Restorative Justice in Dark Times: the Ukrainian Experience

by Federica Maggio

Alona Horova is one of the plenary speakers of the conference that takes place in Tallinn from 29 to 31 May 2024. She will take part in the plenary on transitional and restorative justice on the evening of the first day, talking about her expertise in the field, enriched by her personal experience of restorative justice in dark times.


What is this article about?

  • You will get to know Alona Horova’s work and the Institute for Peace and Common Ground.
  • You will learn what is the role of a restorative justice organisation during the war.

You will have an impression on how the war has affected a restorative justice organisation with a history of over two decades working in Ukraine.

Alona Horova

Alona Horova

Alona Horova is a sociologist and a mediator in criminal cases since 2002 in Ukraine. She is the Head of the Board of one of the founding members of the EFRJ: the Institute for Peace and Common Ground in Ukraine.

In 2003 she took part in the first restorative justice programme in Ukraine. Since 2003 there have been 10 different projects implementing restorative justice in criminal procedures at the state level in Ukraine: the country now has a mediation law, a special legislation for victim-offender mediation for juveniles and a project that implements criminal justice mediation for all offenders.

Alona’s interest in restorative justice and mediation arose during her university years, when she had the opportunity to take part to a conference about mediation, organised by her organisation, that at the time was called Ukrainian Centre for Common Ground.

The Institute for Peace and Common Ground

The Institute for Peace and Common Ground is a leading Ukrainian public organisation based in Kyiv, specialised in strengthening the “social fabric” of our society with the help of dialogue and restorative practices. During the Covid-19 pandemic they mostly worked online. They have created platforms for education, shared information, and collected funds. By now they are striving to work in person-to-person activities, as much as they can, which is often challenging under the current circumstances. To make the facilitation of in-person meetings possible, last year bomb shelters were set up as meeting venues. In the organisation there are several experts, some of them working on international projects, as well as project-, administration- and communication managers, interns that are doing research and volunteers.

Their history began with the creation of the Ukrainian Center for Common Ground (UCCG), which began its work in 2001 in Kyiv as a representative of the American NGO “Search for Common Ground”, and in 2012 was reorganised into the IPCG. The Institute now counts 25 years of activity, 1500 recovery programs and it has delivered training to 5000 participants. Their mission? “We help to understand each other in situations of conflict and joint decision-making”: the Institute for Peace and Common Ground wants to contribute to the development of the legal system in Ukraine with non-judicial measures, putting dialogue at the heart of it.

At the beginning their focus was restorative justice and victim-offender mediation, also in schools: they helped developing legislation to ensure restorative justice in Ukraine, as well as other mechanisms to conduct criminal mediation, and they trained mediators in criminal cases, providing mentoring, support their networking and developing a community of professionals.

Since 2014, when the Russian invasion started, the organisation switched the focus. Even if it was obvious for them that they needed to make the shift, there were many difficulties along the way, also determined by some challenges that emerged within the Ukrainian society struck by the trauma of the war. First of all in negotiation and when people were evacuated, because there were prejudices about them. The Institute didn’t stop doing restorative justice, but they focused on different kinds of reconciliation and healing practices, in three main areas: restorative justice, peaceful schools, social cohesion for communities, as in de-occupied territories for Ukrainian communities that host internally displaced people or that face conflicts and problems with soldiers who returned from the war.

Ongoing Projects

Regarding their first main area of work, restorative justice in general, the Institute for Peace and Common Ground endeavours to complement the Ukrainian legal system with non-judicial measures, such as circles and dialogue, to help people live in this difficult period and to keep some trust at the community level.

They also work extensively in schools and they use the so-called “Peaceful Schools” model. Developed in 2005 through a partnership with Dr Belinda Hopkins, it engages teachers, parents, children and schools’ administrations in a process of transformation of the atmosphere at the school level, in a more democratic and cooperative way, to deal with conflicts and problems through some social skills (conflict resolution, building relations, self-awareness, self-understanding, self-reflection, cultural sensitivity, etc.). The model involves direct intervention in cases of polarisation or radicalisation with teams of educators and it also focuses on training young people, who then pass on their knowledge and skills to their peers.

Young people are, in Alona’s words, “the agents of change”: it’s fundamental to work with them to develop their ability to prevent radicalisation and develop cooperation, especially in dark times, such as the ones Ukrainian society is experiencing now. For this reason, the project is still active in the occupied areas, through online platforms that give all schools the possibility to join and be part of the change.

The third area of their work is maybe the one that has been most influenced by the ongoing war: the Institute promotes social cohesion for communities and also on a national level. In their project called “Her perspective - Empowering internally displaced young women to participate in peacebuilding in Ukraine” they cooperate with the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict and UN Women in Ukraine, with the support of the United Nations Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund (WPHF), helping women to make their stories visible and their voices heard.

Restorative justice at the community level is a powerful tool to face polarisation caused by the war. For example, at the beginning of the invasion some schools were evacuated, but some teachers decided to stay in those occupied territories. Later, when they were de-occupied, there was conflict in some teachers’ team between the teachers that stayed and those who evacuated. There were accusations, on the one hand, towards those who decided to stay. They were considered pro-Russian. On the other hand, the people who evacuated were accused of choosing the easy way, leaving behind their communities and homes.

Another example of polarisation involves internally displaced people: some of them were wealthy citizens and this gave ground to prejudices, because their hosting communities sometimes felt that they were being accommodated without giving any contribution to the community, even if they had the economic means. The Institute for Peace and Common Ground helped find “common ground” between internally displaced people and hosting communities.

A Feeling of Gratitude

The consequences of the invasion on the Ukrainian population are grave. As times passed since the start of the full-scale invasion in February 2022, Alona describes a deep change in their attitude: their life priorities shifted from immediate survival to future planning, people adapted to changes and tried to organise their lives differently.

She feels pervaded by a sense of gratitude for all the people that helped her country and the Ukrainian people in these dark times, always showing great empathy and selflessness. She left the country with her daughter in March 2022 for a period. During the way, people shared with them food, water, houses completely for free, not only in Ukraine, but also in Romania, Italy and Hungary. She was away for 1,5 years, she returned recently.

According to her opinion, the conflicts have also altered by time: people are tired, there are only a few things that make sense in their life, so they are increasingly concentrating on decisions that have a significance for their future, trying to use terrible events as opportunities to re-organise their lives in different ways.



Another project that gives great pride to the Institute for Peace and Common Ground in general, and to Alona Horova in particular, is “Sylanka”, a online platform that collects various stories about overcoming trauma through everyone’s own internal power, and never giving hope up. As Alona explains, Ukrainians consider themselves not victims but fighters. The name of the project and its website comes from a traditional Ukrainian necklace, where each pearl symbolises a story. Everyone can give their contribution to the Ukrainian community through the website.

What Can You Expect From the Conference?

The conference in Tallinn will be a unique opportunity to meet professionals from very different backgrounds, who will enrich us through their personal experience of restorative practices. Alona’s work is the perfect example of the use of restorative justice in “dark times”, as a tool to restore broken relations inside communities shocked by violence. We hope her contribution will stimulate dialogue and encourage us to join the mission of the Institute for Peace and Common Ground in everyone’s own ways: promote restorative practices as an accessible alternative to judicial measures in violent crimes.

Federica Maggio works as an EFRJ Communication Intern.


Published on 23 May 2024.