Two men in suits teach in a classroom.
August 10, 2023

ASU Law students lend a hand in Ukraine

The law touches almost everything, including war. 

Two students at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law are doing their part in Ukraine as it enters its second year of war with Russia. 

Benjamin Kochenburger found himself crossing the border into Ukraine last summer to provide legal knowledge people seeking asylum understand the many legal documents required to leave the country, as well as European Union laws. 

“I don’t have a connection to Ukraine, but I felt a need to help,” he said. “I helped provide legal and procedural knowledge of different countries' visa processes for Ukrainians. Men can’t leave and travel can be very difficult for women and children without certain preparatory steps and legal documents.”

He helped dozens of families, translating through an app on his phone before the non-governmental organization he volunteered with, Caritas Ukraine, provided him with a translator. He started his work in Hungary before crossing into Lviv, Ukraine. He eventually made his way to hard-hit Odesa and the capital of Kyiv, staying in hostels and finding camaraderie with other international volunteers. 

He was there amid drone strikes and bombings on residential buildings and the city’s energy grid. He said he became used to the noise after a while. It happened so often. 

“You could hear explosions and you could smell it,” said Kochenburger. Often, there was no water for a shower and no heat in the dead of winter. 

He ended up deferring a law school semester so he could intern in the country’s Office of the Ombudsman. He became the office’s first international intern. 

While there, he helped to compile the evidence that was sent to the International Criminal Court and used to indict President Vladimir Putin and drafted the petition that was used to successfully expel the Russian Ombudswoman, Tatyana Moskalkova, from the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions. 

Kochenburger returned to Phoenix for the Spring 2023 semester of school, but is continuing to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine this summer. 

He said he looked at practicing different types of law as he started at ASU, but his time in Ukraine has impacted him. 

“I want to be service-oriented,” said Kochenburger. 

Kochenburger and classmate Kateryna Kostiuchenko, who is Ukrainian, were instrumental in bringing a Ukrainian Diplomat who was the former head of International Cooperation and European Integration at the Office of the Ombudsman to ASU Law to speak. Volodymyr Dzydzhora spoke to a crowd of over 100 people in March about the human rights violations occurring in Ukraine due to the war. 

The talk was sponsored by the Phoenix Committee on Foreign Relations and several colleges within Arizona State University: the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the McCain Institute and the Thunderbird School of Global Management.

“I thought his lecture was effective,” said Kostiuchenko. “It helped put the audience into the mood of what Ukrainians are going through every day. I thought he gave a great explanation of different war crimes and crimes against humanity that are currently happening in Ukraine.”

She knows this firsthand: Kostiuchenko’s father is still in Ukraine and is on the reserve list to potentially fight. Her mom is a refugee in Europe, establishing a new life for herself after being forced from her home country. Both have lost their jobs. 

“I need to start their lives over,” she said. 

A third-year student, she hopes to enter corporate law, though her background has given her an interest in international relations and diplomacy. 

She and Kochenburger are also raising funds for Caritas Ukraine to benefit the psychological needs of women whose families are involved in the war. The money will go to therapy and mental health resources for the wives, sisters and daughters of the many men who are either currently fighting or have unfortunately died in the war. 

Kostiuchenko said the best way people can get involved, in addition to donating, is to keep talking about Ukraine.

“I believe that it would be really helpful to just keep the talk up because a lot of people have forgotten about the war since it’s not a ‘sensation’ anymore and we don’t really talk about it on the news,” she said. “I believe that knowing true stories from the ground and from people in Ukraine would be very beneficial.” 

Written by Lindsay Walker