The latest escalation of the war in Ukraine has been raging for 18 months. In response to the damage and destruction, the government has passed a new law in the Rada which has the potential to change the futures of the 7 million Ukrainians displaced by the conflict. While questions have arisen around the wording of the legislation, this article argues that there is no doubt that if passed in the right form and implemented successfully, timely, accessible, compensation for those who have lost their homes and lands to Russian aggression will change the nature of future housing land and property compensation schemes, as well as the post-war landscape in Ukraine.
Addressing the issue of housing land and property (HLP) compensation for displaced populations so early in the conflict is a bold and difficult move, and it is one which should be welcomed and supported by the international community. The law will bring Ukraine into line with international standards on HLP restitution, which seeks to bolster durable solutions to displacement by allowing populations to return and reclaim their HLP assets left behind or stay where they are and be compensated if their homes are destroyed. The faster a law and claims mechanism is operational, the easier it will be for the displaced to gather enough evidence to show where they once lived and what they owned. The longer the war and the greater the destruction of civilian infrastructure, the more difficult this becomes. In this respect, the draft legislation seems to allow for a variety of evidence, including potentially digital footprints, to be used to prove former ownership and use, beyond just land titles. This is going to be crucial for populations which may struggle to prove legal titles to property because of displacement.
The Ukrainian legislation is a great first step, but it needs a broader scope. If implemented in its current form, the law will not include the compensation rights of a wide range of HLP owners and users. Renters aren’t included, and neither are those who have lost agricultural land, a crucial demographic in a country which relies heavily on agricultural exports. Small businesses don’t seem to be included either, however these groups will be key to getting the economy back on its feet. Finally, the law appears to suggest that claims will be individually assessed, rather than following the mass claims model. With the potential number of claimants, this approach is simply not feasible, even with the best will and resources in the world.
Being a statutory body, the compensation commission will be funded from state coffers, but with the cost of rebuilding Ukraine in the trillions, such an effort is going to put a massive strain on a Ukrainian economy already stretched by the war. Russia will neither withdraw, apologise or pay reparations willingly, which only leaves an international community reeling from economic hardship and the covid hangover to fill the void. If the compensation mechanism stalls on the issue of funding, it will further demoralise a population struggling to maintain hope and further delay a return to homes, lands and property.
Reason for Optimism
Despite the challenges, there are reasons to be optimistic about the compensation law. Most countries never see compensation mechanisms for many years after the cessation of hostilities, if at all. Some, like Iraq, are so mired in corruption and mismanagement that only the elites and families of politicians benefit from compensation.