The 'Invisible' Population: Ukrainians Living With Disabilities
14 November, 2016

“Invisible” is a film by Bohdan Kutiepov about people with disabilities and the phenomenon of the Ukrainian Paralympic team. The U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities came into force in Ukraine in 2010. Three million ‘invisible’ people got the chance to start a new life. But something went wrong, not only in rural towns and villages but also even the capital of Ukraine. Disabled people in Kyiv face a daily struggle with the lack of accessibility and facilities. Some local authorities have failed to make reasonable adjustments in hospitals and on public transport. Meanwhile, the huge success of the Ukrainian Paralympic team at Rio 2016 highlighted the amazing potential of the country’s disabled athletes.


On September 22nd, 2016, despite the rain, terminal “F”, which is usually empty, was full of people who came to greet the Paralympic team. There were MPs, officials, relatives and friends of the athletes, civil activists and ordinary people among the crowd. However, less attention was paid to the arrival of the second and third part of the team.


Just imagine – 170 medals! What is the phenomenon of the Ukrainian Paralympic team, which ranked third in Rio Games? Bohdan Kutiepov tries to find the answer to this question in his documentary film: ‘Invisible’.


The story of Olena Molodanova


Olena keeps smiling and calls her wheelchair a “Lego constructor.” She says that this model is the best when it comes to getting in and out of the car. But even such a wheelchair doesn’t make her feel free.


Olena has been in a wheelchair since the age of 21. It took her about two years to get used to it and to understand that there is a need to act. She entered university and became a head of an NGO in Mariupol. Currently, Olena Molodanova isco-founder of “The Union of Journalists with disabilities of Ukraine” NGO and advisor to the mayor on issues of accessibility in the city. She is a winner of international swimming competitions and a world champion in karate.

“What are those ramps for, if we don’t stay positive and don’t show our desire to be full members of society?” she asks.

We attempted to enter a supermarket with Olena, then to visit her friend. And although the supermarket turned out to be more or less accessible, on our way to her friend there were a lot of barriers (curbs, stairs).


“It’s good that I’m an active and positive person, who is always looking for adventures. But there are also people shy about their situation. What should they do? They often don’t have a person who can even accompany them. There is no social service which we can apply to for such assistance”, she says.


Olena is convinced that there is a need to work out a special government program because even hospitals are often inaccessible to people with disabilities.


“The problem can be solved, if the majority influences it and pressures the government accordingly,” Olena thinks.


The story about the editorial office of the Ukrainian Association of the Blind


Schoolchild (Shkolyar) is the oldest children’s magazine in the former USSR published in braille.


Nataliya Scherban, an editor-in-chief of the magazine, is showing us an issue from last year. This year, the Ministry of Social Policy hasn’t allocated funding for it. Nevertheless, they keep publishing Ray (Promin) – a magazine for adults printed in large font (not in braille).


But the fate of this magazine is also under threat. The editorial office has been located on the first two floors of the building in the center of Kyiv in the Pechersk district for several decades. This building was built a long time ago with the money of the Ukrainian Society for the Blind.


But in the end of the 80s, the transfer of the entire housing stock to the remainder of the city happened. The first two floors and the editorial office were transferred to the balance of the Kyiv City Council. Since then, and until 2014, the editorial office was paying rent, but one day they were asked to leave the building. They have been suing the Kyiv City Council for two years. According to Nataliya Scherban, both the Kyiv City Council and the district administration assured them that the lawsuit is a formality to legitimize the transfer of the premises back to them:


“The Kyiv City Council convenes a commission on ownership, which unanimously supports us and says that in order to legitimize this decision and to get rid of the problem, it’s better to apply to court so it can render a legal verdict and everything will be OK; that they aren’t authorized to do it themselves and won’t resist it in court. They just asked us to take such actions.”


What was next? The Kyiv City Council filed an appeal. It didn’t agree with the decision rendered in favor of the Ukrainian Association of the Blind.


“We were told not to worry, to go through with this appeal process. The decision was rendered in our favor again. In August, we received a cassation appeal from the Kyiv City Council. We called this department of communal property and they said clearly that we would be fighting until the end,” says Nataliya.


The story of Valeriy Sushkevych


“What is it? – resents Valeriy Sushkevych, when approaching the building that has stairs and no ramp. – It’s the Supreme Economic Court of Ukraine!”


The head of the Assembly of People with Disabilities came to the court to support the Ukrainian Association of the Blind.

Valeriy Sushkevych is 62 though at first sight you wouldn’t even say that he is 50. He has been a ‘group I’ handicap since childhood. He is a head of the Paralympic Committee, Assembly of People with Disabilities. People trust him and often ask him for help personally, for instance, near the elevator when he comes to work.


A champion is a person who has talent and skills, desire, conditions and time for preparation.


The Paralympic team has already returned from Brazil and now he fights for the fortune promised to the athletes at the airport every single day. People who have achieved a lot in sports are often helpless when it comes to the bureaucratic machine, which, for instance, hides how much more money was allocated to the Olympic Games than to the Paralympic Games:

— Ask them to provide this information. Is it a secret?

— No, but they don’t want to reveal it.

— Then say that Valeriy Mykolayovych asked for this information. Let him refuse us.


After the victory of the Paralympic team, civil activists and officials have started expressing the idea of bringing Anti-Terrorist Operation veterans to the big sport and making champions of them.


“Look, a champion is a person who has talent and skills, desire, conditions and time for preparation. And who are ATO veterans today? They have unhealed wounds. We call them “fresh” in our slang. And activists come to me with such ideas. Of course, I blow them off. Because first of all, there is a need to give people the opportunity to realize who they are in the world without legs. Our Paralympic athletes have this understanding.”


The lawsuit


Bohdan Kutiepov went to tell a story about the premises of the Ukrainian Association of the Blind to NSC “Olimpiyskiy”, where high rank officials and President Petro Poroshenko gathered to congratulate the Paralympic and Olympic teams once again. He didn’t manage to personally speak with Poroshenko about this situation. The Ukrainian president ordered his press secretary Svyatoslav Tsegolko to make a note and sort everything out.


Also, several days later, Vitali Klitschko invited Paralympic athletes and coaches who live in Kyiv to a reception. Nataliya Scherban managed to talk to Kyiv’s mayor there.

“The blind are in a desperate situation and are ready to protest,” she said.


For the first time in public, Vitali Klitschko promised that the premises would be transferred to the balance of the Ukrainian Association of the Blind.


“There is no need to protest. Tell the Ukrainian Association of the Blind that Vitali Klitschko isn’t against them and will make everything possible to transfer the ownership right on that premises to them,” said the mayor of Kyiv.


Nevertheless, a protest was held in front of the Supreme Economic Court of Ukraine when the final court hearing was taking place. Everyone was extremely happy that the court finally rendered a verdict in favor of the Association.


Translated by Olga Kuchmagra