Ukraine’s inaccessible cities – Atlantic Council
A first-time visitor to Ukraine could be forgiven for concluding that there are very few people with physical disabilities in the country. Indeed, it remains relatively rare to meet physically disabled Ukrainians in the streets of Kiev or other large cities.
This lack of visibility masks a grim reality. During the last three decades of independence, Ukraine has failed to create the kind of inclusive infrastructure that physically disabled Ukrainians need to participate in the daily life of the city. As a result, around 2.7 million Ukrainians with reduced mobility are forced to live an isolated existence in their own country.
An accessibility ranking compiled in 2020 by the dostupno.ua initiative highlighted the huge mobility challenges faced by residents of major Ukrainian cities. The 13 Ukrainian cities included in the ranking all received extremely disappointing scores. Chernihiv, in first place, got an extremely modest accessibility score of 20%, while Kherson, in last place, collected only 6%.
Research by dostupno.ua revealed that virtually all stakeholders in Ukraine today continue to ignore mobility and accessibility issues. Even newly constructed residential and administrative buildings often lack basic access points, while most Ukrainian pharmacies are inaccessible despite the obvious need to meet the needs of people with reduced mobility. The city with the best pharmacy accessibility score was Vinnytsia, with a score of only 24%.
Public transport remains a major issue. The monopoly enjoyed by the old, insecure and largely unregulated marshrutka buses along certain routes allows people with reduced mobility to be completely excluded. Meanwhile, access ramps to underpasses and metro stations are inadequate and often present a significant risk of inflicting further injury.
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Ukraine’s urban accessibility problems are part of the country’s Soviet heritage. In Soviet times, little consideration was given to the needs of people with physical disabilities or reduced mobility. However, as Ukraine prepares to celebrate thirty years of independence later this summer, the country is still struggling to make its cities more navigable for large swathes of the population.
There is a growing official awareness of this problem. Building regulations adopted in recent years formally require architects and construction companies to offer improved accessibility in their designs, but practical implementation remains patchy. Last year, the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, announced a national dialogue on the need for more accessible public spaces. The Ukrainian public is now eager to see the results of this initiative.
The issue of accessibility does not only concern members of society with physical disabilities. After becoming a mother, I automatically found myself in the category of people with reduced mobility because of my child’s stroller. During the summer months, I discovered that many of Kiev’s most attractive beauty spots, such as the Central Botanical Gardens, are not easily accessible for mothers with strollers.
Frustratingly, an easy-to-access entrance has been built into the gardens, but visitors are often faced with a locked gate. Apparently, the central botanical gardens do not have the manpower to fill this entrance on a permanent basis. However, it’s hard to see why a simple electronic pass system couldn’t be used instead.
Ukrainian civil society, renowned for its dynamism, is increasingly taking up the challenge of making the country more accessible. One such initiative is the Kyiv Baby / Parent Friendly Places Facebook group, created in December 2016 by young Ukrainian mother Olya Myrtsalo. Over the past four and a half years, this Facebook group has attracted over 12,000 members. It now offers a wide range of information on child-friendly and accessible places throughout the Ukrainian capital and beyond, while also playing an active role in promoting user-friendly infrastructure changes.
While these efforts at the local level are encouraging, Ukraine still has a long way to go before the country can catch up with many of its European neighbors. Over the past decade, the European Commission has organized the annual Access City Award to recognize the efforts undertaken by municipal authorities and local communities to maximize accessibility in EU cities. This initiative reflects the fact that around 120 million citizens of the European Union live with a disability.
At present, there is no similar recognition in Ukraine. Instead, different methods are used to raise awareness of the importance of improving accessibility in cities across the country. The International Summit of Mayors launched a collaborative project with Lady Di Atelier which presented the sunny workshop in Lviv for children with autism and Down’s syndrome painting the cities of their dreams. These paintings were then reproduced as prints for scarf fashion accessories. The project was supported by Marie Claire Ukraine and raised 500,000 UAH for new initiatives of this type.
As is the case with many challenges facing contemporary Ukrainian society, people recognize that they can passively complain or become engines of change. There is growing awareness that inaccessibility is a major problem that prevents millions of Ukrainians from leading ordinary lives. The entire country will benefit if steps are taken to end this artificial isolation and create the infrastructure necessary to support a more inclusive society.
Iryna Ozymok is the founder of the International Summit of Mayors and responsible for the local economic development program at the Western NIS Enterprise Fund.
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The opinions expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Atlantic Council, its staff or its supporters.
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