Top Ukrainian business lawyer calls on international firms to quit Moscow as he helps defend Kyiv
'I predict we will stay strong,' Vasil Kisil & Partner managing partner Andriy Stelmashchuk tells Global Legal Post
The managing partner of Ukrainian law firm Vasil Kisil & Partners is preparing to help defend Kyiv from Russian troops as he calls on international law firms with Moscow offices to pull out in order to put more pressure on the Putin regime.
Speaking to The Global Legal Post by telephone today from his office in Kyiv, Andriy Stelmashchuk said he was assisting in the defence of the capital by delivering food and medicine to the army and territorial defence units.
He said he was confident that Ukraine would prevail in its defence against the Russian invasion, but stressed the importance of sanctions and the role international law firms have to play in isolating Russia commercially.
“This isn’t just about Ukraine,” he said, “it is about the West and now it is time to move from talking to doing and taking real steps like [law firms] leaving Russia.”
He added: “You cannot on one hand say you support your values in the high court of justice and on the other hand you are working for Gazprom. Which side do you want to take? I am expecting all international companies to terminate their operations in Russia, otherwise they are paying for those bullets which are killing Ukrainian soldiers.”
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Vasil Kisil & Partners is well connected internationally as it is the Ukrainian member of the Terralex law firm network, which yesterday said in a statement that it would provide the firm ‘with as much assistance as possible’.
Stelmashchuk thanked the international legal community for its support to this point, both practically in terms of donations and pro bono work – his firm has published a list of useful links on its LinkedIn page – and also through commitments to stop acting for Russian clients.
Stelmashchuk said around 20% of his firm’s workforce had stayed in Kyiv or its suburbs, with others having moved to safer areas. Having grown used to working remotely during Covid-19, they are conducting some legal work for international clients operating in Ukraine on measures relating to the crisis, such as the safety of their staff and data protection.
He has also been providing advice to the Ukrainian government along with other lawyers, sharing ideas on how to implement emergency laws and devise new legislation connected with the invasion, parliament having sat yesterday.
And he and colleagues at the firm have also started to collect evidence of war crimes, the justice ministry having initiated a process to systematically gather details of Russian actions.
On a personal level, Stelmashchuk said his wife and two children had moved to the west of Ukraine, while he was focusing on the practical help he can provide defending Kyiv.
“I am a human being; I am trying stay calm and think rationally – nobody wants to be killed, but to survive you have to join the effort,” he said. “Ukrainians will stand next to their army and fight. We have no other choice. We will never turn East. I predict we will stay strong - and I hope that international sanctions will do their job.”
Throughout the week, law firms have come under mounting pressure to publicly condemn the Russian invasion and outline the steps they are taking in relation to their Russian clients. Several firms have now made a commitment to stop working for some, or all, of their Russian clients. Notably, Allen & Overy said on Wednesday it would refuse new Russia-related instructions and stop all Russia-linked work that goes against its values. Yesterday, Houthoff said it would no longer work for long-term arbitration client the Kremlin.
To date two firms have said they are pulling out of Moscow. Kennedys said on Tuesday it was winding down its small presence, having made the decision to leave last year, while yesterday Swedish firm Mannheimer Swartling said it had relocated all of its Moscow-based Swedish lawyers and ‘suspended’ its operations in Russia ‘with immediate effect’ while it analysed whether it can exit the Russian market ‘in an orderly manner’.
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