“We had been waiting for this home for 35 years, we lived there for three months, and now we are homeless,” Liudmyla, a pensioner who had worked all her life at a factory, told us standing in an empty damp room in Adviidka, 15 Vorobiova Street.

Her neighbor Tetiana was a teacher in Avdiivka school. Having taught here for 30 years, Tetiana received an apartment in the same building from Avdiivka city. The entire block was built in 2013 to provide housing for vulnerable families and those serving the country such as teachers, doctors, factory workers, single mothers with many children, Afghan war veterans and Chernobyl rescuers.

The armed conflict that broke out in the east of Ukraine in 2014 ruined these families’ hopes for a home of their own.

Будинок 15 вул. Воробиова АвдіівкаThe apartment building is located in a strategic position, very close to the contact line. From its windows, you can see what used to be the Donetsk airport, a scene of one of the heaviest battles in the conflict. The territory of the airport and the city of Donetsk is under the control of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’, while Avdiivka is in the Government-controlled territory.

In 2014, Ukrainian military and law-enforcement began to take over apartments in the building at Vorobiova Street. Some of them were empty, as their owners had fled the hostilities. Many civilians, however, remained. In 2014-2017, the area was in the midst of heavy fighting; shells damaged or destroyed people’s apartments in the building. The remaining tenants had to leave, but had nowhere to go. Neither local nor national authorities provided adequate alternative housing or financial support.

Спеціалісти з прав людини на вул. Воробиова 15

“In case of military necessity, international law allows military personnel to use civilian buildings. However, international law explicitly obliges a State to provide civilians with alternative housing or compensation,” says Matilda Bogner, Head of UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.

This summer, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine interviewed 28 apartment owners at 15 Vorobiova Street. “We had to leave due to heavy fighting. When we returned to check on our property, we saw our apartments empty or ruined”, one of them said. According to people we talked to, military personnel had looted or damaged furniture, electronic appliances and personal belongings.

Одна з картир на Воробиова 1530 apartment owners have submitted complaints about stealing and intentional destruction of property to the local police. For years, the criminal cases have been ping-ponged between the National Police and Military Prosecutor’s Office.

‘I understand everything. It is a war and there is a military necessity to have an observation point in my flat. It is the sixth year of the war. Why isn’t the state providing funds for people like me? Why don’t they give us an apartment? I do not want to live the end of my life in hell’, said Tetiana, a retired teacher.

The case of Vorobiova Street is an emblematic one, but not the only one. The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission has documented numerous incidents in locations near the line of contact in which residents lost access to their houses and property. In many cases, even when the military vacated civilian homes, people were left with unpaid utility bills.

Хлопці Тут мешкає родина із 5 х людеи“We are encouraged by statements and certain specific steps by the new Government that indicate its determination to assist civilian victims of the conflict”, said Bogner. “In our latest report on the human rights situation in Ukraine, we urged the Command of Joint Forces Operations to ensure that military formations conclude lease agreements with civilians when using their property. This should entail the payment of utility bills and compensation for damage”.

The UN Human Rights Office calls on the Prosecutor General’s Office, State Bureau of Investigations, Military Prosecutor’s office and law enforcement agencies to investigate all allegations of unlawful military use of housing, pillage and stealing committed by military or law enforcement personnel.