Oregon law professor wins prestigious award after lifetime of contributions
Sitting in her quiet office on the fourth floor of the law school, professor Svitlana Kravchenko is surrounded by pictures of her family and friends. She proudly shows off her daughter’s dance accomplishments, but quickly adds “she is also a lawyer,” with a smile.
She recognizes the love for something aside from law, as she was the same way growing up. It was her love of writing that prompted thoughts of being a journalist, not a judge like her parents. But it was that love of writing, and later love of law, that ended up combining to give her the life she has now.
Born on the Polish border of Ukraine, Kravchenko felt she was not destined to have anything to do with law.
“Both of my parents were judges. It was kind of difficult to escape it,” Kravchenko said. “But I tried.”
Her Russian literature teacher in high school had told her she was skilled in writing, so Kravchenko wanted to become a journalist. However, in her final year of school she went to visit that teacher in the hospital and things changed.
“She said, ‘What do you know about life? What are you going to tell people?'” Kravchenko said. “But then she said, ‘Your mom helped me overcome my fears of divorce dividing property, and I am so happy. And that’s what lawyers can do.’ She convinced me that it’s a good profession.”
Out of high school, she attended Lviv National University in Ukraine and earned her first degree in law.
“I told my parents, I will not be a judge or criminal lawyer, and I love environmental law,” Kravchenko said.
After earning her Ph.D, Kravchenko started her teaching career at the university level for many years, before doing a second dissertation for her doctorate degree.
After completing that, she started her environmental law work, creating the organization Environment-People-Law in 1994, the first public interest group of its kind in Ukraine, and the second in the former Soviet Union. A fellowship in San Francisco led to the organization being created.
“I saw a lot of public-interest lawyers and I decided that I could introduce citizen enforcement in my country.” Kravchenko said. “We have pretty good laws, lack of enforcement and no citizen enforcement at all. When I started, it was very rare and my colleagues were laughing at me and said I was crazy, I’d have nothing to do.”
Regardless, she continued to work, recruiting two of her Ph.D students to start the group. Quickly, they were able to team up with the American Bar Association, making it the first environmental advocacy center in Europe to do so.
From there, Kravchenko began lecturing and teaching all over the world. The United Nations invited her to consult and teach for them, and she became a member of the Advisory Board to Secretariat for the Aarhus Convention, one of the organization’s foremost pieces of environmental legislation.
However, it was from that fellowship in San Francisco that she heard about the University of Oregon and was drawn to Eugene. She became a visiting law professor in 2000-01, and then returned as the Carlton Savage Visiting Professor of International Relations and Peace in 2002.
At the end of two years, she fell in love with fellow professor John Bonine and they married. Since the mid-1970s, she had been publishing a various books and articles related to environmental law and public interest. Now, she began to study human rights.
“I never thought that I would be a human rights lawyer. Human rights and the environmental course, two fields together,” Kravchenko said.
Her husband initially did not even believe in the union and brushed off the ideas of the book she was writing, “but when he started to work on some of the chapters he became a believer.”
She has taught in more than 30 countries, spreading the word of environmental law and human rights. She has published 188 articles, chapters and books, in Ukrainian, Russian and English.
It was for these publications, and her involvement in the spread environmental law, that Kravchenko won the International Union for Conservation of Nature Academy of Environmental Law Senior Scholarship Prize. IUCN was the first environmental organization, founded in 1948.
The award ceremony was held at a colloquium in South Africa, but Kravchenko was unable to attend. Instead, she was in Ukraine with her family, completely unsuspecting of the award.
“My husband woke me up and said,’You know, you cannot sleep anymore. In two hours, you will receive a prize and you need to write an acceptance speech. So wake up and write a speech!” Kravchenko said. “So it was a surprise. It was exciting and surprising.”
Today, she is still teaching, as well as heading the masters program in environmental law at the University.
When she started, she had different ideas from what most people thought of when they thought of law. She created her own organizations and raised awareness, paving her own way so that she was able to do what she wanted to do.
“I always try to tell people to follow their dreams and to be independent and have independent thinking,” Kravchenko said.
She understands what it is like to have ideas that unpopular with everyone around her. It is why she is so proud of her lawyer-dancer daughter, who has followed both her passions as well.
Kravchenko will continue to teach, and write, and spread the knowledge of environmental law and human rights for as long as she can. Which, knowing her, will be longer than most people think.
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