Donbas RJRC Held a Discussion on Legal Aspects of Volunteers’ Activities
Legal aspects of volunteers’ activities in wartime – that was the topic of the round table initiated by the Donbas Regional Justice Reform Council (RJRC) and supported by the EU Project Pravo-Justice. The event was attended by the representatives of the Supreme Court, High Council of Justice, Office of the Prosecutor General, alongside judges, volunteers, and experts of the EU Project Pravo-Justice.
“Help provided by the volunteers is of critical importance, especially since last February. At the same time, there are important issues related to the complexity of their work, coordination with the military, security, tax risks. We cannot turn a blind eye to the lack of appropriate humanitarian aid regulation and other conditions that give room to abuse. At this event, we would want to have feedback from the regions and discuss with the central authorities the legal aspects of volunteering during the war,” said Eric Svanidze, Key International Expert of the EU Project Pravo-Justice, Justice Sector Policy and Coordination Component Lead.
Some important issues that concern the volunteer and legal community were raised at the event. Below are the main highlights of the speeches.
Tax risks of volunteering
Do volunteers have to pay tax on charitable giving? According to the Supreme Court justice Nataliia Blazhivska, the Law of Ukraine of November 16, 2022 exempts from taxation charitable assistance collected by volunteers from February 24, if:
- aid has been received by a benefactor entered in the Register of Volunteers until January 1, 2023;
- aid has been paid (provided) for the benefit of combatants, residents of the territories stricken with hostilities, and for other purposes defined by law;
- the benefactor has documentary proof of expenses.
The law entered into force on December 11, 2022, so volunteers actually had 20 days to take advantage of the tax amnesty. Those who failed to do it in time shall submit a declaration by May 1 of this year and pay taxes: 18% of personal income tax and 1.5% of military duty.
The participants of the event agreed that in wartime, it is important to simplify as much as possible the rules for those who supports the front. In particular, it comes to the extension of the period for registration in the Register of Volunteers, alongside introducing a full tax amnesty for 2022 for all volunteers.
Social support of volunteers
Volunteers save other people while putting at risk their own lives. What social guarantees does the state provide them with?
According to Yuliia Bokova, member of the High Council of Justice, volunteers may be reimbursed for documented expenses:
- travel to the place of volunteer activity;
- obtaining a visa;
- food, if the volunteer works more than 4 hours a day;
- accommodation in the event of a business trip to another settlement for volunteer activities that will last more than 8 hours;
- postal and telephone services, if the volunteer performs volunteer activities outside the location of the volunteer organization;
- undergoing a medical examination, vaccination and other medical and preventive measures related to volunteer assistance.
Volunteers are also provided with life and health insurance for the period of volunteering, special protective equipment, means and supplies. And in case of death or disability, a one-time cash benefit shall be paid.
Formalization of volunteer activities
Roman Chumak, lawyer, Partner in Ares Law Company, Coordinator of the Kharkiv RRRP, advised on the formalization of volunteer activities:
- Those who plan to engage in charitable activities professionally and for a long time should register a charitable fund and collect funds at the organization’s account.
- In order to engage volunteers, it is necessary to sign a contract on volunteer activities and inform the National Social Service of Ukraine about this in writing within five working days.
- In the case of individual volunteering, one can legalize his/her activities by registering in the already mentioned Register of Volunteers. It is formed and maintained by the State Tax Service of Ukraine.
- When transporting humanitarian aid within the borders of Ukraine, volunteer drivers should have: identity documents, confirmation of volunteer status, and cargo documents (expenditure invoice, consignment note, checks, delivery and acceptance certificate etc.).
"The lack of documents, improper or misplaced documents on the transfer of charitable aid may endanger you personally as a volunteer and your activity, no matter how noble the goal is,” emphasized Roman Chumak.
Criminal liability of volunteers
Representatives of the Office of the Prosecutor General Oleksandr Maksymenko and Kostyantyn Merimerin developed on controversial situations related to the lack of legal distinction between volunteer and humanitarian aid.
It often happens that volunteers, trying to speed up crossing the border, use the simplified regime for importing goods by declaring the cargo as humanitarian aid. In this case, the aid shall be transferred to the recipient free of charge, any compensation for it being prohibited; even if the received funds were to be used for the purchase of additional goods.
If a volunteer has formally violated the law and criminal proceedings have been opened, experts advise volunteers to seek legal aid, provide clear and logical explanations, relevant documents, and testimony of other persons – in order to prove that volunteering is aimed at the needs of the army – not at personal enrichment.
Legal liability of volunteers — practical aspects
Sofiia Danyliv, judge of the Bila Tserkva district-in-city court, Kyiv region, Member of the Donbas RJRC, spoke about the judicial practice of bringing volunteers to administrative and criminal liability.
In particular, volunteer status is not a mitigating circumstance in case of such offenses as drunk driving, violation of public order, or shooting.
Import of cars for the needs of the Armed Forces
Dmytro Holikov, lawyer, volunteer, shared the problems with importing cars from abroad, which arise at the stages of search, payment, border crossing, and registration in Ukraine.
“Following the event, some legislative initiatives will be developed that will help to eliminate the existing problems, so that the volunteers direct their efforts to achieving the main goal, rather than struggling with the state mechanism,” said the moderator of the event Olena Fonova, judge, PhD in Law, Coordinator of the Donbas RJRC.
The event is available at the link.
RJRCs have been established with support of the EU Project Pravo-Justice and act as permanent working groups to promote bottom-up reforms: bringing region-specific challenges and potential solutions thereof to the level of central government.