Larysa Zhdankina: From Kyiv to Glasgow – one lawyer’s journey

Larysa Zhdankina: From Kyiv to Glasgow – one lawyer's journey

Larysa Zhdankina

Ukrainian lawyer Larysa Zhdankina writes about her journey to Scotland last year following the Russian invasion.

Our house in Kyiv is located 20 minutes from Zhulyany airport and Vasylkiv military airfield. These objects were attacked in the first minutes of the invasion. The remains of the first rocket fell very close to our house, waking us at 5am on 24 February 2022.

As an expert in the legal department of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, I had to go to work immediately. After a meeting with the supervisors, I was told that I needed to go to a safe place urgently because the court would not be evacuated. It was a very difficult test for me, both as a simple Ukrainian woman, a mother and as a lawyer, a civil servant.

I crossed the Ukrainian border with Poland on 3 March and we stayed there for two months, waiting for a visa to the UK. I then came to Scotland in early May 2022 with my young daughter. We felt the support of the Scots from the first minute. They are very kind, friendly, sincere and hospitable. Their desire to help was so deep that it gave me the strength to think not only about saving my children’s lives but also about my professional future.

Many thanks to Rob Marrs and Kenneth Young. Together with Alekandr Chernykh – the official UK representative of the Ukrainian National Bar Association – they were able to create conditions for the training of Ukrainian lawyers, our development as lawyers in Scotland, and also help Ukraine.

During the past five years, I participated in the processes of law making in Ukraine and the rules of their interpretation and correct application. So I listened to lectures on various areas of Scottish and international law, had shadowing with advocate Iain Halliday and visited the Immigration Tribunal in Glasgow.

My gratitude and respect to all Scottish colleagues who paid attention to us at the Advocates Library reception in Edinburgh. It was an honour also for me to be invited as a speaker for the Law Society of Scotland and talk about the rule of law in Ukraine. This experience and the enormous support of my Scottish colleagues allowed me to feel safe and focus on the special research I am currently conducting for my country, using the experience of Scotland.

Maintaining the rule of law in a time of war

The beginning of a full-scale military invasion by Russia slowed down and suppressed all processes in Ukraine. The judiciary had to adapt quickly to be able to serve justice and protect human rights in wartime.

The scale of the violations was so rapid and drastic that efforts aimed at overcoming or even mitigating them turned out to be completely untenable and ineffective. However, very soon – by March 2022 – when the Russian invaders failed to overthrow the existing Ukrainian government and change the state system in a flash, everyone realized that the country must continue to function, albeit in a very new and destructive reality.

The need to implement rules and procedures that correspond to martial law has become acute. The legislative power together with the executive responded to new challenges by introducing and changing existing legislation and mechanisms. The judicial authorities, together with law enforcement agencies, the prosecutor’s office and the ombudsman, were overwhelmed by human rights violations due to atrocities committed by Russian troops. The unprecedented situation required one-time solutions and methods to protect the rights of Ukrainians in their homeland.

New rules were quickly implemented, but the environment was not, and still is not conducive and appropriate for comprehensive and holistic problem-solving to provide long-term solutions that could form the basis for transitional justice. Therefore, it is now extremely important to study the experience of other countries, compare the circumstances, and involve international institutions.

Research programs motivate researchers to work on transitional justice mechanisms, as this requires a cold-blooded and thorough approach. This is why the work of the Law Society of Scotland is so great and important. They allowed me to know that my children are safe, and in the meantime to serve Ukraine. Everyone has their own front. Scottish colleagues stand in line with me to establish peace in Ukraine and on Earth as a whole.

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