Over the past few months, government officials have increasingly begun to talk about the drafting and adoption of bills on amnesty, transitional justice and elections in the occupied territories of Donbas.
"There is a conditional mobilization in the Servant of the People party on the issues related to Donbas. It is no coincidence that we recently went to the front line and talked with the locals and military. There was a signal from the faction leadership that the trip was mandatory and not pre-election. Moreover, we are now discussing the repetition of such trips, but by smaller groups of deputies. New laws that will bring closer the reintegration of the occupied Donbas and the prosperity of the controlled part should become the results of the trips. In the short term, this is a bill on free economic zone in the Donbas. But we are not going to stop here", - people's deputy from Servant of the People told OstroV off the record.
OstroV figured out what legislative initiatives related to the settlement of conflict in the Donbas may soon appear in the parliament, what will happen with the extension of law on the special status of CADLO, which expires on December 31, and how the Verkhovna Rada deprives IDPs of aid from the state.
$3.5 million were allocated in 2020 to finance the Affordable Housing program (when $35 million are needed), but the Verkhovna Rada transferred this money to the Fund to Fight Coronavirus in April. The 2021 state budget includes no funds for this program at all.
"Funds for the implementation of the Affordable Housing program with 16 000 Ukrainian families in the queue are not provided, and this is very bad. General fund of the 2021 state budget does not include funds for preferential housing loans for ATO participants and IDPs at 3% per annum. We hoped till the last that spending on programs that are vital for hundreds of thousands of families who cannot purchase housing on their own would find a place in the country's draft budget. But… Am I surprised by the lack of money? No", - head of the State Fund for the Promotion of Youth Housing Construction Serhiy Komnatny stated.
Head of the parliamentary committee on human rights, de-occupation and reintegration of the temporarily occupied territories Dmytro Lubinets also considers t funding of housing programs for displaced persons for the next year insufficient.
"I can state that the 2021 state budget in the first reading has absolutely insufficient funds allocated for these two programs… We all understand that in the context of coronavirus, all countries allocate funding for the medical system first of all. But as the head of the relevant committee, I will work together with Lyudmyla Denisova (Commissioner for Human Rights, - ed.) to ensure that funds for these two programs are allocated in the 2021 state budget", - he said.
In this regard, a number of non-governmental organizations involved in the protection of the IDPs rights wrote an open appeal to the parliament and the government demanding the return of funding for programs when preparing the budget for the second reading.
"The lack of housing directly affects full integration of displaced persons into host communities and the arrangement of their lives. In addition, this is often the main reason for their return to the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, which thus endangers their safety and life… When preparing the draft Law of Ukraine "On the State Budget of Ukraine for 2021" for the second reading, we ask to take into account the need to finance the above housing programs - the program of concessional housing lending for ATO participants and IDPs at 3% per annum and the Affordable Housing program", - the appeal says.
Currently, there is no final text of the draft state budget, so it is not known whether funding for the program will be resumed.
The problem of affordable housing for IDPs could largely be solved by concessional loans, for which money was allocated within the framework of international assistance to Ukraine.
At the end of September 2020, the Cabinet of Ministers approved draft agreement with the KfW German state bank to provide 25.5 million euros for housing for displaced persons. It is assumed that under this program, internally displaced persons will be able to receive soft loans at 3% per annum for up to 20 years. But voting in the Verkhovna Rada is necessary for the full launch of the program.
The Cabinet of Ministers submitted relevant bill to the parliament on September 24, but it is still under consideration. The Verkhovna Rada is in no hurry to solve one of the most significant problems of IDPs, even with by means of international assistance.
But there is good news as well. $702 thousand were allocated from the state budget this year for compensation for housing destroyed by shelling in the Donbas for the first time. The amount of compensation to the victims is determined individually, but it does not exceed $10.5 thousand.
According to Deputy Minister for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine Inna Holovanchuk, the funds allocated this year will be enough to provide compensations for about 63-66 families.
The draft state budget for the next year includes $4 million. Whether this amount will remain in the final version of the document is unknown. Given the growing budget deficit and the lack of money to fight COVID-19, funding for the program could be stopped at any time.
Draft law on transitional justice in the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts may appear in the Verkhovna Rada in the near future. This was stated by Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine - Minister for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories Oleksii Reznikov.
"I hope that we will try to present the draft law on the transitional period, including on the elements of amnesty, in the parliament no later than the first quarter of next year", - he said.
According to him, this will be a bill that will talk about what a transitional period is, what definitions it has, what responsibility should be, what amnesty should be, who can be held accountable and who can be released from it.
Reznikov notes that the overwhelming majority of people living in the temporarily occupied territories are hostages of circumstance, who cannot escape the war, and the smallest percentage are collaborators and criminals.
A package of bills on transitional justice was also announced by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Judging from his words, the "bill on responsibility" will be developed and presented first of all.
"All Ukrainians should be on the same page on what will happen after the liberation and return of our temporarily occupied territories. Having achieved peace, we will begin safe reintegration, using successful international experience. This is a package of laws on transitional period, primarily - on responsibility", - he stated.
The President touched upon the topic of amnesty separately.
"The terrible word "amnesty" is not about everyone and not about avoiding responsibility. But about the millions of our citizens, on whose hands there is no blood and who are now actually held hostage by the occupier. They need a clear signal - do not be afraid, a worthy future - only with Ukraine", - Zelensky said.
It is worth noting that the amnesty bill was already adopted by the Verkhovna Rada in 2014, but has not yet been signed. Obviously, its text is already outdated and it is necessary to either make significant changes or develop and adopt a new one.
"The amnesty law was adopted, but it has not been signed, it is in the Verkhovna Rada. I think that it should be thoroughly studied again, the proposals of those people who live in the territories not controlled by Ukraine should be taken into account, so that there are no accidents. You cannot pass the law and amnesty indiscriminately, just as you cannot punish indiscriminately. War criminals, or those who raped, tortured people and so on cannot be amnestied. But this must be done, firstly, on the basis of the law, and, secondly, taking into account the situation and the opinion of those people who live there. I am convinced that these people know better who did what and why they did that in those difficult conditions", - head of the Ukrainian delegation to the Minsk TCG Leonid Kravchuk considers.
According to him, the Verkhovna Rada should soon adopt three bills - on the demilitarization of CADLO, on the amnesty and on the elections.
According to OstroV, the so-called transitional election legislation for the Donbas will be supervised by head of the Servant of the People party Oleksandr Kornienko. It is to this document that special attention will be focused, so the president's team and the mono-majority will personally deal with it. But the bill is unlikely to appear in the parliament any time soon.
"There is no progress in this direction so far. Now it is being decided who will be included in the potential group for the development of main provisions of the future bill on elections in CADLO. Now Oleksandr Kornienko has been appointed the conditional curator. This is a long-term work, so they will not rush", - a source in the president's team told OstroV.
The interlocutor notes that there may be a bill on free economic zone in the Donbas in the near future. It is being developed by the Office of the President.
"In addition to the Donbas, one or even several other economic zones are going to be introduced into the bill. Western Ukraine is being discussed as a symbol of unification, as well as the southern and the front-line regions. As soon as it is ready, it will be quickly submitted to the parliament without delay", - the source noted.
As for the development of other bills related to the Donbas, according to head of the Servant of the People party Oleksandr Kornienko, they will depend on the "Normandy process".
"According to the rest of the legislation, its preparation, writing and promotion in the Verkhovna Rada depends on the negotiation process, on the "Normandy process". Now we hope for a meeting of the Normandy Four advisers. We rely on the diplomatic component here", - the people's deputy said.
Law on the special status of CADLO
On December 12, 2019, new convocation of the Verkhovna Rada extended the bill on a special procedure for local self-government in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts until December 31, 2020. Everyone expected at that time that President Volodymyr Zelensky would initiate a new document or make changes to the existing one.
OstroV's interlocutors in the president's team maintained that the President's Office already had some developments and versions of the new law on the special status of CADLO on the eve of the Normandy format meeting in December 2019. Zelensky planned to bring them to Paris and present to the leaders of the Russian Federation, Germany and France. But a clear signal came from the Kremlin during preparations for the meeting that the new law would not be a matter of discussion. Therefore, the new government had no choice but to extend the existing document. At that time, there were no problems with collecting votes, so the Verkhovna Rada supported the bill with a constitutional majority (320 people's deputies).
The situation may change this year
First of all, Servant of the People no longer has such devotion to the President's Office as it was a year ago, when the faction supported almost all of the initiatives of Volodymyr Zelensky.
Secondly, the parliament will require the president to report on the results of his peace initiatives and how he sees future negotiations on the reintegration of Donbas. After all, Zelensky himself gave the Minsk talks one year, which, according to Deputy Prime Minister Oleksii Reznikov, expires in December 2020.
"The "conditional" report is already being prepared. There are few points. This is the ceasefire, which is more or less observed - the number of the dead and injured is minimal, the opening of new checkpoints and a free economic zone in the future. The deputies will be told that if they do not extend the bill, the hostilities will resume, sanctions will be lifted from the Russian Federation, etc. Who will take on such responsibility? Another question is whether Volodymyr Zelensky will want to extend the bill", - a source in the president's team told OstroV.
According to him, there are splits over this matter in the President's Office as of today, but they are more inclined to extend the document without changes.
"Now everyone there is trying to understand whether there will be any sense from the new peace plan, which is being prepared by the Minsk TCG. In addition, there are no specifics when a new meeting of the Normandy Four leaders will take place. And when there is a lot of unknown, it is better not to take abrupt moves and not to risk", - the interlocutor said.
As for the Servant of the People party, on the one hand, they are ready to support the extension of the bill, if Volodymyr Zelensky openly asks about it, on the other hand - many people's deputies do not want to vote for the "empty" and non-working document.
"This is not why we came to the parliament. We need to act. What prevents us from developing a new bill and adopting it instead the one that is frankly outdated? Or at least making changes to the existing one? Why should we pull the burden from the past government? We are extending it and, accordingly, all the negative lies with us. Such conversations are already underway in the faction. The signal is already going to the President's Office that a dialogue and clarification on this issue are needed", - one of the people's deputies told our agency.
According to head of the party Oleksandr Kornienko, the Verkhovna Rada still has the option of extending the law "On special order of local self-government in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts".
"We always have the option to extend the current law, it has not gone anywhere", - Kornienko recalled.
Speaker of the Ukrainian delegation to the Trilateral Contact Group on Donbas Oleksiy Arestovych predicts that the law will still be extended without any changes.
"Most likely, we will prolong it, but without the included "Steinmeier formula". Because Russia does not want to discuss it. I would like to emphasize once again that the "Steinmeier formula" is quite flexible in the reading we propose. In other words, the issue of elections and the border has already been implemented in the "Plan of joint steps", which we had already written", - he said in an interview with TSN.
Oleksiy Arestovych does not exclude the possibility that the Verkhovna Rada may not extend the law, but this, according to him, would mean non-fulfillment of the Minsk and Paris agreements on the Ukrainian part.
As for the votes in the parliament for extension of the law on the special status of CADLO, they, according to OstroV, are available only with the support of the President's Office and Volodymyr Zelensky personally. Judging by the past votes, the "servants of the people" company can be joined by the people's deputies from OPFL, European Solidarity, For the Future and Dovira groups.
"If there is a signal from the President's Office that the law should be extended, there will be votes. But less than last year", - one of the "servants of the people" assures.
Vladyslav Bulatchik, OstroV