Interview with Iryna Vereshchuk, Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine, to Ukrinform.
Ukrainian and foreign politicians are actively talking about the threat of a new armed invasion of Ukraine by Russia. In these circumstances, the topic of reintegration of the temporarily occupied territories of Crimea and parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions remains relevant. In particular, reintegration in the context of the national unity policy should be carried out primarily on the territory controlled by the Ukrainian state.
– In December last year, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted a decision that launched the Ukrainian National Center for Peacebuilding. When will it start running fully and when will we see the first results of its work?
– We are currently in the process of staffing the Center. It should start operating fully this year. The Center has two tasks: documenting and conducting a dialog. The purpose of documentating is to restore justice. This means documenting human rights violations and damage caused by Russian aggression. The goal of the dialogue is to restore trust, which means organizing reintegration communications.
Initially, the Center will focus on creating a state system for monitoring and documenting violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The Center’s team has the task to create special registers that will be filled with data on human rights violations and damages related to Russian armed aggression in the temporarily occupied territories. This is a meticulous task, but we will see the first results this year.
– How many employees will the National Center for Peacebuilding have and will you engage foreign experts in documenting violations of international humanitarian law and in the dialogue on restoring peace in the occupied territories?
– The Center currently has 63 staff members. We continue recruiting employees. As for cooperation with foreign experts, of course, the Center will work with foreign governmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as with individual experts. It should be noted that international partners want not only to share their experience with us, but also to learn from us. For example, the Center is already planning to cooperate with the relevant division of the British Foreign Office – the Office of Conflict, Stabilization and Mediation.
– How much money will be allocated from the state budget for the Center’s activities in 2022, and how much do you plan to receive from international partners?
– Last year, UAH 5 million was allocated to start the Center’s work. This year’s budget provides UAH 51 million to finance the National Center for Peacebuilding.
As for the funds from international partners, they will not be used to finance the Center, but to support specific projects. These projects and their budgets are still under discussion.
– When you were appointed last November, you repeatedly emphasized that you would focus on the humanitarian aspect of reintegration. What have you already done in this area and what are your future plans?
– Yes, I consider the humanitarian direction a priority. Human-centered approach is the key to reintegration. Internally displaced persons and our people in the temporarily occupied territory need different types of assistance. We have to work so that our people feel care and friendliness of the state. I try to regularly visit the areas adjacent to the temporarily occupied territories, especially in the East.
Currently, my focus is on three components: entry/exit control points, youth, and international donors. Firstly, we have improved the comfort of crossing the entry-exit control points: service areas have been set up, the mandatory installation of the Vdoma app has been canceled, the regime for the movement of goods at the southern entry-exit control points has been simplified, and vaccination points have been set up at some entry-exit control points.
Secondly, we work with young people from the temporarily occupied territory. I want as many young people from the TOT to move to the government-controlled territory to study and work as possible. We will work to simplify procedures and create incentives. Education, both higher education and vocational education, will be a priority.
Thirdly, we will work with international donors and humanitarian organizations. I would like their activities to become more focused and practical, have fewer of conferences, studies, trainings, but more of specific and targeted material assistance to internally displaced persons that they can feel here and now.
– Earlier, you said that the draft laws on collaborators registered in the Verkhovna Rada need to be finalized. Do you cooperate with MPs in this area, and what are the key changes that need to be made?
– Of course, we are working with members of the relevant parliamentary committees, as well as with relevant public institutions and international organizations. Currently, four draft laws on collaborationism are being considered by the Verkhovna Rada. Such a variety of draft laws shows that there are different interpretations of the concept of “collaborationism” among politicians.
Not all parliamentarians have a full understanding of the definition of this concept in the context of transitional justice. It should be remembered that liability for collaborationism is part of the reintegration process. The basic principle here is justice, and the law should determine how to ensure it. Currently, the draft laws are somewhat vague, so they need to be clarified.
– What terms are to be clarified?
– For example, the concepts of “high treason” and “collaboration” should be distinguished. Is, for example, working at local enterprises or paying utility bills to local budgets support for the occupation administrations or financing terrorism? Will a TOT resident who received a Russian passport, without which, for example, he or she would not be able to get a job, be considered a collaborator? So, we have to be very careful in defining the concept of “collaborator.” The legal framework must be very balanced. All these are the lives of people. After all, the liberation of the territories and reintegration are all done for people.
– Housing remains one of the most urgent issues for internally displaced persons. How much money has been allocated from the state budget to provide housing for IDPs in 2022, and how much do you plan to raise from international partners?
– Housing for internally displaced persons is the most urgent and costly area of our activities. Unfortunately, only 12% of internally displaced persons have their own housing. Hundreds of thousands of people need better living conditions.
Despite the economic difficulties, this year should be the year of providing housing for internally displaced persons. This is a task from the President and the Prime Minister. The budget has reserved UAH 20 billion for the Ministry of Economy to finance affordable mortgages for IDPs on the state budget: civil servants, teachers, doctors, etc. Affordable mortgages for purchasing housing, for example, in Donbas, will be an incentive to attract qualified personnel to the region.
In addition, UAH 113.6 million of state budget subventions to local budgets are planned for the current year under the 70/30 program, where 30% is financed from the local and 70% from the state budget. These funds will be used to replenish the temporary housing stock for internally displaced persons by 342 properties. This is more than 1,000 people.
At the end of last year, a subvention of UAH 283 million was allocated to local budgets to improve housing conditions for IDP veterans who were injured or disabled while defending the state. For 2022, the budget of the Ministry of Veterans provides more than UAH 5 billion for housing for veterans from among the internally displaced persons.
As for international assistance, we are primarily counting on Germany and Turkey. The German government will help finance preferential mortgage loans for IDPs, which could provide housing for about 680 families by the end of 2022. The Turkish government will finance the construction of 500 apartments for IDPs from Crimea. Housing for internally displaced persons is a priority on the reintegration agenda.