Inclusive Rebuilding in Ukraine. Key Principles and First Steps

On June 15th, a networking event titled “United for Inclusive Rebuilding in Ukraine” took place in Kyiv. The event brought together representatives of civil society, experts, and international specialists. The event was organized by the civic association “The League of the Strong,” with the support of the organization “Dialogue for Understanding e.V.,” in partnership with the Eastern Partnership countries. The event was conducted within the “INKuLtur – for inclusion in culture” programme funded by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The following text outlines the topics discussed at the event, the key decisions made, and the next steps.

Inclusivity should be the fundamental principle for the rebuilding of the country. With the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation in Ukraine, the number of people with disabilities increased significantly, and pre-existing issues became even more urgent and evident. Representatives of civil society gathered in Kyiv with the aim of developing solutions to enhance inclusivity and accessibility in various spheres.

“We decided to organize this event to discuss the inclusive experience in Ukraine, explore the practices and legislative requirements of the European Union, and understand what can be implemented in Ukraine and which organizations are ready to do so,” explained Daria Sydorenko, Executive Director of “The League of the Strong.”

During her speech, Daria Sydorenko highlighted three basic principles that enable changing standards and approaches to protect the rights of people with disabilities. These decisions can elevate inclusivity and accessibility in various spheres during the process of inclusive rebuilding in Ukraine:

  1. Rebuilding must be inclusive.
  2. Rebuilding must address various aspects of societal life.
  3. Rebuilding must be conducted across the entire territory of Ukraine.

“The goal of inclusive rebuilding in Ukraine is to create conditions for a comfortable life for all members of society and facilitate the return of people from abroad. This involves ensuring accessibility and removing barriers in physical, informational, digital, societal, educational, and economic spheres,” stated Daria Sydorenko.

During the event, special attention was given to presenting successful inclusion and accessibility practices that have already been implemented in different cities across the country. For example, Yurii Vasylchenko, a consultant on architectural accessibility and inclusivity at the National Assembly of People with Disabilities of Ukraine, along with representatives of local government authorities, presented a case realized in Vyshhorod (Kyiv Oblast). According to him, such solutions could serve as alternatives to reconstruction during the process of inclusive rebuilding in Ukraine.

“We managed to make reasonable accommodations to cultural institutions at relatively low cost. These were the library and the cultural center, which were constructed during the Soviet era when accessibility was not even considered. By installing a lift, constructing ramps, and equipping the interior with universal furniture and memory maps, these institutions became more adapted for people with disabilities. This became possible thanks to close cooperation with local authorities,” shared Yurii Vasylchenko.

The project in Vyshhorod was carried out within the framework of the joint initiative “INKuLtur – for inclusion in culture,” which is implemented in Ukraine by the All-Ukrainian Foundation “Step by Step,” along with the National Assembly of People with Disabilities of Ukraine, the German public organization “Dialogue for Understanding e.V.” (D4U), and the Vyshhorod City Council, with financial support from the German Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Another local case was presented by Lyudmyla Netskina, the Chairperson of the Board of the NGO “Harmony” in Vinnytsia. She spoke about the role of civil society organizations in creating barrier-free spaces and shared how the use of a tool, like the accessibility committee, helped build effective collaboration with local authorities.

“The accessibility committee is a quite effective mechanism for implementing a barrier-free environment. However, there is a great responsibility lying with civil society organizations operating at local or regional levels,” emphasized Lyudmyla Netskina, Chairperson of the Board of the NGO “Harmony.”

Ukrainian Legislation and Opportunities

Today, several challenges arise during the process of physical reconstruction: an imperfect regulatory framework; non-compliance with state construction standards regarding inclusivity; and a lack of responsibility, competencies, and control in ensuring the principles of creating an accessible environment. Volodymyr Vysotskyi, an accessibility expert and co-founder of the Universal Design Studio “ORFO,” shared how these issues can be addressed and resolved. According to him, the first step is to work on improving and harmonizing existing state construction norms while implementing international and industry-specific standards.

“We need to actively participate in the legislative process and take responsibility for it. We should demand that government authorities involve civil society and expert communities,” Volodymyr Vysotskyi stated during his presentation at the event.

Another essential aspect is the inclusion of provisions on social services in Ukrainian legislation within the deinstitutionalization process, as highlighted by Mariana Onufryk, the head of the NGO “Family for Persons with Disabilities.” She emphasized the importance of Euro-integration intentions within the context of the inclusive rebuilding of the country.

“Euro-integration starts with a civil society organization or a community. Accessible services and facilities should be created at the community level. Civil society organizations can advocate and promote awareness, develop social services, and cooperate with local authorities,” Mariana Onufryk explained.

It is worth noting that the deinstitutionalization process began in Ukraine in 2017. The reform involves reducing or closing down institutional facilities and creating diverse alternative care services for children, regulated by law and standards oriented towards achieving results. Deinstitutionalization is one of the EU’s requirements for Ukraine, aiming to transform the care and upbringing system for children, ensuring every child’s right to a family and the development of social, educational, medical, and other services at the community level.

International Experience: EU Standards on Accessibility

Daniel Casas, an Accessibility Policy Officer at the European Disability Forum (EDF), shared successful practices that have been implemented in European Union countries. He emphasized the importance of accessibility standards developed through legislative decisions and industry-specific standards.

Currently, there are 100 million people with disabilities living in the EU, accounting for 15% of the total population of the EU countries. Daniel Casas presented several cases illustrating how entire industries have changed due to the implemented changes. For example, in 2018, inclusive requirements for media products produced for television were legislatively established. In 2022, all local and regional websites became accessible to people with disabilities, and the content was adapted for different groups.

“In the European Union, a document called ‘Technical Specification for Railway Transport Compatibility’ was adopted. This document sets forth requirements for the design of trains and stations to make them more accessible for people with disabilities. Each time new train cars are purchased and introduced, the transport service provider must ensure that these cars are equipped with accessible restrooms, audio notifications, tactile markings, and other tools to increase accessibility,” Daniel Casas explained.

He noted that the implementation of provisions in practice is achieved through National Implementation Plans. However, Daniel Casas also highlighted the following challenges associated with the implementation of this document:

  • It does not cover all important aspects (e.g., distance and height of train cars concerning platforms).
  • Some types of transport are not subject to this regulation and thus are not accessible.
  • Implementation through national plans may be time-consuming.

Results of Collaborative Efforts

During the event, a joint statement regarding the importance of ensuring inclusive rebuilding was presented. It addressed representatives of state authorities and local self-government in relation to the consideration and implementation of accessibility and inclusivity standards during the reconstruction of Ukrainian cities.

The document includes the following key demands:

  • Avoid funding the construction or reconstruction of buildings, public spaces, and streets that do not adhere to the principles of universal design and the requirements of the State Building Code V.2.2 – 40:2018 “Inclusivity of Buildings and Structures.”
  • Ensure the active involvement of representative organizations of people with disabilities in all decision-making processes at every stage of the recovery program cycle, including reconstruction and strengthening.
  • Provide all information to civil society organizations, including organizations for/with people with disabilities, in accessible formats.
  • Support construction companies that demonstrate corporate responsibility for respecting human rights (based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, standards of responsible business conduct, and other relevant documents) and include universal design principles in their work.

The statement has already gained support from 20 civil society organizations. On July 1st, the statement was sent to the State Agency for Restoration and Development of Infrastructure of Ukraine, all regional civilian/military administrations, and local self-government bodies. Additionally, the statement will be forwarded to the interagency working group for consideration of consolidated proposals from applicants and the preparation of proposals for the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine regarding the allocation of funds from the fund for the elimination of the consequences of armed aggression.

You can find this article in Ukrainian here

The programme INKuLturFor Inclusion and Participation in Сultural Life is implemented by Dialogue for Understanding e.V. together with Eastern Partnership countries funded by the German Federal Foreign Office.