Lesia Vasylenko: NGO gives free legal aid to soldiers, and it all started with a trip to a military hospital
Founder and Chairwoman of the EED-supported Legal Hundred NGO in Ukraine Lesia Vasylenko was named one of the top 30 Ukrainian leaders under 30 by Kyiv Post.
Legal Hundred supports veterans of Ukraine’s Anti-Terror Operations (ATO) in understanding and protecting their rights as active civil society members, to strengthen their regional network and operate in sensitive regions where support is lacking.
This article below was reproduced courtesy of Kyiv Post.
Name: Lesia Vasylenko
Education: Masters in international law from the Institute of International Relations of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv; LLM at University College London, UK.
Profession: Founder and Chairwoman of the Legal Hundred NGO
Did you know? Her two children both went through “the baptism of fire,” with the older one born in October 2013, a month before the EuroMaidan Revolution started, and the younger one in May 2015, during the war.
Lawyer Lesia Vasylenko never thought she’d work in the public sector – until a trip to a military hospital changed everything.
It was June 2014. She had come to the hospital as a visitor, bringing money collected to pay for an operation needed by a soldier. She then saw other wounded soldiers and their families, and found that they were all talking about the difficulty of finding money to pay for treatment.
“Something clicked in my head and I thought: ‘It can’t be true that these people are not entitled to any support from the government,’” Vasylenko said.
She started studying Ukrainian law on this subject and found she was right – it wasn’t true.
So Vasylenko asked her graphic designer friend for help in creating illustrated brochures explaining soldiers’ rights. With her friend, Olga Tkachenko, she went around military hospitals all over Ukraine distributing the brochures and speaking with war veterans.
“Every soldier felt lost and abandoned by the government, so it was very eye-opening for them,” Vasylenko said.
Then, in January 2015, Vasylenko founded the Legal Hundred NGO, which now has around 218 lawyers who offer free consultations. The Legal Hundred now helps soldiers understand and protect their rights, especially in regions lacking protection.
Legal Hundred is the biggest military law organization in Ukraine. Its lawyers have already helped close to 10,000 soldiers.
Vasylenko was born in Kyiv and is the daughter of human rights activist Volodymyr Vasylenko. When the EuroMaidan Revolution started in 2013, she spent every night on Independence Square, despite having just given birth. Now she finds motivation all around her.
“I admire the field volunteers who travel to the war zone frequently. I admire the lawyers who help soldiers free of charge. I’m inspired by the soldiers, their wives and mothers, who stand by them in the most difficult situations.”
A new project in cooperation with the Invisible Battalion organization focuses on the civil rights of female soldiers. “Women in the war zone fight in exactly the same way as men do, but are paid less; there are also no female toilets in barracks, and no uniforms and army boots designed for women,” said Vasylenko.
The Legal Hundred has also teamed up with the Ministry of Social Policy to work on the rehabilitation of veterans. “Until the army learns to protect each of its soldiers, nobody will want to serve in it,” said Vasylenko.“There will be no trust in the armed forces.”
by Maria Romanenko.