a subway that is one big shelter, so we take a break in the trial, get off the subway nearby and go back to work. At the beginning of the fighting in February and until March, people lived in the subway with their children and animals. Everyone lived underground.”

The judges were recruited to fight

The war also affected the population of judges. She tells about the judge Ludmila Kharchenko who tried to escape with her family and was killed on the way by the bomb, and about the recruitment of most of the (male) judges. “From the second day of fighting, judges were recruited to fight. They recruited men from the age of 18-60. So the older judges remained. There are currently very few male judges in Ukraine.”

Yavtushenko served as a judge for 39 years. She was the president of the Union of Judges of Ukraine until last year, and now she is the deputy head of the union. She says that the head of the union could not come to Israel because men are not allowed to leave the country according to the government’s decision. That’s why a delegation of 6 female judges arrived and not even one judge.

The judge explains that the way the courts operate in the country depends on the fighting situation there, and can be divided into three categories: the courts in the occupied areas. “These are not functioning. There is no contact with most of the judges because the Russians cut off the communication. Neither internet nor phone. Some of the judges managed to escape and some don’t know what happened to them. There are judges who cooperate and work with the Russian side.”

There are courts located in combat zones, where the population is under daily fire – “There is no possibility of working there. As of today, 50 court buildings have been bombed and significantly damaged. In many cities there is no internet, no phone lines or electricity.

The third category is the courts that were not damaged by the bombings and are located in the relatively safe areas. These are working today and Kiev as mentioned among them.

Regarding the cases handled in the judicial system these days, Yavtushenko says that “there are far fewer cases because people left the country. There are more criminal cases. People have returned from the front with post-trauma, people who have seen death with their eyes and there are crimes.” She adds to my question that cases in the commercial and civil fields are a low priority these days.

She tells about the closure imposed on the residents of Kyiv due to the phenomenon of looting of abandoned houses. In Kyiv, for example, from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., residents are forbidden to leave their homes. “Most of the crimes the Ukrainians commit is looting, many people have left the country and there are citizens who take advantage of the situation and break into houses. This usually happens in the evening hours. That’s why the closures are made. The penalties for looting are very heavy. The judicial system works quickly in these cases.”

On receiving the petition regarding the cancellation of the fees: “Thank you to the Israeli court”

It is important for her to thank the judges of the High Court of Justice who accepted the petition against limiting the entry quotas for Ukrainian citizens to Israel. “I thank the Israeli court. Thank you for supporting our refugees” and adding “we are a cherished people thank you”.

The petition, submitted by attorney Tomer Warsaw, at the request of the Ukrainian ambassador, was directed against the policy of Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked to limit entry from Ukraine to 5,000 non-Jews (Jews are eligible according to the Law of Return). The demand was much greater than the quotas and many were rejected. The number of Ukrainians was restricted despite a mutual agreement between the countries to abolish visa requirements.

The state argued in the High Court that the mutual agreement does not apply during an emergency, but only in normal times when the entry is for tourism purposes. According to the decision, the visa exemption for citizens of Ukraine does not distinguish between an emergency period and a normal period, and therefore there was no place to limit the quotas.

International conference with judges from 71 countries

The visit of the female judges from Ukraine to Israel was made as part of the 64th annual conference of the International Organization of Judges in which hundreds of judges from 71 countries around the world participated. The conference that ended today included professional training and tours in Israel. Among others, at the Supreme Court, the Knesset, the Old City of Jerusalem and the closing event today takes place at the foot of the Mosque.

The chairman of the Judges’ Organization in Israel is Tel Aviv District Court Judge Yaron Levy, who initiated and organized the conference. According to him, “The conference is the largest event in the history of the international organization and one of the largest international events held in Israel, in terms of the number of participating countries. It has an important contribution to our status in the international community and not only in the legal aspect.”

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