BUCHA, Ukraine (Reuters) – Vitaly Zhibotovsky, a 51-year-old resident of Bucha, a suburb of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv (Kyiv), was badly damaged during the Russian military occupation of the city earlier this year. restore my house. Roofs were destroyed, interiors were engulfed in flames and many windows were blown out.
Even though he has an income as an engineer, he cannot afford the repair costs. So Zibotowski tries to get help in the form of war reparations. Hoping for prosecution and reparations, and with the help of his lawyers, he presented to the Ukrainian authorities and the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, the Netherlands, a “war” which he himself a victim or I have sent what I consider to be evidence of a crime.
According to the ICC, more Ukrainians like Zhibotowski are exploring the possibility of seeking reparations for war damage and violence.
Six months into the stalemate, the conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives, displaced millions and, in some cases, destroyed entire towns. The Ukrainian government says more than 140,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed, with economists estimating damage to homes and infrastructure at more than $100 billion. .
But three reparations experts who spoke to Reuters said that for many Ukrainians like Zhibotowski, the prospect of receiving reparations under Russia, the international justice system or their own systems is now out of the question. Moreover, even if the victims receive compensation, it can take years and be limited to this amount.
International criminal trials could be a route to reparations, but the ICC deals with individual perpetrators, not states, who are responsible for harm. And, according to some experts, the ICC almost always rules on damages after lengthy litigation is over, and is unlikely to cover the actual costs either.
A compensation scheme at the national level could be put in place, and Ukraine is committed to preparing a compensation scheme in cooperation with the international community. However, the range of people eligible for compensation and how the funds will be obtained are unclear. The Ukrainian government has said it wants to seize Russian assets in various countries and use them as compensation funds, but the Russian government protests that this is illegal.
The Russian government did not respond to a request for comment on war reparations. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said using frozen Russian assets to rebuild Ukraine would be an act of “blatant theft”. Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of war crimes, which Moscow denies and says it will not target civilians in a “special military operation” to demilitarize its neighbors.
Mr Zibotowski’s lawyer, Yuri Bilous, said he hoped his client would get financial help to rebuild his house. Successful prosecutions for war crimes, he said, would provide some psychological comfort in the sense that justice would be served.
Before the outbreak of war, Bilous also handled corporate law, but he now has more than 40 Ukrainians charged with war crimes, many of whom are also seeking reparations. Zhibotowski’s neighbor Lyudmila Kizilova is one of them. Kizilova’s husband was shot in the head by a Russian soldier and his house was burned down. Reuters was unable to independently corroborate Ms Kizilova’s testimony.
Initially optimistic about the chances of getting repairs, Zibotowski says he’s less sure now. During a visit to Reuters in June, holding a piece of metal from a stair railing, he said: “I don’t know what the future holds. I can count on the help of others country to rebuild my house.” whether it is or not,” he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Russia to bear the cost of the damage caused by the invasion. International law establishes the principle that a State responsible for an internationally wrongful act must make reparation for the damage caused by that act.
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Is there a chance that Mr. Zibotowski will get compensation? Peter Devern, who headed the ICC’s war reparations division until this month and is now an adviser, said the ICC’s involvement in Ukraine was “just the start”. War crimes are first prosecuted, then “only then can we think about reparations,” he explains.
The ICC said it was “continuously” accepting applications to join the trial as a first step towards obtaining reparations, but could not disclose how many Ukrainians had contacted the ICC.
Ukraine said it was setting up an international mechanism to receive reparations and that it wanted to finance the sale of Russian assets seized in other countries. Patrick Pearsall, a US-based attorney who is the director of the International Claims Reparations Project at Columbia University Law School and who has advised the Ukrainian government on reparations issues, said President Zelensky and the Ukrainian government demanded war reparations. “doing our best as soon as possible” to acquire , but has not yet made a decision on how it will work.
Pearsall said in previous cases, victims like Zibotowski whose homes were destroyed ended up getting some sort of compensation. Some of the experts interviewed by Reuters said the scope of reparations goes beyond simply meeting economic costs and includes redress and acknowledgment of wrongdoing.
In the past, there have been cases where the state has contributed to reparations. After World War II, the Axis powers paid reparations. Two war reparations experts say that when one state agrees to pay, it often goes to another state rather than directly to the victim.
Zibotowski’s two-story brick house faces a leafy side street off Buça’s main street, called “Jabrunska Street”. It took about 10 years to build this house. The parents who built the house together have since passed away. Zibotowski said he thought he would have a “happy life” in the house.
But on March 3, things changed. Dozens of soldiers in armored vehicles crashed into the fence and took over the house. For the next week, Zibotowski and her daughter were forced to live with nearly 30 Russian soldiers in barracks. I saw prisoners being taken home and heard the sound of a Russian soldier hitting one of them.
He managed to escape from the house on March 10, but when he returned to Bucha after the Russian army withdrew in late March, the house was largely burnt down.
Zibotowski says he has nothing left. “I spent my 51st birthday wearing someone else’s clothes and borrowing everything. I’m so ashamed,” he told Reuters. The shoes she is wearing now belong to her neighbor’s deceased husband.
They don’t have enough money to rebuild their houses, so they rely on the goodwill of their neighbours. When Reuters visited again in early July, a dozen men had climbed over the rubble of the residence and cleared debris from the second floor.
Zibotowski said he decided to send evidence of his predicament to the ICC and Ukrainian authorities to increase the chances of prosecution and reparations. The information provided accused Russia of being responsible but did not specifically identify the soldiers. War crimes included willful destruction of civilian property, unlawful detention, and audible torture.
Three reparations experts say it is highly unlikely that Zibotowski will obtain reparations through the ICC. One reason is that the ICC’s mission is to focus on the worst war crimes committed by the highest-ranking perpetrators. Moreover, it is only after the perpetrator has been convicted, a process that takes many years, that a victim of this particular crime can claim reparations.
One of the experts, Luke Moffett, a lecturer at the University of Belfast Law School, said the chances of Zibotowski getting compensation through the ICC were “very slim”.
For Ukrainian citizens like Zhibotowski, seeking reparations through the country’s post-war compensation program may have more success. According to the three experts, this is because the obstacles to victim recognition are likely to be lower than going through the courts. Such programs could, in theory, allocate national and international funds to victims, including voluntary donations from other governments and agencies. Ukraine said it planned to establish a system at the national level to recognize war victims and provide them with appropriate treatment.
Reparations expert Igor Kvetkovsky said compensation could also be funded by proceeds from the sale of Russian assets seized in other countries, including those of sanctioned individuals and companies. He represents the UN Migration Agency in consultations with Ukrainian victims and the Ukrainian government.
It is unclear how many people will seek reparations simply because the conflict is ongoing. “Every day someone’s life is lost and infrastructure is damaged,” said Olena Sotnik, a Ukrainian lawyer and former MP. He is currently helping to organize consultations between governments, civil society and war victims on the issue of war reparations.
(Joanna Plucinska, Stephanie van den Berg, Stefaniia Bern, translation: Erklelen)