Ukraine: Zoya Kovalenko

Basically, I defend the rights and interests of citizens in the courts by being their representative. I highlight these injustices through the media. People need my work, therefore I keep going.

— Zoya Kovalenko

Zoya Kovalenko (54) is the head of the Center for Legal Defense in the Poltava region of Ukraine. Zoya has brought forward proposals on how to improve Ukraine’s legal and legislative system to the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Court. She promotes and encourages a cleaning up of the local court system and strives to increase awareness of the Ukrainian legal system, especially among poor farming communities which otherwise remain uninformed of their rights.

Zoya Dmitriyevna Kovalenko felt there was no other course to take in life. Frustrated by the ill-treatment and injustices meted out to the uninformed and uninitiated among her community, she decided to take things into her own hands. She started out by helping individuals in clear-cut legal cases, but at the beginning of the 1990s, she started offering legal advice and support to collective farmers who were being severely infringed upon. Along with a small group of dedicated supporters, Zoya held meetings in different rural districts, advising those who needed help and encouraging locals to deselect unfit leaders. As a result of her work, the Center for Legal Defense was born. In 1999, she started to develop a district network of legal defense groups. Currently, there are six of them. Zoya has participated in and cooperated with many public organizations, world forums, seminars, and training courses, all dedicated to the dissemination of rights awareness. As a champion of human rights, Zoya has not shirked responsibility in publicly denouncing court mistakes and procedural infringements. As a result of such public denouncements, Poltava’s regional military commissar along with the region's military department chief and the military’s garrison commandant were all removed from their posts. Zoya’s dream is that, one day, Ukrainian people will be able to take their place among other developed and democratic nations in the world, proudly demonstrating their potential and ability.

International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) Union of Ukrainian Journalists