Kids with disabilities now have play areas
Editor’s Note: This article is a part of the “Journalism of Tolerance” project by the Kyiv Post and its affiliated non-profit organization, the Media Development Foundation. The project covers challenges faced by sexual, ethnic and other minorities in Ukraine, as well as people with physical disabilities and those living in poverty. This project is made possible by the support of the American people through the U. S. Agency for International Development and Internews. Content is independent of the donors. It’s rare to see children with disabilities on the playgrounds in Ukrainian cities — not because there are no such kids, but rather because most city play areas are simply not accessible for them.
There are some 8 million children in Ukraine, according to UNICEF, of whom some 167,000 have physical disabilities. Every year this number increases by 0.5 percent.
Now a group of dedicated volunteers is working to ensure there are more places for kids with disabilities to play in the Ukrainian capital.
The charity organization Friendly People has raised $7,532 to build inclusive playgrounds at three locations in Kyiv — Mariinsky Park, Taras Shevchenko Park and Peizazhna Alley.
Olesia Ogryzko, one of the founders of Friendly People, has always wanted to help people with disabilities.
Ogryzko worked in Ukraine’s Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and in 2014 helped to bring to Ukraine support from Save the Children, an international non-governmental organization that helps support children in developing countries.
After Russia launched its war on Ukraine in the Donbas in 2014, Save the Children launched a direct emergency response in Ukraine and has so far supported more than 89,000 children and adults living in gov- ernment-controlled and Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.
Now Ogryzko is helping to raise awareness about kids with disabilities and make Kyiv a more inclusive city.
Ogryzko, with the help of other volunteers, including community leaders from civil organizations Progressive Citizens of Ukraine and Dostupno UA, have put their heads together to find a way to get playground equipment that every kid can enjoy.
“First, we wanted to fundraise for people with disabilities in general, but then we narrowed our focus to
children,” she said. “That’s a friendly thing to do, and thus came the name of our organization.”
They launched a Friendly People Night in May, a charity event organized by the graduates of the Institute of International Relations of Taras Shevchenko National University, Ogryzko’s alma mater. Around 250 attendees dug into their pockets to donate Hr 200,000, or $7,532. It enabled Friendly People to start negotiations with the Creative Active Playground, a contractor to equip three playgrounds in Kyiv with accessible playground equipment.
The next step was to get approvals from Kyiv City Council.
“I was worried that this would be the most time-consuming part,” Ogryzko said. But it went smoothly enough, and they received the required approvals quickly.
In early fall, a playground in Peizazhna Alley was equipped with accessible swings that are designed for children in wheelchairs. The activists also installed playground slides, tubaphones made from a series of metal tubes, an information board with a sign language alphabet, and a merry-go-round with a rubberized surface that accommodates wheelchairs and walkers.
“For us, it’s a pilot, our first baby, and now we’re thinking about how to expand the project,” Ogryzko explains, adding that an “inclusive narrative” should be become the norm in Ukraine.
Apart from the three central locations, some inclusive playground equipment has also been installed in some of the capital’s other playgrounds, such as the one in Kyiv’s Gryshko Botanical Garden, a play area at the Department of Social and Medical Rehabilitation for Children in Voskresenka district, and a playground in Holosiivsky district.
As for other cities: western Ukraine’s Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk, Berdychiv in central Zhytomyr Oblast and Pokrovsk (formerly known as Krasnoarmiysk) in Donetsk Oblast can now boast of having inclusive playgrounds, too.
Viktoria Panasyuk, who has a 10-yearold son Yehor who uses a wheelchair, is something of an expert on the city’s inclusive playground infrastructure. Her son — despite suffering from severe cerebral palsy — spends around eight hours every day training, studying and visiting cultural events.
“If he has the desire, and his mother has the inspiration, we conquer every slide, because he enjoys them the most,” Panasyuk says. “Just like every other kid, he wants to be self-sufficient.”
Panasyuk admits that not every family will want to travel from the left bank just to “ride a swing” but agrees that such playgrounds can brighten children’s lives.
She says that Kyiv still has to learn not only to become more accessible, but also to be tolerant.
On July 28, Yehor and his mother were prevented from joining a group of children on a tour of the Roshen confectionery factory in Kyiv because he was in a wheelchair. His mother wrote a post on Facebook describing the situation, which was shared over 7,000 times and triggered a public discussion.
“I wrote that post to protect Yehor’s rights and happiness,” Panasyuk told the Kyiv Post.
The whole situation demonstrated the range of problems that people with disabilities face living in Ukraine, including the failure of law, architectural inaccessibility and society’s rejection, Panasyuk said.
She said that a Roshen representative told her that she and her son would hold up the rest of the group. According to Panasyuk, the employee also said that she didn’t want to take responsibility for Yehor, as there were stairs inside the factory. The family was asked to wait outside until the end of the excursion, which lasted an hour-and-a-half, and wait for a gift of candy.
“I asked (the Roshen representative) if she thought (the offer) was adequate. She said that it was the only option, and closed the door,” Panasyuk said.
Roshen, which is owned by President Petro Poroshenko, gave a different reason for not letting Yehor tour the factory in a post on their official Facebook page. According to the post Yehor wasn’t let inside because his wheelchair would break sanitary norms.
They also claimed that the family was offered to watch a movie and attend a candy tasting, which Panasyuk said was untrue.
Although Roshen conducts excursions for children with disabilities, they have a separate program, according to the company.
However, this contradicts the principle of inclusion, promoted by First Lady of Ukraine Maryna Poroshenko, under which people with disabilities should be given an equal chance to participate in all activities.
Panasyuk said that now they plan another group excursion to Roshen for children from the school where Yehor studies with other children with disabilities.
“The kids are studying professions now, so we plan to show them different workplaces, and the Roshen factory will be a good place to check as well,” she said.
“We’re working on organizing it, and we’ll see if anything has changed.”
Where to find inclusive playgrounds in Kyiv
— Kyiv’s Gryshko Botanical Garden,
1 Tymiryazevska St. — Department of Social and Medical Rehabilitation for Children, 7A Kurnatovskoho St. — 1 Akademika Hlushkova Street — Peizazhna Alley — Shevchenko Park
Children enjoy merry-go-round on Nov. 8 that was installed in a playground on Peizazhna Alley by charity organization Friendly People. It has a rubberized surface and accommodates wheelchairs and walkers. (Oleg Petrasiuk)
Viktoria Panasyuk and her 10-year-old son Yehor who uses a wheelchair walk in Kyiv on Aug. 8. (Kostyantyn Chernichkin)