When Russia attacked Ukraine in February 2022, millions of people began fleeing across the border to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and other surrounding countries, throwing Europe into its largest refugee crisis since World War II.
With nowhere to go, many individuals and families need help finding places to live, securing jobs, enrolling in schools, applying for visas and more.
Lawyers from several law firms in Germany recognized the need for a reputable, centralized resource to help Ukrainian refugees navigate these critical aspects of daily life in a new country. They founded a non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO) called United for Ukraine, developing a website to provide refugees with information about everything from temporary housing to social benefits, job opportunities and legal aid.
McDermott’s Frankfurt office learned of the NGO as it was being formed. They brought in a cross-practice pro bono team, spanning all four of McDermott’s German offices, to field specific legal questions that Ukrainian refugees submit to the United for Ukraine website.
Many team members have been prepared to help on an ongoing basis, particularly Lene Niemeier and Dorothea Zimny on a variety of regulatory issues, as well as Gudrun Germakowski and Laureen Risse on various employment matters.
The United for Ukraine website uses BRYTER, a legal tech solutions platform, to get questions from refugees to the McDermott team and participating lawyers at other firms. Routine questions can be answered in a few minutes, while others are more complex and time-consuming. Just three months after the February 24 invasion, the McDermott team had logged more than 100 pro bono hours on behalf of United for Ukraine and connected activities, answering more questions than any other contributing firm—in large part because of their robust regulatory practice.
In one instance, in which a Ukrainian woman was facing difficulties with the German authority for unknown reasons, Dorothea Zimny went to the authority offices to sit in on a meeting with the woman, German officials and a translator. During that meeting, she helped resolve the issue.
To provide timely assistance to Ukrainian refugees following the Russian invasion, the McDermott team helped United for Ukraine get up and running within weeks, and they continue to coordinate responses to individual questions. Along with supporting individual refugees with legal aid, the team counsels United for Ukraine at an organizational level, taking on assignments such as reviewing volunteer agreements.
As a Firm, McDermott has supported both individual and office-level efforts to help the refugees and has donated more than $300,000 to the Red Cross in Ukraine. In addition to their work with United for Ukraine, the German offices donated to several NGOs shortly after the invasion, including those providing medicine, food and other necessary supplies to Ukraine.
Learn more about our pro bono work.