Authority and volunteers are not competitors, but how would they reach understanding? A public discussion

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Like all of Ukraine, Lviv was stirred up by a series of reported accusations against volunteers, who allegedly sold humanitarian aid. How to establish communication between volunteers, the authorities and law enforcement agencies, and what changes does the legislation need, so that those who help bring victory closer are not interfered? These questions were raised during our public discussion on the topic «Volunteer as a Helper or Volunteer as a Fraud. How to Legally Support the Military».

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Andrii Salyuk, the coordinator of the «Lviv Knight» charitable organization, stated that all the drones and quadcopters present on the front were sent there by volunteers. From his experience, since 2014, the attitude towards volunteers has changed a lot. The world understands how much our military needs equipment, so since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, our volunteers have been approached as official representatives of the state at international exhibitions.

«We did everything to ensure that there were vital things at the front. When the active phase of the war began, the authorities came to us with a request for help. Now, [they come] with searches and demands for documents. Volunteers began to have «nightmares», and right now, someone is dying [on the vanguard] because we couldn’t deliver help in time. Who will be responsible for this?» – he asks.

When zero duty on car imports was adopted, the authorities had no questions. Now, volunteers take cars directly to the front, and this is perceived as causing damage, the coordinator of «Lviv Knight» complains. 

«Theoretically, you can buy a car with the money collected at the expense of a charity organization, but it’s practically impossible to buy a car at the market in Poland with cashless payment. We are ready to continue to help, but don’t beat us under the knee for the fact that we tried to organize transfers as soon as possible,» – continues Andrii Salyuk.

Read also: «State would have to support the volunteers.» Public activist Sviatoslav Litynskyi on criminal cases

In particular, he emphasizes that from February 24 until the meeting and creation of the working group in the Lviv Regional Military Administration, there were no attempts to talk with volunteers, the last time it happened was in 2014-2016. And now, we really need a dialogue with the state so that we can explain the problems and find ways to solve them.

Natalia Lipska, head of the «Wings of Hope» charitable foundation, agrees with her colleague: «On February 24, the state asked us to help. Moreover, they adopted a resolution according to which bookkeeping accounting were abolished for the duration of the war. Only lawyers know that it no longer had by-laws, it was declarative. And now, the claims begin [against us].»

There is a confusion of concepts in the state. Volunteer help is assistance with knowledge, strength, time, and services provided free of charge. When a person looks for a car, goes to the market, buys and delivers it – this is volunteering, while the search for funds, the purchase, the act of receiving and handing over is charity. Humanitarian aid is a partial case of charitable aid.

Amendments to the Tax Code include the concept of «philanthropic individual», who can collect funds on his account, buy and bring the necessary items from abroad. It is billed as humanitarian aid only due to the zero duty, and is transferred according to the acceptance-transfer act. This is legal.

«For a natural person-philanthropist, the reporting period is one year, and it has not yet ended. So how can you determine that a person has made some profit? The wording «aid is not subject to sale» means that we do not issue an invoice after the transfer, – Natalia Lipska explains. – But it is not free, as the state decided to interpret it.»

The legislation provides for fundraising, a collective gathering of money for volunteer assistance. If so, why is the situation when volunteers transfer purchased cars to one division, and there they are given money to buy cars for the second one, is called a «sale»? Money can be paid in cash, because nowhere in the law does it say that a benefactor should receive money only on the account.

Read also: From brewing beer to fundraising for a jet. This is how a Lviv company continues its business while helping supply the army

What’s more, after declaring the imported cargo as humanitarian aid, nothing prevents the volunteers from fulfilling their obligations to the person from whom they bought it and making a subsequent payment. This is also a norm of the current legislation.

«What is happening now with the volunteers is an imitation of hectic activity and lack of communication. The law enforcement officers were told to check whether someone is stealing aid, and the easiest way to «disband» the volunteers is because they are driven by emotions and do not «dive» into the legislation. Anyone can come to the border and say: «I declare humanitarian aid to the fund» and take it away. Then, the fund becomes legally and criminally responsible for this aid,» – she believes.

Andrii Hodyk, the first deputy head of Lviv Regional Military Administration, who joined the discussion online, says that volunteers are definitely helpers because they were able to solve problems flexibly and quickly, while the state could not do this due to many nuances in the legislation.

From February 24, almost a dozen subordinate legal acts were adopted, aimed at regulating problems related to the importation, accounting and distribution of aid.

«The state does not create obstacles for collecting funds to buy items for the front, there is no criminal liability in this. But it’s forbidden to sell humanitarian aid. If a car is imported under a customs declaration as humanitarian aid, it is subject to legal restrictions on sales,» – the official explains.

The conduct of investigative actions is not criminal prosecution, but only the establishment of circumstances that may testify to certain criminal facts. Any public resonance associated with them within the framework of criminal proceedings must be resolved in the legal field of criminal proceedings.

«Public control by the volunteer community and the public on the state of the pre-trial investigation is a positive thing. We are as ready as possible to participate in solving the problems faced by the volunteers, but no one knows this problem better than they themselves, – says Andrii Hodyk. – Although we are not the subject of a legislative initiative, we are ready to lobby for this issue so that it is adopted.»

While receiving aid, the regional military administration does not make calculations because it’s delivered on a partnership basis and only accounts for it. However, the state has already made many positive changes regarding the abolition of temporary reporting and the simplification of accounting.

Read also: «We are drops that make up the ocean.» This is how Lviv volunteers help the army

According to the representative of the authorities, at the meeting in Lviv Regional Military Administration, the regional prosecutor and the head of the police in the Lviv region confirmed after receiving aid that they are ready to provide consultations so that certain measures are preventive. Behind closed doors, it was held only to «frankly discuss all issues related to volunteering.»

Lawyer and attorney Oleh Mytsyk notes that there is a difference between an administrative offense related to the declaration and criminal responsibility: «No one disputes that it’s necessary to help, as well as the fact that thieves should be brought to justice. Law enforcement officers exist for this. But they should not make it easier for themselves by creating cases that absolve them of their duty to investigate systemic aid embezzlement.»

The law under which volunteers are now being prosecuted was adopted at the end of March 2022. The legislator argued about the degree of punishment and the lower barrier from which criminal liability arises. As a result, safeguards were not created that would prevent law enforcement officers from identifying the above-mentioned items.

«This law established the lower threshold for criminal prosecution – 476,000 hryvnias, and law enforcement officers try to «reach» this amount. They send someone who seems to be looking for a car for the military. They say, everything has «burned down» and it needs to be done immediately. According to this scheme, they slip money and record this fact, – the lawyer explains. – Someday, the recordings of these conversations will be found in the originals, there will be acquittals. But, as the law enforcement officers say, they will no longer be in this position.»

The lawyer is convinced that such actions correspond to the signs of classic provocation according to the norms of the European Court. Suspects should be exposed in a different way, without provoking them to commit a crime. In the register of court decisions under the article 2012, there were 500 decisions that appeared recently.

«Volunteers are suspected, [law enforcement officers] write that they committed certain actions and stole vehicles. But this article is a reference norm, it cites a number of laws that directly contradict what the law enforcement officers write next,» – Oleh Mytsyk believes.

The law states that humanitarian aid is the one provided by Ukrainian or foreign donors. However, no one has established who they are, what tasks they have set for disposing of this help. And even before the suspicion is raised, it is still necessary to prove that the purpose of the actions was to make a profit.

«Some regional prosecutors refuse such cases because they are aware of the situation. And the rule of law provides for the presumption of innocence. But the law enforcement officers count on the fact that we have one acquittal for every 100 verdicts, and they take advantage of this, – summarizes the lawyer. – Because the probability that they will bear responsibility for an illegally convicted person is close to a statistical error. They do not understand that they are now persecuting public authorities to whom people give money because they trust them. They discredit these public authorities.»

People’s deputy of the Verkhovna Rada of the 8th convocation, Oksana Yurynets, believes that these issues caused a resonance in society. People see that something is wrong, volunteers and society want justice. Laws do not need to be changed – only the approach to their interpretation. And also to have a conscience, a deeper understanding of the situation, to look at the future.

In the beginning, everything was fine, everyone understood the tasks of a public or charitable organization, who does what. On February 24, the first changes were made to the Tax Code and other laws of Ukraine regarding the improvement of the legislation for the period of martial law, because these are unique conditions that have not ended to this day. The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine have already amended 174 resolutions eight times. More than 300 resolutions of the Cabinet of Ministers have already been adopted, and new ones appear almost every week that should help to settle the situation. It clearly states the rules for crossing the state border by citizens of Ukraine.

«However, the initiation of criminal cases, especially in Lviv, does not apply to this activity. These are provocations against those people who are trying to be helpful, to help without interruption, this is the destruction of trust!» – she emphasizes.

Read also: ​​Scandals with humanitarian aid, and why the state should accept volunteers as partners

According to Oksana Yurynets, it’s not clear who wrote this statement of law in March and mentioned the term «profit» there [profit is the difference between income and expenses, and income is all money received over a certain period of time]. In order to prove the acquisition of profit, it is necessary to conduct lengthy investigative actions and prove malicious intent. Therefore, she suggests holding a large report of public organizations, where everyone will show what they have done and what they have passed on, in a photo: «Now, it is important to enter into a dialogue, to understand each other, and not to use ready-made templates and solutions. As long as the war continues, the army needs cars, which are consumables and must be delivered quickly and with high quality so that the guys are mobile and can quickly leave hot spots.»

The adoption of the law «On Interest Philanthropy» will allow everyone who pays taxes to give 2% anywhere: to the army, school, public organization, or charity fund. The role of the state is managerial service, that is, directing these funds according to their intended purpose. But the Council removed this law from consideration several times, and in vain: «We received the budget for the next year and we see how much was taken from education. We understand: if once we had a parental school, now we have a parental or family army. So we are still taking over the financing functions.»

Oleksandr Maksymchuk, the president of the All-Ukrainian charitable organization «Association of Philanthropists of Ukraine», notes that he has been in the position of a charity manager since 2006, and that this work should be handled by professionals. He recalls how one Lviv official told him: «The war changed the rules, and now you have become competitors, in particular, with the government and the decisions it makes,» and notes that even before the war, many old corruption schemes began to return. This especially applies to the medical field in which he is engaged. It means, first of all, the purchase of equipment, financing of events. All this is covered by the coronavirus and the war. And when benefactors begin to stand in the way of the implementation of these schemes, they are «put in their place».

«I am proud that we have become competitors, but the methods used against us are unacceptable. I’m not yet ready to talk about everything, because I hope that we will be able to return this dialogue to a constructive direction,» – says Oleksandr Maksymchuk.

The president of the charitable organization recalls that back in 2012, the law «On interest-based philanthropy» was drafted, which is already in force in the Baltic states, Poland, Hungary, and even in Moldova. It allows charitable and volunteer organizations to be financed at the initiative of every citizen. Still, it hasn’t been accepted in Ukraine yet.

As for cars, the interlocutor provides the following data: 237,000 cars worth 26 billion and 100 million hryvnias were imported into Ukraine on a preferential basis. He directs a question to the authorities and law enforcement officers: how many of them got into the Armed Forces or the health care system? «Would be good if this be the tenth part. And now they take guys and start to «create» the criminal cases,» – he is indignant.

Oleksandr Maksymchuk notes that the Lviv Regional State Administration, albeit belatedly, is trying to conduct a dialogue. Still, we need a moratorium and silence regarding such matters. Especially among officials and law enforcement officers, who do not understand the logic of charity, take something out of context and start «sculpting» crime.

«As there is silence at the front, there should be silence here as well. Until you figure it out, keep quiet, don’t do stupid things and harm the state!» – the president of the Association of Philanthropists of Ukraine emphasizes.

Oleh Mytsyk adds that it is always very easy to destroy what has been done. According to him, the actions of law enforcement officers are like the presence of an elephant in a crockery shop, which will destroy everything: «Has the person who investigates these cases thought about what it’s like to collect a million hryvnias or a hundred million? And how easy it is, using the provoked crimes, to destroy the trust in people who are worried about what they do. People will then stop helping at all.»

Andrii Hodyk notes the importance of mutual communication because the authorities and volunteers are not competitors, but rather partners, who have common challenges and tasks.

«My position regarding surnames is unequivocal and we will defend it at the regional level. Our position is as follows: there should not be any fabricated criminal proceedings – this is the first thesis. The second one – if [the law inforcement agencies] started them, they should be closed immediately, and the people who did it should be held responsible. On the other hand, no surname, however well-deserved, should be immune from responsibility,» – he believes.

According to Natalia Lipska, it is necessary to hold a meeting of the charity sector with law enforcement agencies to discuss everything. Because the Resolution 174 made life easier for volunteers, but there are still gaps in the legislation.

«We forget that Ukraine is fighting against a monster, and we cannot overcome it without the help of the world. So if it’s told in the public sphere how aid is stolen and what volunteers are doing, then its flow can stop. We are already facing this!» – she emphasizes.

Natalia Lipska also adds that at least for the duration of the war, a moratorium on inspections should be introduced. Then, when Ukraine wins, the law enforcement officers will catch whoever they need, Interpol is working properly too.

Oksana Yurynets believes that it is important for the authorities to be with those who want our victory to be quick. We need to find a common language, because volunteers no longer ask, but show how to do things.

«We should be grateful and encourage donors. And the names of volunteers and public activists work for the image of Ukraine. We don’t live for one day, but work for the future, for victory,» – she says.

Andrii Salyuk explains that it’s not the volunteers’ fault that the imported goods cannot be registered at customs as volunteer aid, but only as humanitarian aid. Therefore, the situation should be regulated based on the needs of martial law, and not refer to pre-war legislation.

We also invited representatives of the Security Service of Ukraine, the Prosecutor’s Office, and the police to the discussion, but we heard a refusal. We hope they will see or read the results of this conversation and give clearer answers to the questions posed.

Text: Marichka Ilyina, translated by Vitalii Holich

Photo: Ivan Stanislavskyi

Full or partial republication of the text without the consent of the editors is prohibited and will be considered a violation of copyright.

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