Law students practise in Ukraine free advice clinic

January 22, 1999

Law students in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk are gaining practical experience and helping the poor in the country's first free legal aid scheme.

Members of the Youth Centre for Legal Studies, an organisation set up by and run for students at the faculty of economics and law of Donetsk State University, provide legal aid clinics five afternoons a week.

Established in 1994 by students disenchanted with law courses they considered too theoretical, Youth Centre legal counsellors work under the guidance of two professors from the university.

The students advise pensioners, war veterans, the unemployed and other eligible people about their rights in civil and commercial matters and sometimes take cases to court.

A cross between a citizen's advice bureau and a legal aid centre, the scheme, which does not handle criminal cases, is backed by the American Bar Association. Earlier this year the centre secured a $23,000 grant from the American overseas aid agency USAID to cover costs of moving offices.

Tatiana Kiselova, a founder of the centre who is now teaching law at the university, said: "We wanted to develop our professional training as part of our extra curricular activities. We wanted opportunities for career development before graduating."

Similar schemes, supported by the ABA, have since been set up in the Ukrainian cities of Lvov, Uzhgorod and Kharkov, and in the Russian cities of Irkutsk, Novogorod and St Petersburg.

In a cramped room on the fourth floor of the economics and law faculty's old city centre building, people who have heard about the centre on the radio or read advertisements fly-posted at bus stops meet the student counsellors.

Tamara Tokhtamysh, a 45-year-old unemployed engineer, has a simple, but typical problem: the passport office issued her daughter with a document peppered with factual mistakes and now wants to charge her 17 hryvna (Pounds 3) to reissue it. "I object both to the demand for payment and the cost. It's their mistake and they should pay for it," she tells counsellor Annya Pirizhnyak, a fourth-year law student.

Ms Pirizhnyak refers to a digest of fees for official documents, talks with tutor Yuri Moiseyev and advises the woman to write to the passport office quoting the law. The woman seems satisfied but doubts whether the passport office will respond.

Ms Pirizhnyak says: "I'm no longer afraid of working with clients. I know how to write all the procedural documents used in court and for claims. The scheme gives us the right not only to consult with the professors who work as coordinators, but with any lecturers in the faculty, which is really useful."

Vyatcheslav Volkov, dean of the faculty of economics and law, said the legal aid scheme and other activities run at the centre helped ensure his graduates were among the best prepared in the Ukraine.

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