Solution 16:16 17 Feb 2023

"We can see law even in the dark": free legal assistance for Ukrainians

The legal field in war conditions is also a battlefield. During martial law, some laws work differently. Because of enemy missiles, people lose relatives, homes, and businesses, and they do not always know what they should do to document another war crime and receive help from the state.

In response to this problem, YurShtab appeared — a volunteer initiative of Ukrainian lawyers providing Ukrainians with free legal assistance through a chatbot. Rubryka learned how the project works.

What is the problem?

russia, cellars and darkness


Yuliya Solovyova is a lawyer and the founder of YurShtab. Being in Kyiv, she remembers her hometown — Nova Kakhovka, which has been under occupation since the beginning of russia's full-scale war on February 24, 2022. The girl moved to the capital in 2016, and since February 2022, she has received news from her hometown about the basements where the russians interrogate and hold citizens, including Yuliya's relatives.

YurShtab receives many complaints about the abduction of people in the temporarily occupied territories. Unfortunately, this fate did not pass by Nova Kakhovka, where the russists took Yuliya's friends and even relatives "to the basement."

Yuliya shares that once, a girl whose father was forcibly deported to russia contacted YurShtab for help. She has been trying to find him, and fortunately, the state has some mechanisms to find the missing, but unfortunately, this process is very long. And this girl still doesn't know where her father is.

From the first days of the full-scale war, the lawyer was constantly approached by acquaintances asking for advice on damaged property, leaving the country, mobilization, and other issues that the majority of Ukrainians had not faced before February 24.

By then, Yuliya had already evacuated to the western part of Ukraine and actively consulted everyone who approached her. However, the lawyer says, she quickly realized that sometimes she lacks time, and sometimes she lacks the competencies to cover all appeals. This is how the story of a great volunteer project began.

What is the solution?

Anonymity, a bot and five dozen volunteers


The initiative started working already on March 4, 2022. In the first week, YurShtab provided almost 2,000 consultations. They worked 14-17 hours a day and answered at any time. Later, They came up with the name YurShtab and created a logo.

With the proposal to launch the project, Solovyova turned to her former manager Yevhen Artyukhov, who helped assemble the team and launch the first processes. First, the task was clear to help people here and now. They named the initiative Legal assistance and launched a bot in Telegram, through which consultations were provided, and a Telegram channel, where current information and answers to the most common questions were published. But it quickly became clear that the technical component needed changes and customization to be more convenient for the user.

"We didn't find a suitable bot on the Internet, so we decided to create our own. Our volunteer friends from the IT field — Nikita Dimitriev and Bohdan Zubenko — helped us with this. They wrote a bot from scratch that covered our queries and optimized the help process, making it more convenient. So, since March 16, we have been working in our bot, and to this day, we are improving it, adding new functions," says the head of YurShtab.

The chatbot is anonymous. The dialogue parties are displayed as User and Volunteer. Thus, for example, people living under occupation may not worry that there will be some evidence that they contacted Ukrainian volunteers after the deletion of the correspondence. In addition, it allows you to ask questions without any shame and protects lawyers from all kinds of provocations.

How does it work?

First income


You can get an answer to any legal question through the chatbot. Volunteer lawyers advise users on the topics of mobilization, leave for the military, traveling abroad without documents, paying taxes, business relocation, and registration of volunteer organizations. And this list is inexhaustible. Yuliya says that from the beginning of the initiative until today, the most popular directions were border crossing, mobilization, and military service. Currently, the most common issue with crossing the border is the departure of male students to foreign universities.

Of course, there are some funny questions, such as, for example: "My uncle found a tank abandoned by the occupiers; what will be the tax consequences if he decides to keep it for the farm?" or: "When will putin die?" or: "If I change the gender in my passport, will I be allowed abroad?"

Volunteers answer every question honestly and free of charge. Recently, the project received its first money — a grant from Change Drivers — an annual award held by Bendukidze Free Market Center in partnership with Atlas Network, Friedrich Naumann Foundation Ukraine and Belarus, and Rubryka media. Before that, the expenses of YurShtab were covered by its initiators.


The initiative plans to spend the awarded money to cover operational costs currently paid by the initiative's volunteers — paying for servers, domains, and services for creating content, holding meetings, and training the volunteers.

Yuliya says that only in the eighth month of the existence of the YurShtab initiative they added the opportunity to donate in its favor, but this did not fundamentally change the financial situation:

"Honestly, very few people are willing to donate to lawyers, but this is expected and logical; now all "free" or saved funds are donated to the Armed Forces of Ukraine," Solovyova shares.

Will it definitely work?

More than 15,000 consultations


Only by the end of 2022, about 20,000 people used the YurShtab bot, and a team of 50 volunteers provided more than 15,600 free consultations. In addition, lawyers have their own websites and social networks, which are also filled with practical legal information that simplifies the lives of thousands of people.

Yuliya Solovyova says that every story that people come to the volunteers with is special and memorable to them. And shares a few that impressed her the most:

"For example, the story of a family from Mariupol which lost its home due to hostilities. The head of the family sent us a heart-breaking photo of his destroyed apartment. The most terrible thing was that we could not help solve this issue here and now but only advise how to act in the future."

At the beginning of the project's work on March 7, when the volunteers were still working in the old bot, a school teacher from the Zaporizhzhia region approached them. Her son-in-law has cancer (stage 4) and must travel abroad for treatment. He was supposed to fly to Turkey on February 24 for another round of chemotherapy; however, due to russia's full-scale invasion, all flights were canceled.

The question of a refund for the ticket arose, and this woman turned to YurShtab with this request. Yuliya gave an explanation about that but realized that, unfortunately, they couldn't do it on their own. So she wrote to this woman and offered help. Later, the funds were returned.

The girl emphasizes that all volunteers work under challenging conditions. YurShtab is a real monolithic team. They work closely for a good cause and help each other as a true family.

There are volunteers from Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Dnipro, and Kyiv who did not leave their cities since the war started and, despite shelling and problems with the Internet, regardless of the time of day, advise those who contact YurShtab. There is also a volunteer currently in the armed forces ranks who continues to provide legal assistance. There was also a volunteer from Kherson who, while under occupation, provided legal advice to Ukrainian men and women. There are many such stories.

"In general, today, everyone works in extreme conditions; we can see the law even in the dark and, despite everything, continue to provide free legal assistance," concludes the lawyer.

If you are a lawyer and want to join the YurShtab team, you can do so by sending an appropriate request through the chatbot.And you can financially support the project team by following the link.


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