Ukrainian lawyers organize to help situation back home

The Ukrainian Canadian Bar Association is alive once again with a renewed purpose of helping out with the situation in Ukraine.
The revival of the association last week, which faded away after its creation in the early 1990s, comes at a critical time for Ukraine, a country that remains in crisis after the ouster of former president Viktor Yanukovych early this year.

Ukrainian-Canadian lawyers say they’re reorganizing themselves partly because they could get requests to provide assistance with judicial reform in their home country.

“This initiative came about quite clearly as a result of what’s been happening in Ukraine since approximately this time last year, which is the [demonstrations at] Maidan and then the invasion and everything else,” says Alex Ilchenko, senior counsel at Pallett Valo LLP in Mississauga, Ont., and the new president of the revived association.

Over the summer, members of the Ukrainian-Canadian bar got together with Paul Grod, the president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, and decided they needed a network of Ukrainian-Canadian lawyers to help each other and their birth country.

Grod, a former lawyer at Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP and current chief executive officer of Rodan Energy Solutions, says both the Canadian
government and authorities in Ukraine have previously called upon him to provide assistance with legal and judicial matters.

“There’s a lot of interest right now because of the current situation in Ukraine and the evolving need for judicial reform and legal reform,” says Grod.

“There’s a real need from the Ukrainian side for competent Ukrainian-speaking lawyers and judges to help them as they reform their economy and move towards Europe.”

Some of the members of the association recently hosted a group of lawyers from Ukraine to talk about setting up legal aid in that country, a project partly funded by the Canadian government, according to Grod.

There’s also a “real need” in Ukraine for reform of the prosecutor general, says Grod.

“They’re really looking to reform that system not only to have experts and advisers but ideally there would be Ukrainian-speaking lawyers, prosecutors, and judges on the ground in Ukraine helping them in reforming their system, which was historically corrupt and frankly abused, often used by government to prosecute political opponents.”

He notes Ukrainian authorities are now looking at Canada as a solid example of a functioning democracy with an independent judiciary.

The Ukrainian Canadian Bar Association emerged just after Ukrainian independence in 1991 but faded away a few years later.

At the time, Ukrainian society “wasn’t ready for these concepts; they had much bigger issues to deal with,” says Ilchenko.

“We didn’t want to be in a situation where we as the diaspora were telling them what to do,” he says.

“[The association] faded out because we needed a buy-in from Ukrainian lawyers over there and they were still organizing their society because one day you had the Soviet Union and the next day there was no Soviet Union.”

The immediate goal is to organize the Ukrainian legal community in Canada first through expanding the association, which is now in Toronto only, to other major cities across the country.

Ilchenko says he doesn’t know the exact number of lawyers of Ukrainian origin in Canada but estimates it’s “in the hundreds.”

The association will also offer mentorship opportunities for younger lawyers and give continuing professional development courses, says Ilchenko, adding that thanks to technology, organizing the group is much easier now than it was two decades ago.

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