Ukrainian groups urge Sunak to release £2.5bn from Abramovich’s Chelsea sale

<span>Roman Abramovich, pictured in 2021.</span><span>Photograph: Martin Meissner/AP</span>
Roman Abramovich, pictured in 2021.Photograph: Martin Meissner/AP

A coalition of Ukrainian human rights groups has written to Rishi Sunak, calling on him to “end the impasse” over using funds from the sale of Chelsea to help victims of war in the country.

Nearly two years after Roman Abramovich had sanctions imposed by the United Kingdom, the £2.5bn generated from Chelsea’s sale remains frozen in a UK bank account despite a commitment to use the proceeds for humanitarian purposes. Last month the European affairs committee of the House of Lords said it was “incomprehensible” that the money was untouched.

On Thursday 58 organisations, including the Ukrainian human rights coalition Ukraine 5am, signed a letter from the NGO Redress calling on Sunak to take action. “We the undersigned, including victims and survivors of the war in Ukraine, call on you to act to resolve the two-year impasse over the proceeds of the £2.5bn sale of Chelsea FC,” the letter begins, arguing funds should be directed “towards the urgent needs of victims and survivors, ensuring that some of the funds are repurposed as reparation for survivors”.

  • Download the Guardian app from the iOS App Store on iPhone or the Google Play store on Android by searching for 'The Guardian'.

  • If you already have the Guardian app, make sure you’re on the most recent version.

  • In the Guardian app, tap the Menu button at the bottom right, then go to Settings (the gear icon), then Notifications.

  • Turn on sport notifications.

The government has admitted that it has a “disagreement” with Abramovich over how the funds should be used, with the government insisting the money should be spent only within Ukraine’s borders, while Abramovich claims the original terms of the licence under which the sale of Chelsea was allowed to go through did not make that specification, instead allowing money to be spent on “exclusively humanitarian purposes supporting all victims of the conflict in Ukraine, and its consequences”.

The letter urges Sunak to go beyond this stalemate and find other mechanisms to unlock the money. “Considering there are substantial funds in question, your government should consider different avenues to repurpose the funds which may be complementary and maximise impact,” it says. “We call for the Chelsea FC sale proceeds to be split between humanitarian purposes, reconstruction and reparations for victims of human rights abuses. £2.5bn has the power to transform the lives of many victims of the conflict, allowing them to move forward with their lives.”

The letter calls on Sunak to work with Ukrainian government and civil society to “guide in the repurposing of the funds” and “establish a working group between your government, civil society and survivors to ensure the funds are distributed in an effective and timely manner”. It also recommends the government should consider directing some of the funds through existing mechanisms, such as the register of damage in Ukraine, rather than through a proposed charitable foundation yet to be properly established.

The Ukraine 5am coalition is a group of organisations committed to chronicling war crimes committed by Russian forces in the country since the invasion of 2022. Other signatories to the letter include the Global Survivors Fund, the Coalition for Genocide Response and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute as well as the renowned human rights barrister Helena Kennedy.