Ukrainian law students and young lawyers are reporting for JURIST on developments in and affecting Ukraine. This dispatch is from Olha Chernovol, a Ukrainian lawyer who was forced to leave Ukraine in March 2022 after the Russian invasion and who is now completing a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Ottawa in Canada. She recently returned to Ukraine for a brief visit and offers these observations.
On February 24, 2022, all the world woke up to war – Russia invaded Ukraine, sparking the worst conflict on the continent since World War II. That day the life I had built for myself as a successful lawyer and scholar was turned upside down. Almost immediately, it became clear to me that I was not safe in Kyiv, especially given my work. At the time, it was almost impossible to predict how the conflict would evolve, That, combined with the fact that I knew I was at increased risk because of my professional work as an anti-corruption expert, I decided it was best to leave the country as quickly as possible. I escaped in March 2022 with little in the way of possessions or official documentation.
On June 11, I arrived in Ottawa. After a period of settling in, I began a postdoctoral fellowship on July 15. As a member of a research team led by Dr. Jennifer Quaid, I have focused on anti-corruption enforcement, exploring the risks within the legal and institutional components of anti-corruption policy and the effectiveness of using non-trial resolution mechanisms in corruption matters.
I briefly came back to Kyiv in May 2022 to see my relatives and take some stuff before my journey to Canada, but now, in May 2023, I am back home in Ukraine, at least for a while. I have been very struck by all the changes. The first change that I immediately felt was the prices. They have increased significantly. Many Ukrainians have lost their jobs. The second change I see this time is very visible in people’s eyes – the horror they experience every day due to Russia’s continuing aggression against Ukraine. Ukrainians learn new fears, such as a fear of sounds. I found that Ukrainians can distinguish the type of missiles and drones that are attacking them by listening to the sounds. They don’t feel safe in their homes. This has become the reality of their everyday life.
After I arrived I felt that feeling too, when I woke up to feel my house shaking due to a night attack on Kyiv by Russian drones. The blood in my veins went cold. It reminded me of everything I had to go through a year ago. I called my friends and asked them how they were after such a night. They simply said the night was noisy, and some of them needed to spend it in the corridors or bathrooms of their houses because in those locations there are no windows to be shattered by the force of nearby explosions.
At the same time, when I got back I was curious about the functioning of Ukraine’s state mechanisms. I found that many mechanisms function in a pre-war manner. In some cases, the Ukrainian government has actually managed to create new mechanisms for the greater convenience of citizens’ lives – for instance, mechanisms have been set up to provide compensation to citizens whose property has been destroyed or damaged due to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Despite the ongoing war, the system is functioning as it should.
Of course, for me, as an anti-corruption expert, it has been interesting to learn about the current situation with regard to anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine. I found that our government, anti-corruption agencies and civil society are all trying to improve anti-corruption mechanisms to avoid corruption risks in the future reconstruction period. Currently, there is quite a lot of dynamic activity in this direction.
In general, visiting Ukraine after a year of being out of the country is strange. The picture is the same, not taking into account the fact of ongoing war, but for me the feelings inside are different.